Archive for the 'Student blog entries' Category

Jul 06 2016

Settling for the Lesser of Two Evils?

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The spotlight is on China to make a shift in their energy mix and reduce carbon emission. China consumes more energy than any other country in the world, and their energy demand is expected to increase. This leaves the country with some difficult decisions concerning energy demand and emissions goals.

In 2014, China made its first-ever commitment to reduce its total emissions by the year 2030. This was very exciting news, given that the country’s carbon emissions are the largest in the world. At the turn of the century China’s emissions started to skyrocket, due mostly to one form of energy production: coal.

2826748848_32385b15bf_z (Source: bkking111, Flickr)

China produced 3.24 billion metric tons of coal in 2010, which made up 76.5% of the countries energy mix. This percentage has decreased over the last few years, in large part because of the construction of many hydropower plants. As of 2015, the country is producing 1,126,000 GWh of power from hydroelectric dams, with the installed capacity even greater. This is great news for China and the world, but it still isn’t time to throw your hands up and celebrate.

6877464855_4f4ce99021_z The massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China. (Source: Marshal Segal, Flickr)

Generating energy from hydroelectric dams is almost undeniably better than burning coal, but it is by no means perfect — especially when hydropower plants are huge. Dams can have significant negative effects on the natural environment of a river or other body of water. Restricting the natural flow of water can have adverse effects on transportation down river, as well as fresh water availability for public use. Fish and other water species that live near a dam may be restricted from flowing up river to spawn in their normal environment. The construction of dams can often cause people to need to relocate, disrupting their livelihoods and minimizing their culture. Hydropower generation is perceived as having little to no emissions, but releasing larger quantities of water at one time can disturb the riverbed and release methane and other gases that were being stored.

These are some of the arguments that environmentalists in China are making to restrict the government from building new dams on the Nu River. The author of the New York Times article “China’s Last Wild River Carries Conflicting Environmental Hopes” discusses the latest in this decade-long fight to keep the Nu River a pristine environment. The Chinese government has recently stated that construction of dams would be halted and instead the river and its surroundings would be made into a national park.

5705460414_58bae63bf7_z The Nu River. (Source: International Rivers, Flickr)

There are many skeptics that are not accepting this as a victory quite yet. This is understandable, given that the government ordered to stop construction on the dams in 2013 in order to assess the impact of the development. Construction not only continued, but the government also tried to hide their intentions from the public.

The future of the Nu River may continue to be disputed, but China will need to make decisions soon to keep up with energy demand. This won’t be an easy task with the global pressure on China to reduce the use of coal. China could be setting an example for developing countries and the rest of the world, though it is unclear if it will be positive.

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Jun 30 2016

Brexit: A Sea of Uncertainty for Ocean Renewables?

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(Illustration: Patrick Chappatte / International New York Times ©)

First things first. Like most Americans, I don’t know squat about Brexit.

It just seems like one of those far-away things to laugh about.

Like when late-night host Stephen Colbert quipped1, following wimpy Iceland’s stunning defeat of powerhouse England in the Euro Cup soccer tournament on Monday night:

“This is the worst thing to happen to England in four days.”

For UK ocean renewables though, Brexit is the sound of serious uncertainty washing over a fledgling industry.

Already, Germany energy company Siemens froze any new UK wind power investment.While a factory will still produce blades and turbines (for now), the firm is holding its bets until financial markets simmer down, and “the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe becomes clearer.”

Photo by Paul Bullen, © Getty Images

Forboding clouds over a UK offshore wind farm. (Photo: Paul Bullen / Getty Images ©)

On the flipside, Danish offshore wind giant Dong Energy announced “there won’t be any impact” on plans to invest $8.6 billion in coastal UK wind farms by 2020.3 And because Brexit threatens projects such as the controversial Hinkley Point nuclear plant4, one might expect renewables to pick up the slack. 

