I’ve long harboured the suspicion that George W. Bush isn’t quite right. And his grand scheme for reducing US dependence upon oil serves merely to confirm this.
The US motorist chews his way through 140 billion gallons of petrol every year. Bush’s proposals seek to reduce this figure by 20 per cent within 10 years. This is good. We do not have the reserves of oil left to allow the US to indulge in such flagrant abuse of the product which – more than anything else – has shaped our world over the past 150 years. Oil is scarce, getting scarcer, may well have peaked, and, whatever else, doesn’t need to be wasted. Suburban America does just that – waste the stuff. But GWB’s proposals make no sense. Not quite true – bumping up the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard (CAFÉ) makes a lot of sense. It should save an estimated 8.5 billion gallons a year. However, the proposal that the production of ethanol and other alternative fuels should be increased to 35 billion gallons per year over the next decade is laughable. Laughable in theory, laughable in practise and ultimately staggeringly damaging in total. Why? Ethanol –derived primarily from corn as a feedstock – actually costs more energy to produce than it provides. According to David Pimentel, Professor of Ecology and Agriculture at Cornell University, the figure is around 29 per cent more. "There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," he says. "These strategies are not sustainable." And, according to Worldwatch, Bush’s plan would see 30 per cent of US agricultural land passed over to growing fuel. BTW, to adopt the same policy in the EU – we have – would demand the use of 72 per cent of agricultural land. "The grain it takes to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year," says Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. "The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility and its 2 billion poorest people who are simply trying to survive is emerging as an epic issue." There are seven whole pages of diatribe against the whole alternative fuels thing in this week’s Commercial Motor, and, naturally I’d ask you to read it. Buy a copy or two. But, joking apart, this is the big one. We kid ourselves that Alternative Fuels are an alternative. They are not. If they were, we would have been using them before now.