Monday, February 18, 2008

Changing the Slope

The story below is the latest in a trickle of media now reporting on how FLAWED the Searchinger study on ethanol and climate change really was. Compare this to the massive media coverage of the study itself which made the outrageous claim that ethanol/biofuels were 2 times as bad in terms of climate change, than oil based gasoline.

Climate change law is being written right now -- if policymakers and the public go into that process believing that gasoline is the "low carbon fuel" they will massively undercut the opportunities for the largest expansion of biofuels industry. Neat little trick for the oil industry to pull off -- of course, with the help of many environmentalists.

This is what happens when an industry is not PRO-ACTIVE in claiming the environmental credit it deserves out of fear that engaging in the issue will lead to a "slippery slope." The same is likely to happen to the ag offsets issue if the agriculture industry as a whole continues to be passive and not stand up and fight for its own interest.

People, the slope is coming. You can not change that. But you can shape it!!!
____________________________________________________________________BIOFUELS: DOE scientists challenge assumptions of big study (02/18/2008)
Jenny Mandel, Greenwire reporter

A landmark study arguing that land conversions for biofuel crops are responsible for a significant increase in emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is full of inaccuracies and bad assumptions, according to two federal scientists.

Energy Harvest: Power From the Farm -- An E&E Special Report

Their criticisms are directed at an Feb. 7 article in Science magazine by Tim Searchinger of the German Marshall Fund that maintains direct and indirect expansions in agriculture related to biofuels essentially double the greenhouse-gas emissions of the fuel per mile driven as compared with gasoline.

That article was published the same day as another that reached similar conclusions and estimated that land-use change for biofuel production causes emissions that could take as much as 400 years to be offset by the superior performance of the fuel itself (E&ENews PM, Feb. 7).

Michael Wang of Argonne National Laboratory's Center for Transportation Research and Zia Haq of the Energy Department's biomass program responded to Searchinger's article in an open letter to Science that challenges several of the study's assumptions. They said the model used to show land-use change from domestic corn ethanol production, which Wang developed and presented in a 1999 paper, was out of synch with recent biofuel production and needed updating.

Wang and Haq also challenge several other aspects of the study. Their arguments: Searchinger's group relied on constant corn crop yields when in fact they have steadily increased over time; that certain ethanol production byproducts are more valuable than recognized and thus displace more corn feed than the group credited; that historic land-use change patterns could not be predicted because world governments have responded to deforestation and other concerns linked to biofuels; and that further efficiency improvements in ethanol production would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions per gallon of ethanol.

Perhaps most significantly, Wang and Haq said the study looks at a scenario for ethanol use unlikely to occur, because it envisions 30 billion gallons of domestic corn ethanol being produced annually by 2015, when the energy bill passed late last year calls for 15 billion gallons from corn.

All wrong or false

In an interview, Searchinger dismissed the criticisms. "Everything they say is either logically irrelevant or false," he maintained.

Searchinger said several of the criticisms, like those targeting future land-use patterns and ethanol production improvements, say essentially the study was too pessimistic. But forecasting is inherently difficult, he said, and the assumptions could just as easily be overly optimistic. He said that on several other points the group's assumptions were extremely conservative, and total emissions could likely be higher.

Wang and Haq also said Searchinger's group sited a recent 62 percent decrease in U.S. corn exports, but he said that reference was wrong. That figure referred to a future scenario in which by 2015, corn exports would be 62 percent lower than they would have been without biofuels, Searchinger said.

On the question of the total U.S. target for corn ethanol, Searchinger said the group used the 30 billion figure because the model they drew from used it and the model is difficult and time-consuming to rerun. He said the figure was immaterial to the study's results, though, because his group looked not at the total number of acres converted but at the greenhouse-gas emissions per acre.

Overall, Searchinger said the results of extremely positive or negative assumptions are less likely to bear out than a more middle range. His group's study estimated that net greenhouse-gas emissions linked to biofuels are double that of gasoline; under extremely unlikely conditions, that could really range from corn ethanol having the same emissions as gasoline to a quadrupling of emissions, he said.

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