So…win?  Not so fast.  Despite having the world’s largest and most advanced offshore wind industry5, the UK is currently the biggest recipient of the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) Climate Awareness Bonds.By ditching the EU, Britain also risks losing “billions of pounds of investment in renewable energy projects such as wind farms and grid upgrades.”7

Ugh. Unfortunately, we can’t just science our way out of this one. As Bill Clinton’s aide James Carville was fond of insisting, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It's the economy...precious.

“It’s the economy…precious.” – James Carville

Scientists need money too. British labs depend on the EU for a quarter of public research funds.8  83% of UK scientists oppose Brexit.9 Most damning, all 159 Fellows of the Royal Society at the University of Cambridge recently called it “a disaster for British science”, because it stops young scientists from moving freely within Europe.10

Politics are inescapable. Senior research fellow Antony Froggatt says, “the long-term threat to U.K. renewables…depends on how British policymakers decide to act once they’re no longer obligated to meet the EU’s climate targets.”6  The UK Renewable Energy Association reported that “repeated policy interventions of the Government are harming the UK’s position as a global leader, slowing growth rates, and are increasing the likelihood that legally binding 2020 renewable energy targets…will not be achieved.”11

Oh well. At least Brits can no longer claim we Americans are significantly dumber12 than they are:





1. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “Stephen Celebrates Iceland’s Win In The Euro Cup Tournament” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

2. Nelson, Arthur. Siemens freezes new UK wind power investment following Brexit vote. The Guardian, 28 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

3. Morales, Alex. Dong’s $8.5 Billion U.K. Wind Plan Undimmed by Threat of Brexit., 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

4.  Landauro, Inti. France Tells EDF to Switch On U.K. Nuclear-Power Project Despite Brexit, Wall Street Journal, 28 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

5. Martin, Richard. Brexit Brings Chaos to Europe’s Clean-Energy Goals. MIT Technology Review, 24 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.<>

6. Gallucci, Maria. Brexit Vote 2016: UK Renewable Energy Sector Faces Uncertain Future As June 23 EU Referendum Nears. International Business Times, 7 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

7.  Shankleman, Jessica. Brexit May Lose U.K. Billions in Funding for Climate, Renewables., 2016 Feb. 2. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

8. MacKenzie, Debora. Why Scientists Are So Worried about Brexit, MIT Technology Review, 20 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

9. “Brexit Survey 2016.” Nature, Web. 29 June 2016. <!/file/Brexit%20survey_full%20results.pdf>

10. Letters to the Editor. EU Boost to Science, The Times, 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

11. REA News. Strong renewable energy growth threatened by recent policy changes, News from the REA, 7 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

12. Borowitz, Andy. British Lose Right to Claim that Americans are Dumber, The New Yorker, 24 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <>

13. Jane (janephilpot). “we’re all thinking it #EURefResults.” 24 June 2016, 4:18am. Tweet.

14. Perticone, Joe (JoePerticone). “Hey United Kingdom imma let you finish but America had one of the greatest #Brexit’s of ALL TIME.” 23 June 2016, 10:27pm. Tweet.

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Jun 29 2016

Rainbow Reefs Turned Bleached Benthos

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We all know the most popular bucket list place on earth- “42 Wallaby Way, Sydney”. We have recently found our lost friends and since the phenomena began we have killed off the community that supports life for twenty-five percent of the world’s marine animals. The corals themselves were transplants and we currently admire the algae they host on the limestone fortresses. Coral acts as a massive foundation for much of the world we know.

“Coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem” states the New York Times’ Journalist Innis. The coral reefs feed the large fish populations that much of the developing nations rely on for protein and income. The coral itself feeds on the algae that lives on the limestone the coral creates. This harbor of hospitality can be adversely affected by too much sunlight. Heat stress caused by three combining factors over the course of a few years have left the communities submerged in their own toxins, the corals were left to starve without the proper balance of water temperatures.

coral reef blog

National Geographic – Bleached Coral Reef

Not having time to recover from a 2013 warm winter caused by blocked polar air resulted in a decline of the corals. With little relief from what is now known as “the Blob”, the waters west of North America took an increase of four degrees to stress the corals of Australia to a greater extent. Then the final, most powerful event came in 2015 with the start of the worst El Nino in a century. The corals that can take centuries to grow into large reefs were possibly bleached for good because of the multitude of climate change impacts.

