The Ethanol Answer to Carbon Emissions

LESTER B. LAVE

W. MICHAEL GRIFFIN

HEATHER MACLEAN

The Ethanol Answer to Carbon Emissions

When the United States gets serious about the threat of global climate change, it should turn to ethanol to power cars.

The moment is fast approaching when the United States will have to face up to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is finding growing scientific evidence that human activities are forcing a gradual warming of the planet, and recent international negotiations in Kyoto, Bonn, and Marrakech have demonstrated that the world’s political leaders are taking the threat more seriously. The United States opted out of the most recent rounds of negotiations, and many analysts have pointed out weaknesses in the Kyoto Protocol. Although there are large problems with the Kyoto agreement and its focus on unrealistic near-term targets for U.S. emissions reductions, the United States cannot ignore the need to reduce carbon emissions over the long term. The November 2001 Marrakech meeting concluded that the United States and other developed nations should reduce their emissions to 95 percent of the 1990 level in approximately 10 years. Although the United States rejected that goal, eventually it will have to reduce its emissions even further.

The United States is responsible for a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions, and Americans’ per capita emissions are five times the world average. A major source of carbon emissions is the U.S. personal transportation system. Light-duty vehicles–cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), minivans, and other light trucks–are prolific CO2 emitters, producing 20 percent of total U.S. emissions.