Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ethanol Cars as a Public Health Problem

Betcha weren't ready for this. I know I wasn't.
My dad was an auto mechanic. So is one of my sons-in-law. I have learned to be careful about anything that comes out of the car business and this is one more example. That's part of the reason we now only buy second-hand cars. (It helps, too, to have a family member in the business.) Car dealers are the modern version of horse traders.

Ethanol-fueled cars will create an equal or even greater risk to public health than those powered by gasoline, according to a new study. Gasoline emissions are estimated to cause at least 10,000 premature deaths in the United States alone every year. Yet ethanol is no panacea, says Mark Z. Jacobson, the Stanford University atmospheric scientist who conducted the study.

Using sophisticated computer modeling techniques to simulate air quality in the United States in 2020, Jacobson found that vehicles fueled by a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline (E85) increase atmospheric concentrations of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, canceling out the reduction of carcinogens that are prevalent in gasoline but not in ethanol. What's more, E85 can increase ozone in some areas. And that means ugly smog and the deaths associated with higher levels of ozone. Jacobson projects that widespread adoption of E85 would lead to slightly higher mortality rates in the United States (+4 percent) and especially smog-friendly Los Angeles (+9 percent).

And it doesn't matter, according to Jacobson, whether ethanol is made from corn, switchgrass or other plant products—the results remain the same. So we have yet another reason to be skeptical of the prevailing obsession with ethanol. Well, what should we do? Jacobson highlights alternatives such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, which can derive energy from wind or solar power. He says, "These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land."
Here's an interesting puzzle:
How might the shock-jocks handle this piece of information?
On the one hand, boosting support of ethanol would put them squarely into the patriotism sector, because it "reduces dependence on foreign oil," but it's also something the much despised "tree huggers" like. You know, that commie-infested environmental movement that wants to destroy America. Now we have yet another wrinkle in the argument, that old smog and ozone thing, which everyone knows is part of that global warming clap-trap.
Am I being sarcastic enough?

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