Renewable? Sustainable? It’s a matter of scale.
If we increase ethanol production capacity it quickly becomes unsustainable.
Renewable resources are only renewable if they are utilized at a rate that allows the biological systems on which they are based to recover, rebuild, and/or reproduce themselves between successive harvests. If the rate of utilization is too high or too fast, the reproductive capacity of the resource is diminished or destroyed.
Canada currently uses approximately 40 billion litres of gasoline per year. If all of Canada converted to 5% ethanol mix in the gas tank it would require:
- Six percent of Canada’s farm land to grow the feedstock,
- a quarter of Canada’s cattle herd to consume the dried distillers grain, and
- a third of all of Canada’s barley to balance the cattle feed.
Conservation is necessary
The Federal and Provincial governments in Canada require 5% to 7.5% ethanol content in gasoline. However, there are no credible programs in place to reduce overall gasoline consumption. Statistics Canada found fossil fuel consumption increased 3.4% from June 2006 to June 2007. Given that ethanol has less energy per litre than gasoline, the claimed 5% saving on gasoline consumption is wiped out by the increase in overall fuel consumption. Ethanol cannot be taken seriously as a response to climate change – it looks more and more like a highly subsidized public relations stunt.
There are many simple and immediate energy conservation measures that could have a real impact on climate change – measures which would not take farmland out of food production, or require increased intensive livestock production. In the absence of serious energy conservation efforts, there is no credibility to the “green” claims that switching to ethanol-based fuels is an effective measure to reverse climate change.