Now That’s an About Face!
It’s been almost two years now that 60 Minutes did a special on ethanol, in which Dan Rather was just bubbly with enthusiasm. He had as a guest Berkeley Professor Dan Kammen, who heads up Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL). (I frequently see visitors from RAEL showing up on my site meter). Anyway, Professor Kammen talked up the virtues of ethanol with Dan Rather, and also spoke very positively on ethanol in this article:
Boy, that takes me back. You have to love the appeal to authority:
Knowledgeable venture capitalists already are putting money behind ethanol and cellulosic technology, as witnessed by recent investments by Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and strong interest by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.
How did those investments pan out, fellows? Oh, yeah. But I digress. A couple of Professor Kammen’s Berkeley colleagues, Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare, also featured in the above report. Well, it seems that they have all gotten religion, as evidenced by a story in today’s WSJ Energy Roundup:
Academics tasked with plotting California’s transition to a low-carbon fuel have delivered more bad news: Ethanol appears to come with a higher greenhouse-gas price tag than previously thought — higher, indeed, than fossil fuel.
The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center told the California Air Resources Board that ethanol could be twice as bad as gasoline, from a carbon-emissions point of view. How? Basically by turning land now covered with trees, grass, and other natural “carbon sinks” into farmland for corn and other crops used for ethanol.
“Simply said, ethanol production today using U.S. corn contributes to the conversion of grasslands and rainforest to agriculture, causing very large GHG emissions,” wrote Berkeley profs Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare in a January 12 memo to California regulators. “Even if only a small fraction of the emissions calculated in this crude way [through land use change] are added to estimates of direct emissions for corn ethanol, total emissions for corn ethanol are higher than for fossil fuels.”
Professor Kammen is listed as a co-author on the report, which appears to be an enormous position shift for him. Maybe his Berkeley colleague Tad Patzek finally showed him the light. Or maybe those many visits they made here slowly won them over.
Of course you had to know that some would immediately reach for the ad hom:
I would like to know who are backers of The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center? Exxon, Shell and Chevron?
Ah, yes. Good times. On the scientific front, this battle is being won. If we could only start convincing those darn lawmakers.