The respected British magazine The Economist is posing the controversial question: “Does ethanol in Iowa cause deforestation in Brazil?”
The article cites a 2008 study from the journal Science that when the full “carbon costs” of grain ethanol are taken into account, it’s a losing proposition.
That’s because, in a finite world, when an acre of grain land is used to feed an ethanol plant in one place, the commensurate increase in grain prices causes a market signal for a landowner in another place to clear forest for food production, the study says.
Without land changes, ethanol emits roughly 20 per cent less carbon dioxide than an equivalent amount of fossil fuels. But with land changes taken into account?
That ethanol crop must provide that modest 20% reduction for 167 years to achieve a net carbon reduction,” the article reads in part.
Predictably, this very question has sparked a heated debate, with the U.S.-based Renewable Fuels Association saying the study is “crying wolf.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the midst of a study it announced this spring that will attempt quantify the issue of land-use changes.