[Editor’s note: Tad Patzek is the latest to weigh in on our Prop. 87 “oil tax” debate. See our previous discussion of Patzek’s private meeting with Vinod Khosla several weeks ago.]

If we go along with Proposition 87 as it is formulated now, we will continue destroying the Earth ecosystems in real time to feed our greedy cars and lifestyles. We will trick ourselves into believing that we are saving California and the planet. This monumental waste of time and public money will not move California toward energy independence.

Proposition 87 is centered on several biofuel delusions that must be confronted and debunked. For starters, we really need to stop driving the gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoes and Hummers. We also need to understand that feeding monstrous SUVs with E85 or biodiesel is bad for the Earth.

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Here I will illustrate just one of the many biofuel delusions. I call it the “Brazilian Syndrome”:

• “I went down to Brazil and I saw President Lula down there. I don’t know if you know this, but the vast majority of fuel to fuel the cars in Brazil is made from sugar.” (President Bush’s Advanced Technology Initiative presentation at 3M in Maplewood, Minnesota, February 2, 2006)

• “If Brazilians could do it, Californians can do it!” (Former President Clinton’s soundbite promoting Proposition 87)

• “The big success story in cellulosic (sic!) ethanol comes from Brazil, which will achieve energy self-sufficiency some time this year thanks to the 30-year investment in ethanol.” (Berkeley’s Forefront Fall 2006 issue quoting Professor Daniel Kammen on page 9)

The volume and depth of misinformation about biofuels and Brazil are staggering. Almost every candidate for a public office or governor has his/her fixation with Brazil. Is it the US version of the South Sea Bubble delusion in England? Here is just one more example: “…That country is now completely energy-independent by using sugarcane methanol (sic!) as a primary source of fuel” (Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, March 12, 2006).

So, we have been admonished from left and right to follow the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol success story and gain independence from the Middle East oil. It is commonly suggested that all cars in Brazil drive on ethanol. The truth is more complicated:

1. Since 2003, Brazilians have been producing more petroleum and natural gas than they consume. Yes, today, Brazilians are crude oil exporters. They are busy selling sugarcane ethanol to Sweden, Japan, US, and other countries.

2. The average ratio of total energy in anhydrous ethanol consumed in Brazil over the last 25 years to the energy in crude oil consumed there has been 8%.

3. Gasoline fuel use in Brazil is less than 1/2 of diesel fuel use there and sugarcane ethanol has added 40% to gasoline supply in Brazil.

4. When one accounts for the displacement of other crops, most notably soybeans, from the Cerrado to the Amazon region, and the resulting obscene forest destruction that emits greenhouse gases at a rate rivaling total US emissions, one wonders about the grotesque self-deception perpetuated as the Brazilian biofuel “success” story.

California ranks 1st in the US in gasoline consumption and 2nd in jet fuel consumption. In 2005, with 36 million people, California consumed about 4.1 exajoules (EJ*) of crude oil, 17% more than the 3.5 EJ consumed by Brazil with 185 million people. Brazil is a developing country, whose consumption of crude oil has been 10 times less than that in the US. All Brazilian ethanol would not suffice to drive passenger cars in LA. Therefore, to emulate Brazil, Californians should do the following:

1. For an equal per capita use of petroleum, we must cut down petroleum consumption by a factor of 6. This would mean driving all vehicles in California only one day per week.

2. All gasoline passenger cars and SUVs would have to be driven only one day per 16 days.

On the positive note, gaining total independence from the Middle East oil imports would require the US transportation sector to be 15% more efficient. Modest gains of fuel efficiency of 1-2 miles per gallon across the board would do the job. The permanent energy savings would be 40% higher than all crude oil consumed by Brazil, and would equal the fossil energy of all US corn grain.

(*1 EJ is the amount of calorific energy in food sufficient to feed and fatten 300 million people for 1 year.)