Is Ethanol Good Or Bad For The Environment?

1390 words - 6 pages

The increased use of ethanol to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels has been highly supported for over 30 years. More recently though a rigorous debate has begun over whether or not the advantages of ethanol outweigh its potential consequences.
One side of the argument believes the expanded use of ethanol benefits the environment because it uses renewable resources, supports the rural economy and it burns cleaner than fossil fuels. The opposing view believes ethanol actually increases greenhouse gas emissions, fresh water scarcity, water pollution, land consumption and food prices. Recently, the Bush administration pushed ethanol as a renewable, homegrown alternative to gasoline, ...view middle of the document...

This environmental advantage is due to the fact that ethanol contains a much higher oxygen content in its chemical structure than fossil fuels. which enables it to burn cleaner. This means that vehicles that are using ethanol gas emit less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, an issue society has become heavily concerned with. “Despite the uncertainty, it appears that ethanol made from corn is a little better – maybe 10 or 15 percent – than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas production”, states Dan Kammen of the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. (NC&T/UCB) Since carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas thought to be responsible for global warming, using ethanol should therefore result in less greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which would then slow down or reduce global warming. “Argonne National Laboratory reports an approximate 10-ton (9.07-metric ton) decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from the use of ethanol fuel in 2007 alone.” (NC&T/UCB) In addition to cleaner air, ethanol also is reported to reduce the amount of gasoline that we consume while driving in our vehicle. While the price per gallon remains relatively similar between both, you get more mileage out of a gallon of ethanol than you would with a gallon of fossil fuel. Therefore, the keys to this agreement are that its renewable, creates more jobs, lowers pollution, reduces dependency on foreign oil, and has better gas mileage which would create less consumption than standard gasoline.
Despite the compelling beneficial claims stated above, a wide range of individuals both in and outside of the scientific community believe that ethanol will ultimately yield more harm than good. This group argues that even though ethanol has been promoted as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is more than one type of gas that needs to be taken into consideration. When mixed with gasoline, which is normally how ethanol is used, ethanol will actually increase greenhouse gases compared to gasoline on its own. “A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T) concludes that if every vehicle in the U.S. ran on ethanol-based fuel, the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations would likely increase.” (Green) Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University student, conducted an experiment, which estimated that a blend of 85% ethanol and 15 percent gasoline would increase the death rate in Los Angeles by 9% and in the United States by 4%. (Jessen)
In addition to increased air pollution it is also argued that water pollution would increase as a result of higher ethanol usage. Runoff of nitrogen fertilizer which is used heavily in the production of corn already has the largest pollution impact on the Mississippi River. According to NAS, “corn requires more fertilizers and pesticides than other food or biofuel crops.” (Green) As more corn is planted to support ethanol production on farms throughout the United States it will result in a...

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