Polluting Biofuels – Right out of Woody Allen’s Imagination

I was sitting in Petsi’s Pies and Café in my neighborhood in Cambridge this morning, drinking a fabulous Cubano made by Jarad, musician and barista extraordinaire, and I nearly choked on the brew. The International Herald Tribune reported that “almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels when the pollution caused by producing these ‘green’ fuels is taken into account.”  This startling discovery comes from recently published studies in the reliable journal Science.

At first I thought it was a joke – some take-off on one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, Sleeper, in which Miles, our hero, wakes up after a 200-year sleep and overhears the following conservation between two doctors:

Dr. Melik: (listing items Miles had requested for breakfast): "... wheat germ, organic honey, and... Tiger's Milk."

Dr. Aragon: "Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties."

Dr. Melik: "You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?"

Dr. Aragon: "Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true."

Dr. Melik: "Incredible!"

            Of course, our federal government jumped the gun and provided substantial financial incentives for converting cropland to biofuels production, giving farmers a substantial incentive to feed our cars rather than our people. How and why is it that the government jumped into this without an adequate amount of scientific documentation? Well, I suppose the answer, should this be investigated, will turn out to be that the government acted for the reasons it usually acts – on the basis of lobbying pressure from industry, rather than on the basis of peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Isn’t this the way we’ve been doing a lot of things lately – elevating such factors as industry pressure, religious belief, ideology and such, over science and facts?

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