Simple antidote to Earth Day guilt: Use more ethanol

It’s Earth Day. Fuel Freedom is here to absolve you of your feelings of guilt.

Forty-five years ago today, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was observed, in what is generally considered the birth of the modern U.S. environmental movement.

Earth Day-NYT2Even though there were plenty of other causes to occupy the minds of activists, 20 million people turned out at various gatherings around the country. Check out The New York Times front page from the next day:

No offense meant to contemporary agitators, but today many Americans just don’t have the sense of urgency commensurate with the enormity of the threat. As John Robinson, associate provost of sustainability at the University of British Columbia, notes, the goal of activists “is to get to a point where we don’t need special occasions” to raise awareness.

Earth Day as an annual event also might have the unintended consequence of overwhelming the casual observer — someone who wants to protect the planet but views the task as impossibly huge. Robinson says:

When you’re guilt tripped, it often leads to denial or apathy – and neither of those is a good basis for action. Denial means that you resist the whole message. A lot of climate change skepticism is of that nature – people feel beaten over the head with this stick of bad behavior. And so they just deny that anything is happening. Or they throw up their hands and say this is intractable – “what can I do, as a single individual, about this global problem?”

At Fuel Freedom, we’ve stayed out of the hitting-over-the-head business. Our message is simple: fuel choice for vehicles can bring a long list of benefits, from reduced overall costs for fuel; to greater stability for the overall economy; strengthened national security; and of course less impact on air, water and health.

Using more ethanol-blended fuel would achieve all these objectives: It’s a cleaner fuel than gasoline, and so there are fewer heat-trapping emissions (like carbon dioxide) produced. Because the nation’s gasoline supply contains 10 percent ethanol, last year the equivalent of 39.6 million metric tons of CO2 didn’t go into the atmosphere. That’s like removing 8.4 million cars from the road for a year.

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of using corn for ethanol, which accounts for virtually all ethanol produced today, you should know that most corn ethanol is made from inedible, starchy varieties of the plant, and a co-product of the process is feed for livestock. Also, ethanol doesn’t have to be made from just corn: Natural gas, and a range of inedible plants, serve as “feedstocks.” A lot of this info is in our new documentary, PUMP, which you should check out, since it’s now on Netflix.

If saving the planet still seems like too Herculean a task, focus only on the issues we can see, smell and taste: Displacing more oil with ethanol would reduce harmful tailpipe emissions, like particulate matter, ground-level ozone and nitrogen oxide. This pollution has a devastating effect on health, worsening problems like asthma and heart disease. The American Lung Association says 47 percent of Americans live in places “where pollution levels are too often dangerous to breathe.”

Ethanol works, and there are about 17 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road, ready to take blends up to E85 (which is actually 51 percent to 83 percent ethanol). It doesn’t damage engines, it’s often much cheaper, vehicles run with more power on it, and it’s available if you go looking. In fact, new stations are opening all the time.

So all you Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon soccer moms out there, and you tough-guy pickup drivers. Everyone with a flex-fuel vehicle. You can make a difference, today.

And every day will be Earth Day for you.

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