The theory of "indirect land use change" maintains that if an acre of corn in the United States is used for ethanol production, an acre elsewhere in the world will be converted to agriculture to make up for it -- and much of the focus has been on the sensitive ecosystem of the Amazon.
Is ethanol responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon? No, and that statement is backed by recent data out of Brazil.
Brazil's government has announced that annual deforestation rates have fallen to their lowest level in more than 20 years. This year's rate is almost half of that of the previous 12 months, and the lowest since records began to be kept in 1988. Read the full Christian Science Monitor article here. This is good news for the conservation of this precious resource.
It must also be noted that this drastic decline in Amazon deforestation is occurring at the same time that ethanol production in the U.S. is growing to record levels. Even after weathering difficult financial conditions, the U.S. is on pace to produce an all-time record amount of ethanol this year for use as clean-burning transportation fuel.
This chart helps us view the relationship between deforestation and U.S. ethanol production:
From 2004 to 2008, U.S. ethanol production has nearly tripled, from 3.4 billion gallons annually to more than 9 billion gallons. During this same time, deforestation has made just as steep a move -- in the opposite direction.
Biofuel critics' claims that ethanol is responsible for these kinds of international land use changes are simply not corroborated by on-the-ground evidence -- quite the opposite, actually. We agree that the environmental impact of all types of energy sources needs to be considered, but we insist that these policy decisions be based on sound science. Let's give ethanol some credit for the positives it has brought to our country economy, environment, and energy security, instead of making charges against it that are simply not valid.