Science

Who They Are

        1.    Physical Scientists: Several disciplines make up the physical scientists including climatologists, chemists, biologists, geographers, etc.                    Physical scientists are most heavily involved in the debate as researchers for the Federal government. Institutes like the National                            Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are government-funded labs where most of the research on                            ethanol is being conducted and where most of the top scientists in the field are employed. The main function of the physical scientists is                 to produce data for the government to use in their policy-making process.

        2.     Environmentalists: This group is based partly in the actual science community and partly in the American citizenry at large. The topics                  for concern vary; however, environmentalists overall fight for policy that benefits the health of the environment. Where they are                             involved in the debate is in the environmental effects of producing ethanol on ecosystems. Most of their involvement in the debate
                comes from nonprofit organizations working towards promoting fuels that are both renewable and friendly towards the environment.


Their Position

The science community has a few goals in mind. First, it wants to find a fuel that is more environmentally responsible than gasoline. Second, it wants that fuel to be grown and harvested in a sustainable manner. Third, it wants to prevent valuable wildlife habitat and ecosystems from being converted into land for fuel-crop production. With these goals in mind, the science community overwhelmingly supports cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass. They believe that it is the best solution to America's gasoline issues due to its numerous environmental benefits including a low carbon footprint, its need for less fertilizers and water, the potential offset to soil degradation, and creation of suitable habitat for wildlife. Scientists do warn however that the process of growing and converting switchgrass into ethanol needs to be done in a conscientious manner or else all of the benefits could be negated8. Figures 6a, 6b, and 6c below are support for the position of the science community.
                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                    Figure 6a

                                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                               Figure 6b
                                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                                  Figure 6c

Important Advocates
  1. Union of Concerned Scientists: Founded in 1969, this non-profit organization is a collection of 250,000 scientists and non-scientists citizens whose mission is to fight for a safe world and environment. They conduct their own independent scientific analysis on issues like ethanol to solidify and backup their positions. They have successfully petitioned Washington in the past to increase the national fuel economy standards and renewable energy standards among other things. Their position is outlined in the following link: The Truth About Ethanol

        2.  Defenders of Wildlife: Founded in 1947, this non-profit organization is supported by 500,000 members across the globe. Their mission
              is to protect America's native species and habitats. They have successfully won legal battles over protecting national forests and various               habitats for wildlife habitat. Their position is outlined in the following link: Detailed Recommendations on Biomass Energy


Power in the Controversy

The science community is relatively limited in their power in the ethanol controversy. While they do have a position on which fuel is the best option to use, their main purpose is to produce the data used by the government in the decision-making process. While in some controversies knowledge is power, it is not the case here. The government's commanding role in the debate prevents the science community from taking on a larger power position. While the scientists gain power from their production of knowledge in the eyes of the government, they do not gain any in overall debate due to their subservient position to the government. Also, scientists and environmentalists outside of the government's research facilities do not spend enough money lobbying for them to have a significant role in the debate. While the science community spent about $22,000,000 in 2009 in Washington, those funds went to such a broad variety of causes that it could not generate enough power for them in this particular debate9.


8Union of Concerned Scientists. (2007, December 7). The Truth About Ethanol. Retrieved April 29, 2010, from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/technologies_and_fuels/biofuels/the-truth-about-ethanol.html
Figure6a: http://photos.mongabay.com/09/0202ethanol_costs.jpg
Figure6b: http://photos.mongabay.com/06/0509ethanol.jpg
Figure 6c: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/technologies_and_fuels/biofuels/biofuels-an-important-part.html
9The Center for Responsive Politics. (2010, February 1). Environment. Retrieved April 29, 2010, from http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indusclient.php?lname=Q11&year=2009
Comments