The Road to the Green New Deal and the Biofuel Bridge

Here we are in 2019 and at 1.5C warmer than before the industrial revolution. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey have introduced their plan.. or Outline? Road-Map? for the future of the American economy and its role in reducing carbon emissions to prevent climate disaster. Big ideas for an even bigger challenge.

Yet, the bill provides little detail as to how we are going to accomplish these lofty, ambitious, completely achievable goals. AOC and Markey have laid out where they hope to lead the country through policy. Now, it’s up to us as citizens, parents, Uber drivers, baristas, and scientists to take the steps necessary to get there. We got this.

I am here to speak as a scientist (at least as a scientist to-be). I’m a graduate student. I study biofuel feedstocks. More specifically I study the genetics of switchgrass, a promising species being used in the effort to make a more sustainable, ethical biofuel.

Biofuels are a controversial topic to say the least. The ethics behind land-use and feeding everyone vs growing plants for fuel is a tense debate. Considerations for these issues peak when discussing the net-carbon impact of current biofuels. Still, I’m here to argue biofuels have a role and that role is a bridge.

For a long time, biofuels have been a bridge to nowhere. We’ve had biofuels in one way or another since the dawn of the automobile and yet nobody really knew what to do with them. Gasoline fuel out performs biofuels as far as octane is concerned. Coal historically has been cheap and readily available. Natural Gas has made a huge impact, supplying nearly a third of the United States’ energy needs. Biofuels for a long time haven’t made sense economically or otherwise.

Assuming that new feedstocks can be grown in places that do not compete with food and require less carbon input than extracting, refining, and burning current fuel resources (working on it), biofuels offer a temporary solution to reducing carbon emissions without the invention of radically new technologies. As I said, we’ve had this tech since the Model T.

There is no silver bullet going to slow rising sea levels, stop mass human migrations, or prevent the loss of countless species due to climate change. We need a holistic approach with technologies that can be implemented today and high-risk government funding to prepare the ones of tomorrow.

Finally, and most importantly, once we’ve crossed that bridge we should remember that biofuels had a role, thank them, and then move on in the same way we are moving past coal and fossil fuels now.

Thanks for reading.

scientist | communicator | sometimes these overlap

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