Now He Tells Us -- Gore Figures Out Ethanol is Stupid

A little late Al -- some of us realized this way back when it could have done some good, like before we spent billions of tax dollars and subsidized a stupid industry into being:

ATHENS, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore said support for corn-based ethanol in the United States was "not a good policy", weeks before tax credits are up for renewal.
"It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol," said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank.

"First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.
"It's hard once such a programme is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."
He explained his own support for the original programme on his presidential ambitions.

"One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president."
Gore said a range of factors had contributed to that food price crisis, including drought in Australia, but said there was no doubt biofuels have an effect.

"The size, the percentage of corn particularly, which is now being (used for) first generation ethanol definitely has an impact on food prices.

"The competition with food prices is real."

A couple of thoughts here.  First, many detractors like myself have made the link between Iowa's role in the Presidential nomination process and support for corn ethanol, but it is nice to see a supporter confirm the link.  Second, I wonder how many other scientific opinions Gore holds where political expediency blinds him to the reality of the data?  I can think of at least one big one....


  1. hanmeng:

    I suppose he should be given points for honesty, but this is infuriating.

  2. Danny:

    More importantly, if he is willing to pimp out ethanol to win an election, why are we supposed to take him at his word when he says that his global warming advocacy is not motivated by rent-seeking and greed?

  3. caseyboy:

    These guys don't come clean for no reason. There has to be a motive behind this mea culpa. Is he trying to make his position on global warming more viable since he hasn't repudiated it? What a worm!!!!

  4. Daublin:

    I could actually come to like the guy if he becomes a born-again non-politician. There's much good he could do if he continues to dissect the politics of environmental movements.

  5. DensityDuck:

    I'm pretty sure this isn't any kind of political manipulation. Gore genuinely feels that food-crop ethanol advocacy was incorrect.

    But...well, he feels NOW that it was incorrect. At the time, food-crop ethanol was the savior of future generations and anyone who disagreed with food-crop ethanol subsidies was an Evil Anti-Science Denier who was probably a bought-and-paid-for oil-industry stooge. At the time, the Science Was Settled and food-crop ethanol was the way to go, and if you didn't like it that was just too damn bad. Kicking and screaming, at any price.

  6. Mesa Econoguy:

    Hope he didn't tell Brazil...

  7. Dr. T:

    It was known from day one that ethanol was not a "green" fuel. The original (stupid) purpose of gasohol was to reduce our reliance on imported oil. Gasohol wasn't developed as an environmentally friendly fuel. (It isn't.) The desired effect of gasohol (less imported oil) wasn't achieved because:

    1. Ethanol provides less energy than an equal amount of gasoline, so 10% gasahol reduces miles per gallon by at least 3.2%. Thus, the net reduction in gasoline use by vehicles is less than 6.8%, not 10%.

    2. Ethanol production uses more energy (including oil-based fuels) than gasoline production.

    If it weren't for federal subsidies and mandates, no one would be producing gasohol because it is more expensive overall and it has no counterbalancing advantages (except to corn farmers, agribusinesses, and the politicians they funnel money to).

    Gore is backpedalling on gasohol because the data about its ineffectiveness is overwhelming (unlike climate, we can study and experiment with fuels) and because the massive increase in corn field acreage is adversely affecting the environments in some regions.

  8. rsm:

    @caseboy "These guys don’t come clean for no reason."
    Maybe he changed his mind? Or had time to really analyze the data on his own, rather than rely on his political apparatus to provide him with the data. Why ascribe malice when incompetence and/or reliance on SOPs will do just fine? After all, Smart people change their mind when they have time to really look at and understand all the available evidence.

    @density duck
    How much of that is rhetoric (from speech writers targeting specific segments of the voting public), how much is trusted advisors who are mistaken/paid for by someone else/have their own biases, and how much his him. I'm sure he held the beliefs to some extent or another, but it's hard to dissect out how much was him and how much can attributed to echo-chamber effects and rhetoric.

  9. Greg:

    As Glenn Reynolds says (paraphrasing) "I'll believe global warming is a crisis when the people telling us it's a crisis start acting like it's a crisis."

  10. Hunt Johnsen:

    "Why ascribe malice?" Well, how about all his carbon trading schemes, movies, lectures, books - big buck scams all. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was a little ethanol in his portfolio. I won't cut him or any of the climate-change hacks any slack at all - it's the biggest scam ever.

  11. Ignoramus:

    Gore: “It’s hard once such a programme is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”

    This is an important point. It's nearly impossible to get "progressive" federal legislation repealed -- and not just because of lobbies.

    But -- even when well-intended -- such legislation often has unintended consequences, sometimes momentous.

  12. Greg2213:

    One this that isn't mentioned is that Mr. Gore is heavily invested in the 2nd and 3rd gen ethanol technologies. He stands to profit nicely if the US shifts from corn to 2nd/3rd gen.

  13. Mark:

    I agree that Ethanol is a poor use of corn. Under ideal conditions they get 30% more energy than is put into the farming and creating. Under normal conditions it is 5%. So on a typical farm where 183 bushels of corn are grown, and each bushel gets 2.7 gallons of ethanol, * 5% you get a whopping surplus of energy of 25 gallons of ethanol, which has less energy density than gasoline by about a 1/3, so basically get a net of 17 gallons of gasoline equivalent per acre. And crazily, in Iowa there is a shortage of cows to make the whole process work at these efficiencies (this is a long topic about how energy use is assigned, for the net result of all products made from the corn)

    But don't blame Iowa, what if Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, Indiana, or Ohio had the first caucus/primary? It would be much the same since the whole midwest is based on a corn economy.

    Something I find more interesting, is why in the whole of Iowa is it only economical to grow corn and soybeans? 60 years ago many crops were grown in Iowa, in fact the largest cereal plant in the world is in Cedar Rapids - Quaker Oats, an oat facility that pre-existed the Quaker company when it was formed in 1901. Now I can't imagine that they would build an oat plant in the late 1800's many hundreds of miles from the nearest oat farm. There must have been plenty of oats in Iowa, in fact in at the turn of the last century Iowa produced apples (red delicious is an Iowan variety) berries, tobacco, popcorn etc. So why did the monolithic growth of the industrial starch corn industry take over?

    I can only imagine that this has something to do with government subsidizing the corn production all these years until it was the only crop left which was economical. If left to its own, I would imagine the midwest would still be producing a wide variety of crops.

  14. MJ:


    Excellent point. Note that Gore did not say that ethanol in general was a wasteful pursuit, only that "first generation" (i.e. corn-based) ethanol fuels were. I'm sure he firmly believes that "second" or "third" generation fuels are just as viable (and hence worthy of subsidy/mandates/other forms of government promotion) as he formerly claimed ethanol was. I smell a rat.

  15. Steve:

    I appreciate Gore's honesty that he let political expediency dictate his position, but it took too long to come out. If he can help turn the industry toward better biofuels than ethanol, he will have made some positive contribution.
    As Boone Pickens said: Ethanol is an ugly baby ...":