"Blob" that warmed much of the Pacific Ocean, and caused distress on the corals.

“Blob” that warmed much of the Pacific Ocean, and caused distress on the corals.

El Nino expected to last into 2017 could mean extinction level damage to the over five-hundred reefs in the Great Barrier reef alone. There have been previous bleaching’s in the past decades. With one in 1998 after an El Nino killed sixteen percent of the world’s reefs, and then they were bleached again in 2010. In 2015, the waters were ten degrees warmer than the average seventy-eight degrees, and shows the constant regression climate change has done to the coral reefs.

Coral reefs are one of the many biotic indicators that should be warning signs to the overall negative human impact. Let the bleaching of the corals be our warning sign to help protect the oceans we rely on for our world’s biodiversity.


Corals . (2016). Retrieved from National Geographic:

Innis, M. (2016, April 9). Climate-Related Death of Coral Around World Alarms Scientists. Retrieved from New York Times:

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Jun 28 2016

Pioneering Changes in Renewable Energy

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A team of entrepreneur pilots from Switzerland, along with their team, are shedding light on the endless possibilities that are available with the use of solar energy. Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg are on a journey around the world aboard the Solar Impulse 2, a single-pilot airplane that runs completely off of solar power. The two are tag-teaming the journey, which is currently only half completed and it is already making history. Records that Solar Impulse 2 has broken at present include longest distance and duration for a solar-powered flight and longest nonstop flight of any kind (O’Connor 2016). The record breaking flight from Nagoya to Hawaii lasted 5 days and 5 nights and was completely without the use of any fuel (Solar Impulse 2015).

"Solar Impulse 2", a solar-powered plane piloted by Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, flies over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California, U.S. April 23, 2016, before landing on Moffett Airfield following a 62-hour flight from Hawaii. Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“Solar Impulse 2”, a solar-powered plane piloted by Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, flies over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California, U.S. April 23, 2016, before landing on Moffett Airfield following a 62-hour flight from Hawaii. Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse/Handout via REUTERS

There are 17,248 solar cells that power the Solar Impulse 2 and it weighs almost 200 times less than an average passenger plane (O’Connor 2016). The plane cruises, however, at one-seventh of the speed (O’Connor 2016). This seemingly drawback of the plane’s slow speed actually highlights a key goal for the team at Solar Impulse. They are not trying to innovate air travel by producing this solar plane. They are, however, aiming to spread the message that renewable energy is the key to saving Earth’s natural resources and improving our quality of life (Solar Impulse 2015).

The plane’s journey is making headlines across the globe, which is critical since combating climate change must be an international effort in order for it to be effective. The inventors of the plane are trying to show how readily available this sort of technology is and that the potential is just waiting to be tapped into. In a way, Solar Impulse 2 is acting as a model inviting innovators and explorers around the world to contribute to the field of renewable energy. Bertrand Piccard emphasized Solar Impulse’s goal by saying, “If an airplane has succeeded to fly day and night without fuel, then we can power our world on clean energy” (Solar Impulse 2015). He also has said, “The problem with our society is that, despite all the grand talk about sustainable development, we are a long way from making use of the clean technologies that are already available to us” (Solar Impulse 2015). Public awareness is one of the first steps in igniting this necessary change and Solar Impulse 2 is certainly pioneering the way.



O’Connor, Lydia. 2016. Plane Flies Across The Pacific Using Only Solar Power. April 25. Accessed 2016.

Solar Impulse . 2015. Solar Impulse: Our Story.

