There have been several letters in the paper recently about the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS). What I find discouraging is that no one is talking about the fact that the RFS is a bad idea. In a corn growing state like Illinois, it is going to be highly unpopular to say this, but the fact is that biofuels are not the answer to the overabundance of corn that we grow. As Okbazghi Yohannes points out in his book "The Biofuels Deception: Going Hungry on the Green Carbon Diet", ethanol production actually makes the climate crisis worse. Producing biofuels uses more energy than the energy we get from them. Common sense tells us this. If we count all the energy that goes into making ethanol -- fuel for the farm equipment, petrochemicals for growing the corn, energy for processing the corn -- we get a net loss of energy. Also, “Using a blend of ethanol and gasoline in a vehicle causes more pollution than using gasoline alone because ethanol makes gasoline more volatile, resulting in more emission owing to increased evaporation.”
Another factor to consider is that with food insecurity so high throughout the world, it makes little sense to spend our precious food crops on biofuels. In 2006, 20% of the corn harvest was made into ethanol which only replaced 3% of the gasoline consumed. By 2016, 40% of the U.S. corn crop went to ethanol production, driving up the price we pay for food. (For 2016, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that we would spend $3.5 billion more on groceries because of the ethanol mandate.) Think how many people could be fed with that 40% that was used for ethanol! Besides, we need to be switching our vehicles to electric power rather than burning fossil fuels or biofuels.
I understand that Illinois farmers depend on selling corn or soybeans to make a living, but there are alternative crops that they could grow. The whole reason ethanol is being pushed is because we grow too much corn which lowers the price, so more uses had to be found for corn, among them high fructose corn syrup and ethanol. Ethanol is not a solution for replacing gasoline. Our farmers want a market for their corn -- it would be better for the world and would likely cost us less if we subsidized them directly (rather than subsidizing ethanol) and sell their corn at a lower price to starving nations. Alternately, in addition to corn we could also grow other crops such as hemp or bamboo which have developing markets and provide improved biodiversity. Our goal as a people should not be “how we can make the most money” -- with the climate crisis, that path leads to the destruction of humanity. Our goal needs to be “how can we keep our planet and its people healthy”.
Ellen Wolcott, Charleston