The Fraud of Repetto and the Ethanol-Fuel Apologists

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Ted Gurney
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The Fraud of Repetto and the Ethanol-Fuel Apologists

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---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: The Fraud of Repetto and the Ethanol-Fuel Apologists
From: John Karls
Date: Fri, July 15, 2011 10:34 am
To: Ted Gurney

Dear Ted,

Thank you very much for your participation in Reading Liberally over the years!!!

And thank you for being so vocal Wednesday evening vis-à-vis “America’s Climate Problem: The Way Forward” which you had recommended.

However, I was very disappointed that you waited until our quasi-traditional post-meeting social hour at the neighborhood bar (this time in honor of Bastille Day which had begun, French Time, 5 hours earlier) to confide that you had disagreed with my 2-plus pages of editorial comments prefacing the suggested answers to this month’s traditional Short Quiz pointing out that our author, Robert Repetto, had been guilty of fraud.

The heart of the 2-plus pages of editorial comments regarding Repetto’s fraud is contained in the following quotation:

“On pages 22-23, Repetto claims that bio-fuels such as ethanol do NOT produce carbon gases that result in global warming!!! Thereafter throughout the book, Repetto treats ‘fossil fuels’ (oil, natural gas, coal, etc.) as synonymous with ‘greenhouse gas’ (‘GHG’) generators, and ‘renewables’ (wind, solar, etc., BUT INCLUDING BIO-FUELS!!!) as synonymous with non-GHG generators!!! On pages 22-23, Repetto is praising Brazil for requiring all of its vehicles to run on a combination of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol produced, not from corn as in the U.S., but from sugar cane. Since the energy value of ethanol, whether produced from corn or sugar cane, derives from its sugar content, the chemical formula for burning (aka oxidizing) that sugar (C6H12O6 + 6*O2 > 6*H2O + 6*CO2) is identical to burning/oxidizing coal or fuels produced from crude oil!!! [Of course the formula for oxidizing natural gas/methane is CH4 = CH4 + 2*O2 > CO2 + 2*H2O.] THE ONLY OBJECTIVE SERVED BY BRAZIL'S 85% USAGE OF ETHANOL IS ENERGY INDEPENDENCE (WHICH BRAZIL DID IN FACT ACHIEVE) -- AND THE CORRESPONDING SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM OF BALANCING ITS IMPORTS/EXPORTS. ETHANOL USAGE DID NOT ‘MOVE THE NEEDLE’ ON GREENHOUSE-GAS GENERATION IN BRAZIL!!! Throughout the book, Repetto makes frequent references to (1) increasing ethanol in U.S. motor fuels to the same 85% standard, but (2) substituting for corn whose usage deprives the world of food, other non-food crops such as ‘switch grass’ that can be grown on land that is not suitable for raising food crops -- and endorses the result as Nirvana and opines that this is where the U.S. is headed anyway!!! I have claimed this is fraud!!! The only other explanation is ignorance. However, even someone whose training is economics rather than science cannot claim to be ignorant about the basic topic (greenhouse-gas generation) of his book.”

I then suggested as a Modus Vivendi –

“Repetto's book is full of useful information. And his basic theme is that the U.S. should adopt President Obama's $1.75 TRillion (over the first 10 years) ‘cap and trade’ tax on carbon-pollution permits issued by the U.S. Government, a proposal President Obama abandoned after it was rejected in 2009 by Democratic Senators from the Midwest who insisted that any such scheme include India and China, and who insisted that requirements placed on India and China be enforced with trade sanctions. Accordingly, I would suggest that everyone read Repetto's book making notes on his good points and his gaffes (of which there are many). And we'll compare reactions and decide what action to take on July 13th.”


Your private remonstration at the post-meeting social hour was based on the familiar “fig leaf” advanced, sometimes with straight faces, by the ethanol lobby that burning carbon fuels is excusable from a global-warming perspective if the carbon fuel can be re-generated in short order -- that somehow the length of the “replacement cycle” is relevant!!!

That “fig leaf” would rate a failing grade in either Economics 101 or Cost Accounting 101.

[The reason for referencing Cost Accounting 101 is that cost accountants are more precise in analyzing on a “with and without” basis each step in a continuum to determine the exact impact of that particular step, whereas economics students are often quite sloppy!!! After all, Repetto who has a PhD in Economics, would probably try to justify his failure as sloppiness rather than fraud!!!]

