Thursday, August 1, 2013

Margaret Wente’s science fiction

Today Margaret Wente goes on the hunt for a pro-business enviro-capitalist to put up against the sandal-wearing, tree-hugging cartoons she draws so often in the pages of The Globe. Wente, who regularly lambasts her straw environmentalists for promoting sappy ideology over hard facts and science, begins her promo piece for Jon Dwyer’s Flax Fuel enterprise with this sentence:  “Flax fuel can operate in any diesel engine and emits no greenhouse gases.”

Fact:  Flax is a biofuel.  Biofuels emit greenhouse gases when burned:  “Engines running on biofuels emit carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, just like those running on gasoline”. 

Those emissions are simply mitigated or neutralized – to varying degrees; since plants need carbon dioxide to grow, the net impact of biofuel emissions is reduced throughout their life cycle.  They are also renewable.  However, “because it takes fossils fuels – such as natural gas and coal – to make biofuels, they are not quite ‘carbon neutral’”.

Or as Wikipedia puts it, “Although the burning of biodiesel produces carbon dioxide emissions similar to those from ordinary fossil fuels, the plant feedstock used in the production absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when it grows”.

Perhaps Ms. Wente meant to say something like that.  Or perhaps her grasp of science is a bit weak.  In any case a clarification would be helpful.

Technically, the only "zero emissions cars" are battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  But in the same article Wente describes electrics as “mirages” because “from the paint on in”, they “are made of oil”.  Apparently this doesn’t hold true for the flax fuel versions.  Similarly, she says the new breed of environmentalists neither want nor need subsidies – which are bad.  We await her column calling for an end to the billions in oil industry subsidies.

Perhaps we can’t fault Ms. Wente.  Really, for her, it’s all about honing her image in the culture wars - facts, and logical consistency just get in the way.  For example, just a couple months ago, bio fuels were terrible:

“Take the sorry history of biofuels, which were supposed to green up the world by substituting for fossil fuels. The rush to biofuels has caused massive deforestation, disrupted commodity markets and pushed food prices to record highs”.

But apparently today they look good on her. Margaret has given us a captain of industry to use as a foil for all those sorry enviro-types – one who has not only reversed the terrible history of biofuels, but created one that ‘can operate in any diesel engine’ and emit ‘no greenhouse gases’ at all.  Remarkable.