Bioethanol - winner or loser?

The production of ethanol from corn as a replacement/supplement for petrol is coming under increased attack from environmentalists. This month's Ecologist and today's Independent both led with a destructive assessment of its merits.

I do not claim to know whether ethanol is a good or bad solution to our energy problems. But I do know that George Bush and Tony Blair don't know, and neither do Zac Goldsmith (editor of The Ecologist) and Simon Kelner (editor-in-chief of The Independent). Because they are trying to establish the case by claim, counter-claim and posturing, little light is shed on the issue. And because no mechanism exists that simply values carbon equally from all its sources, we have no way of discovering in a market the reality that is being obfuscated in discussion. As usual, sweeping generalisations ("this technology is good/bad regardless") that ignore changing circumstances are a good sign that people are busy picking losers rather than allowing the most efficient and appropriate solutions for the circumstances to emerge and evolve.

Sometimes the debates seem intended to confuse, not illuminate. Perhaps this is the real objective. For an alternative take on the ethanol debate in America and people's motivations in presenting their arguments, have a look at the What's That Smell? site. The author's hostility to a local development has produced a scathing analysis of the process by which politicians and lobbyists adopt and promote losers for their own interests. Just remember that the other side - opponents of ethanol - have their own agenda too.