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Jun 25 2016

Longer Blades May Mean More Wind Energy

Commercialization of wind energy may not lie within an increased amount of wind turbines, but increasing the size of wind turbine blades. On average, commercial wind turbine blades have a length of around 35 m to 45 m (NWW). These turbines, while they have been shown to efficiently produce energy in areas with an aptitude for wind turbine placement, have to be placed in large areas in order to provide a large amount of energy. These farms have been shown to have interesting effects on the overall environment over an extended amount of time. Large farms, such as one Germany, have even been shown to effect the water cycle (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology). This has repercussions which can change the environment of the area downwind from the wind farm. Since this is in part what scientists are fighting against with global warming, it is an ecological catch twenty-two.


Photo Credit: Andy Hay

Further studies have led to a suggestion of a sort of mega-turbine. This turbine would have blades the length of fifty meters and produce around fifty megawatts of energy (DOE/Sandia Laboratories). Blades such as these would be manufactured using a different process which is more economically feasible. Getting wind energy down to the most inexpensive beginning investment would invite many big investors into or back into the field. Essentially, instead of twenty-five or so smaller turbines, there would be one huge turbine generating the same amount of energy.

Less overall area disturbed on the sea floor through less piles means less impacts on the benthic environments as well as less noise pollution over less of an area. However, larger blades may increase the instances of collision and strike of marine birds due to the increase in the area traveled by the blades. The avoidance problems which can be associated with migratory patterns and environmental impacts of construction and operation may stay the same or intensify. This trade off of more energy for problems we may or may not have presents and interesting conundrum.

In December 2015, New York relied on their wind power to supply an increased amount of energy when one of their major nuclear reactors shut down (Malik). This shows wind energy, even with the technology we have available currently, can be a useful main source of power. Wind energy is a field which can be continuously improved upon and more research should be done about reducing the negative impacts wind turbines can have on the environment.


Works Cited

DOE/Sandia National Laboratories. “Enormous blades could lead to more offshore energy in US.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2016. <>. Accessed 24 June 2016.

“FAQ – Size.” National Wind Watch. National Wind Watch Inc., n.d. Web. 24 June 2016. <>.

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. “Offshore wind parks: Interactions and local climate.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 February 2016. <>. Accessed 24 June 2016.

Malik, Naureen. “Wind Rescues New York Power After Nuclear Plant Shutdown.” Bloomberg, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 24 June 2016. <>.

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Jun 24 2016

Why is the United States Lagging Behind in Renewable Energy?

From May 7 to May 11, 2016, Portugal made history. The entire country was powered solely through a combination of “solar panels, wind turbines, biofuels, geothermal heat and hydroelectric power” (Bird). In other words, renewable energy alone kept the nation running for four days!

Portugal –

Portugal is not alone in their ambitious endeavors with renewable energy. Numerous countries around Europe have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollutants by setting and meeting “ever-better renewable energy goals” (Bird). These countries include but are not limited to: Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Denmark etc. Each of these nations have different goals of varying magnitudes, but they are definitely making the steps necessary for a transition over to green and renewable energy.

Unfortunately, the United States has been lagging behind its European counterparts in regards to renewable energy policies, implementation and technologies. Whereas many European nations extract 1/3 to ½ of their energy from renewable resources, the United States only gets around 12% of its energy as a form of renewable energy. As Professor E. Donald Elliot of Yale Law School states, the apathetic nature of the United States towards renewable energy lies “deep in our political structure and political culture, as well as our natural endowment of huge resources of fossil energy, including shale gas and unconventional oil.”

Due to the nature of our government here in the United States, it is nearly impossible to get the two major parties of our government to cooperate and get things done. With only two parties vying for power and because they seem inclined to disagree over everything, making the passing of every policy or plan a grueling, tedious and, sometimes, fruitless task. The issue of renewable energy is no exception with many Democrats being “highly skeptical that dispersed consumers can get enough information to make smarts decisions” and Republicans arguing that “energy choices should be left to the market”. (3 Elliot) For economic, environmental, and just pure survival reasons, the United States needs to step up its game and gain a foothold in the green energy industry before it is too late. The transition will happen regardless of American reluctance, as evidenced by Europe’s progress and China’s rapidly growing investment and implementation of multiple types of renewable energy within its’ borders (Ma). The graph below depicts the total capacity of wind power installed in China from 2001 until 2012.