A competent Cost Accountant, whose profession does not tolerate sloppiness in its mission of measuring on a precise “with and without” basis the exact impact of a particular step, would say that the impact of burning ethanol (the “with”) as opposed to not burning the ethanol (the “without”) is the chemical formula for burning (aka oxidizing) the ethanol’s sugar (C6H12O6 + 6*O2 > 6*H2O + 6*CO2) -- which is identical to burning/oxidizing coal or fuels produced from crude oil!!! [Of course the formula for oxidizing natural gas/methane is CH4 = CH4 + 2*O2 > CO2 + 2*H2O.]

Ethanol-fuel apologists point out that the sugar in the ethanol was recently created by photosynthesis whose chemical formula you, as a retired biology professor, would be the first to point out is the reverse of oxidizing sugar (photosynthesis = 6*H2O + 6*CO2 > C6H12O6 + 6*O2 which recognizes that solar power from the sun can drive the chemical process in reverse and that solar power is then stored in the C6H12O6 sugar molecules until released by burning/oxidation).

The problem with the “fig leaf” of the ethanol-fuel apologists regarding whether the carbon fuel was created during the last farming cycle (or zillions of years ago and locked in oil, gas or coal) is exposed by one of the simple questions that would be posed by a competent Cost Accountant = why burn the recently-produced sugar molecules??? Just because they have been produced recently does NOT mean that they have to be burned/oxidized in order to harvest the next crop!!!

In other words, the corn used to produce ethanol in the U.S. could be used instead to feed the world’s starving millions!!! Ditto the sugar cane that is used to produce ethanol in Brazil!!!

Indeed, even if the switch grass with respect to which Repetto rhapsodizes is not edible and is produced on land that is not fit for growing anything else that could be used to feed the world’s starving millions, Repetto still faces the competent Cost Accountant’s question of why Repetto thinks it is necessary to burn the switch grass!!!

After all, would Repetto argue that residents of New England which relies on heating oil (aka diesel fuel aka “resid”) should cut down their forests and heat their buildings with wood???

The reason for calling attention to the fact that wood is a bio-fuel and that it can be substituted for heating oil is not facetious!!!

And it is not even intended as a hint on what could be done with the Amazon rain forests which cannot be re-grown because of the non-richness of the soil on which they are situated -- since New England forests could be harvested periodically just like Repetto’s switch grass and presumably Repetto would have to concede that the New England forests could be re-grown over a short enough period of years (vs. the zillions of years ago that oil, gas and coal were produced) and that, therefore, the New England forests are just as much a “renewable” as the switch grass!!!

And it certainly is not intended to expose the relative-cost problem faced by the ethanol-fuel apologists. Even though it is easy enough to “mouse trap” anyone tempted to point out that periodic harvesting of New England forests to provide bio-fuel to heat New England’s buildings might be more expensive than burning heating oil -- by pointing out that substituting ethanol for a portion of the gasoline that powers a nation’s vehicles is also more expensive than burning 100% gasoline.

[And let’s be honest enough to admit in passing that as good environmentalists, we are NOT normally concerned with how much cost is imposed on the nation to preserve the environment, and we bristle at the thought that anything we propose might have a price tag or that voters should be unwilling to pay any price.]

I am guessing that as a retired biology professor, you might argue that any forest functions as a “carbon sink” in using solar power in photosynthesis to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and that the “carbon sink” might have a slightly greater capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if it comprises young and growing trees, rather than mature trees (think “young gym rat” vs. “old couch potato”!!!).

And I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea whether such a claim might be true or not. Indeed, I would be curious for your view on this issue.

However, the answer to this question is still irrelevant to global warming!!!

Because a competent Cost Accountant will still ask why you need to burn the wood that you harvest periodically from the New England forests!!! [Harvesting “with and without” burning.]

Or why, even if Repetto-apologists can make the case that a “switch grass ‘carbon sink’” can function with somewhat-greater efficiency if the switch grass is harvested periodically so that it is forced to re-grow, the harvested switch grass needs to be burned.

Even if it has no other economic use, it could simply be plowed under!!!

Repetto and ethanol-fuel apologists remind me of mountain climbers!!!


What is their answer to the question of why they had to climb Mount Everest (or whatever other mountain they have conquered)???

“Because it was there!!!”

And what is the answer of Repetto and the ethanol-fuel apologists as to why they have to burn corn and sugar cane (rather than feeding the world’s starving millions) or why they have to burn the switch grass (rather than, if necessary, plowing it under)???

“Because it is there!!!”


Feed the world’s starving millions with the corn and sugar cane -- or plow under, if necessary, the switch grass!!!

And use solar, wind or nuclear instead for fuel!!!

If you have any questions or comments, I’d be delighted to continue the conversation.

Your friend,

John K.

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