Mini Review – This Moment on Earth

The book This Moment on Earth
I finished reading This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future by John and Teresa Heinz Kerry and wanted to post my thoughts here.

I have to say that I had high hopes for this book and was disappointed when I finished. The book basically revolves around different people and/or groups that are doing their part (and then some) for environmental change. The book also talks (predictably) about the ridiculous stance that the current administration is taking on environmental change. Unfortunately none of this is new material.

Maybe I’m being too harsh because the book has had a lot of good reviews on amazon.com but I was just hoping for more. I’ve heard these stories before and I’ve heard about what the Bush administration is doing (or not) for the environment. Given that I’m pretty aware of these issues I guess that I’m probably not the audience for this book but they do get a little light on the good information at times such as when they are discussing the US, Brazil, and ethanol.

On page 151 they state:

Washington has not only neglected to promote more efficient automobiles but has also avoided making any serious commitment to alternative renewable fuel sources. E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol alcohol, is a homegrown, domestic, completely renewable source of engine fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline. Today in this country, nearly 6 million vehicles can be fueled by E85, but less than 1 percent of the service stations have even a single E85 pump.

Corn-based ethanol, which Kerry is certainly referring to since cellulosic ethanol is nowhere near ready for mass production techniques, is an awful example of an alternative fuel. Just for starters the output you get in energy from burning ethanol is almost equal to the inputs required to produce the ethanol. Gotta get the energy to grow the corn somewhere and right now most of that is coming from, you guessed it, oil. Oil to power the vehicles harvesting the corn (for example). Oil used in the production of pesticides sprayed on the corn. Et cetera.

On page 152 they go on to talk about how Brazil is using lots of ethanol and they do point out that it is sugar-cane-based ethanol which is important. Sugar-cane-based ethanol gives a much higher output per input and certainly is a more valid oil alternative for fuel. Last time I checked though the United States isn’t producing quite as much sugar-cane as Brazil 😉

This is actually the only really glaring thing that bothered me about this book. Clearly they didn’t need to jump on the (corn-based) E85 bandwagon. At this moment E85 isn’t a real option here. We need more fuel-efficient vehicles via changes in CAFE standards more than we need E85. We need electric vehicles more than we need E85. Thankfully they point these things out as well in the book.

Overall I think the book was good but I think it was aimed at a different audience than the one I belong to. That is not the fault of the authors. I just wish the book would have been a bit meatier.

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