Becoming a leader of the green energy revolution would allow the United States to gain a significant economic advantage in this evolving industry..

If the government cannot move, then it is up to the people. However, although a lot of the obstacles to implementing a renewable energy policy related to our political structure,  some of them, like America’s misconception of low and high gas prices, are ideologies entrenched within American society that are enforced by lack of education and knowledge of climate change. In order for our country to make a change and become more invested in renewable energy as well as the future, the general public must be informed and educated to avoid such misconceptions. This way, the two parties will hopefully be able to find common ground through the interests of the people and take the necessary steps in order to establish a future that generations to come will be glad to call home.



Bird, Susan. “Using Only Renewable Energy, Portugal Powered Its Entire Country for Four Days.” Care2, 21 June 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.
Elliott, Donald E., Dr. “Why the United States Does Not Have a Renewable Energy Policy.” Environmental Law Institute (2013): 1-7. Web. 24 June 2016.
Ma, Damien. “Re-balancing China’s Energy Strategy.” The Paulson      Institute, 2015. Web. 24 June 2016. <>.


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Jun 24 2016

Huffington Article

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(This is the link I am sharing).

I researched information about the class, and there was an article in the Huffington Post about the ocean’s energy. There has been a new study through Carnegie Wave Energy Limited that has made a device that can convert the ocean’s energy into power, and it does not disrupt the ecosystems or marine life. I think in this class, and when we visit the field site, the most interesting aspect to me is how the organisms that live in the oceans are affected by energy systems, and how the changing environment affects this wildlife population. To hear that this new device does not create damage in the ecosystem is good to hear, because that would make this technology extraneous and harmful. Buoys and pumps are under water as well, so the view of the ocean is not changed with this technology.

In a video that goes along with the article, a researcher on the project says that technology converts the swell in the ocean to generate electricity, and that this form of energy is a new player among other popular energy sources. The buoys that are submerged in the sea move with the current, which then is carried through pumps on the sea floor. Those pumps carry energy to offshore areas. Ocean powered energy is more productive than wind or solar energy, even though it has not been used much. Australia uses ocean energy through Carnegie, and it is useful since there is so much water around the land. There is a lot of information in this article, so I encourage people to read it to get more of an idea of the methods out there to transform the ocean’s energy into power.

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Jul 27 2015

100% Renewable Energy is Possible!

Vancouver city strives for 100% clean energy, including electricity, heating and cooling, and potentially hydroelectric transportation. Attaining 100% renewable energy is finally possible.   “We spent 10 years arguing over whether climate change was happening and then we spent another 10 years arguing over what we should do if it is happening; now we’re getting down to the who and when.”(Reimer)The chart below displays “the price of wind and solar power continues to plummet, and is now on par or cheaper than grid electricity in many areas of the world.” (Bloomberg) -1x-1

Vancouver voted to transition to 100% renewable energy in April and has since seen a 6% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions as well as a 20% increase in number of jobs. (Shahan) “The city also has 98% greenhouse gas–free electricity, and 31% renewable electricity.” (Reimer) The city is working to reach 100% renewable by encouraging walking as the major form of transportation, adding bike infrastructure and protected bike lanes, adding incentives for electric cars, green building codes, and utilizing waste heat for energy production.
Plans towards reaching 100% renewable energy is now trending across the states and it is only a matter of time before it will be accomplished. “The technology evolution that dropped the cost of solar modules by around 75% between 2009 and 2014 is now being followed by political and financial initiatives that are further driving down costs.” (Steiner) I believe the same pattern will follow with wind and wave energy technological breakthroughs in the near future.


Randall, Tom. “ Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables
This is the beginning of the end.” Bloomberg. Web. 25 July, 2015.

Steiner, Adam. “The world is finally producing renewable energy at an industrial scale.” The Guardian. Web. 25 July, 2015.

