This Robert Rapier article on the politics of biofuels makes some well-worn points (about how ethanol probably takes more energy to produce than it contains, how it drives harmful land use changes, etc), it also contains some interesting new arguments. The best bit might be the politically motivated change of heart ‘straight talking’ US presidential candidate John McCain has experienced:
“Ethanol is a product that would not exist if Congress didnâ€™t create an artificial market for it. No one would be willing to buy it. Yet thanks to agricultural subsidies and ethanol producer subsidies, it is now a very big business – tens of billions of dollars that have enriched a handful of corporate interests – primarily one big corporation, ADM. Ethanol does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, nothing to increase our energy independence, nothing to improve air quality.”
“I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, a vital alternative energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse gas reduction effects.”
The article also makes some good points about the different political situations in the various states considering ethanol as an option. China is increasingly wary on the basis of concerns about land and food. It has now put a halt to new corn ethanol projects. The EU is also concerned about the unintended consequences of ethanol. The fact that they mostly import it, rather than growing it domestically, arguably gives them greater political freedom to investigate claims about ethanol and make decisions about how good an option it really is. Political leaders in the United States and Canada may face too many entrenched farm interests to make a similarly objective judgment.