Via the Agonist, we find the NYT confirming what I’d gathered all along from the more sober discussions of biofuels. It’s a reality guaranteed to make hippies’ heads explode all over America, beginning with the headline itself:

Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat

Published: February 8, 2008

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

[emphasis mine]

Near as I can tell, biofuels have only taken off in the US because it’s a form of pork-barrel spending that was already acceptable to our political class. What? You think this crap was taking off during the 2004 presidential debates and during a period when Republicans still controlled Congress because it was good for the environment?

Ethanol, switchgrass, it’s just another agri-subsidy, and it only exists because it generates campaign kick-backs. This isn’t energy policy. It’s not even agricultural policy. It’s corruption, merely.

As Stirling Newberry* points out, if you’re not willing to restructure, you’re not part of the solution (and I don’t care how stinky a vegan you are):

The lessons here are really very simple: field-to-fuel is strip mining the soil, and the agribusiness model of producing food does not work when applied to producing low density energy enhancements. It is important to realize that the basic problem is that the low density city, itself, is the source of the inefficiency, and that replacing a “black” process with a “greener” alternative will probably not do anything, since at each step along the profit chain, the market incentive is to dump CO2 into the air, since that is the externalized cost.

One reason for a great deal of the misplaced biofuel enthusiasm is the “fire and forget it” desire. Replace gasoline with alcohol, do everything as before. It isn’t going to work that way. The replacement of part of our fuel stream with ethanol is of more benefit getting the toxic oxygenators out of the system than it is for global warming or that mythical “energy independence without any sacrifices, green house gases or nuclear power plants” that people are chattering about. It’s a kind of “raise defense spending, cut taxes and balance the budget” of the greening of America. It isn’t going to happen

Thus we will get larger wins out of altering the patterns of growth and development, than we will out of any single change in the fuel stream composition. Basically, no matter what you put into the back of an SUV to drive an hour to your house, it’s a bad deal.

*please note that any time I quote Stirling Newberry, I reserve the right to edit his text for spelling, usage, punctuation, and general clarity.