Reimer Andrea. “100% Renewable Energy: The new normal?” Huffington Post. Web. July 25, 2015.

Shahan, Zachary. “Vancouver’s 100% Renewable Energy Goal (Renewable Cities Video)” Clean Technica. Web. 25 July, 2015.

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Jul 26 2015

Azura Technology Captures the Motion of the Ocean

Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI) designed a 20kW wave energy converter, the Azura, which began producing electricity to the grid last month off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. (Gahran)


The Azura’s innovative design captures energy from the waves vertical and horizontal motions with its 360 degree rotating buoy. (843 Digital) “As the first grid connected wave energy device in the U.S. that will be tested and validated by an independent party, this deployment marks a major milestone for our team and the marine renewable energy industry,” said NWEI Founder and CEO Steve Kopf. (NWEI) Solar and wind power have been the most successful renewable energy sources thus far. There are several reasons wave energy is last in line including lack of open-ocean research, fluctuating wave conditions, environmental concerns, and most importantly investment cost. Azura technology allows the device to partially submerge under waves and rotate in every direction making it less susceptible to damage in rough conditions. The device has already been tested and approved on small-scale, producing 20kW of electricity and is now being tested and improved with intentions of producing 1MW energy. (Gahran)

The initial cost of wave energy systems is very high and reliant on investors. “According to the Ocean Energy Council, recent experience in the U.K. (which is more advanced in wave power testing and deployment) is about 7.5 cents per kWh at best. The industry goal is to get this down to about 4.5 cents per kwh – comparable with the cost of wind power, although still much higher than the cost of fossil-fuel generation.” (Gahran) According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hawaii has the highest cost of electricity production at 34 cents per kWh. Continued technology advancements in the Azura wave energy system could drive down this expense as well as provide a streamline design for future wave energy conversion installments off the U.S. coasts.

Gahran, Amy, “Wave Energy Test Rolling Forward Hawaii,” EnergyBiz, July 26, 2015. Web. 26 July 2015.

NWEI, “Norwest Energy innovations Launches Wave Energy Device in Hawaii,” AzuraWave. Web. July 26, 2015.

843 Digital. “NWEI Animation,” Youtube. October 21, 2013. Web. July 26, 2015

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Jul 25 2015

Is Ethanol the Alternative?

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An article in Popular Mechanics titled “The Ethanol Fallacy: Op-Ed” brings into question the promise of reduced dependence on foreign oil through good old American grown corn. The author argues that this idea is just way too good to be true. I would say that his argument is relatively sound. He quotes a figure that says it takes about 1 gallon of fossil fuels to grow 1.3 gallons worth of ethanol fuel due to the high maintenance of corn and the high dependence the industry has on large machinery and chemicals. The author continues to make arguments about the economics and reliability of such a fuel source on a large scale. Ethanol can never supply the full demand of our vehicles. There is no argument about that. However, politicians continue to push it through to show their support for “green energy” and to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. They do this despite it being a poor investment.


There are many more reasons not to switch to a higher ethanol dependence. First of all, it is a waste of more than one valuable resource. The fields on which corn is grown are depleted with every planting. Yet to grow corn for ethanol we planted almost 93 million acres in 2009 alone. Besides the negative impact on fields and the poor economic impact, it also drives up the price of corn. Simple supply and demand dictates that if we are using 93 million acres of corn to convert to ethanol, then the price of corn for food use will also be higher. Corn is used in almost every processed food product we buy. Beyond this, the United States grows such a large amount of corn that we are able to export it. We are driving up the price of food for people outside of the United States as well. Arguably people that need it for a cheaper price than we do.


Our money and political power would be better spent on investing on energy sources that could ultimately lead to the true end of dependence on fossil fuels. The investment in ethanol has far too many costs. Solar, wind, and ocean energy projects are making huge strides that already warrant more investment than ethanol. Lets stop wasting our food resources on a short term solution to a long term problem.

Meigs, James. 2009. The Ethanol Fallacy: Op-Ed. Popular Mechanics. Web.




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