Biofuels are everywhere in Iowa right now, with a massive
surge in ethanol production and a widespread belief
that ethanol use will solve many, or all, of our problems.
Proponents tout corn ethanol production as Iowa's solution
for everything from a flagging economy and job loss,
to climate change.
A job boost for Iowa
Recently, Iowans bore witness to Governor Culver's first
annual Condition of the State address, wherein our governor
declared that the "condition of the state is strong,"
citing the growth of the ethanol industry and the jobs
it has brought. Culver went on to praise these new "green-collar"
jobs that ethanol production provides.
However, despite the progress of Culver's ethanol initiative,
the negative influence on the state outweighs the influence
of the ethanol industry.
Though production has added thousands of new jobs to
Iowa, it has not been able to counteract job loss from
layoffs and plant closings - the unemployment rate in
Iowa has risen from 3.5 percent last year to 3.9 percent.
Furthermore, though ethanol production is touted as a
"green fuel" and a means of fighting climate change, corn
ethanol does not actually have a strong positive effect
on the environment.
While ethanol fuels lower CO2 emissions by roughly
20-30 percent, according to a study by the Argonne National
Laboratory, corn ethanol also has a lower energy content
per gallon than gasoline.
This means that your car would need 1.46 gallons of
pure corn ethanol for every gallon of pure gasoline
it uses. While ethanol releases less carbon dioxide
per gallon burned, the extra ethanol it takes to drive
your car pushes the emissions back up to the level of
Environmental impact of production
Ethanol production also creates problems of its own. Producing
one gallon of ethanol requires four gallons of water.
A large-scale ethanol plant would use 100 million gallons
of water per year, and the growth of ethanol will make
it a serious water consumer in Iowa in the near future.
Though production is currently a fairly minor draw
from Iowa's water table, the growth of ethanol will
make water consumption an enormous problem in years
to come - and our water table is already dropping. Iowa
experienced a drought in 2006, and predictions indicate
another drought may hit in 2008. Should the expansion
of ethanol continue, the water use poses a serious threat
to our water supply.
A step in the right direction
Ethanol production is certainly good for Iowa's economy
in the short term, and its use is a promising sign for
us in the future - when we run out of oil, we will have
a replacement. It also produces fewer toxic emissions,
improving our air quality.
However, it alone is not enough to solve Iowa's problems.
Ethanol production is not enough to provide jobs for Iowans.
It is not enough to prevent climate change. It is not
truly helping our environment.
While we have taken one step in the right direction with
ethanol, we need to continue moving. In order to provide
long-term, high-paying employment, we need more than just
ethanol production; we need to stop corporations from
To combat climate change, we cannot merely switch to
biofuels; we need a cap on industrial greenhouse gas
emissions, improved fuel standards for our cars, and
significant growth of public transportation. Ethanol
brings some benefits for the immediate future of Iowa,
but it is not a long-term solution.