We hear it all the time - Ethanol fuel is the way of the future! But is it? You've no doubt noted the price rise of agricultural products these days, namely FOOD. This is being blamed, in part, on the use of arable land for ethanol production - land that might otherwise be growing food. In this light, I found this little gem over on Bob Plamondons site, www.plamondon.com I thought it was at least interesting: Bad Math and Ethanol My discussion of using trees and pasture to take care of one's share of greenhouse gases got a lot of interest last month, so I'll drop the other shoe and talk about ethanol production. There's a vigorous debate about whether it takes more than a gallon of gasoline to make a gallon of ethanol. On the face of it, this is obviously a dumb question, because distilled liquor was popular long before the invention of gasoline. Obviously, ethanol can be made without any fossil fuel inputs at all. Of course, this isn't really the issue. The real issue is politics. Or, more properly, the real issue is economics, but since most people don't believe in economics, they turn to politics, the magical land where dreams ... well, actually, it's a magical land where dreams go horribly wrong. But people keep hoping. If you do a little bit of basic homework -- for example, if you look at a map that shows America's arable land and read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (one of a handful of books that one really ought to read before considering oneself to be an adult, along with, say, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel or even Deming's Out of the Crisis) -- the whole concept is ludicrous. Our productive land is already in production. Consumers are not willing to stop eating just so they can get gasoline from corn. Every acre you devote to ethanol production means that you need to plow up an acre of grazing land or knock down an acre of forest. The whole exercise becomes one of, "Ha! You thought the Brazilians were good at deforestation? You ain't seen nothin' yet!" Using some numbers from the Internet, it looks to me that replacing our annual gasoline consumption would require 188 billion gallons of ethanol per year. At roughly 328 gallons of ethanol generated per acre of corn, this would require 573 million acres. But the U.S. has a total cropland of only about 460 million acres (including pasture and hayland). We'd have to use every bit of it, plus more. We'd have to put 113 million additional acres under the plow just so we can starve to death on a full tank of fuel. Realistically, the land can't do double duty, so we'd need 573 million additional acres. In fact, we'd need a lot more than that, because the best land is already taken, so the new land won't be as productive. We'd have to plow the whole country from sea to shining sea -- and that's just to provide us with corn-based gasoline. And we'd still have to use fossil fuels for our diesel oil, jet fuel, home heating oil, natural gas, and electricity production. And for what? Knocking down all that forest and plowing all that rangeland would be a total disaster from a greenhouse-gas point of view. That's the land that's undoing the damage caused by the fossil fuels. We can't spare it. Replacing fossil fuels with ethanol is nuts. Claiming that doing so will save the environment is the looniest thing I've ever heard. Promoting ethanol as a party fuel that lets you drink and drive out of the same container would be a triumph of pure reason by comparison. This is a good example of Plamondon's First Law: "The alternatives are even worse." Some political pundits have recently been chanting a new mantra, "Our problems cant be solved by drilling!" Maybe not long term. But for the time being, until we come up with something else that really works, maybe we should look into that. The caribou will just have to cope for a few decades.