Last night the Harte Research Institute held a dinner in honor of Sylvia Earle, one of the world’s leading oceanographers. She’s in Houston to give a lecture this evening at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
Earle, who is on the board of the Harte institute that studies the Gulf of Mexico, spoke briefly during the dinner, and afterward she took questions. One of them was, “What is the biggest threat to the Gulf of Mexico?”
Her reply was to look in the mirror. Humans were taking too much out of the oceans (i.e. overfishing) and putting too much in (i.e. pollutants). It was a characteristic Earle answer.
At that point, however, the executive director of the Texas A&M Corpus Christi-based research institute, Larry McKinney, stepped up to the podium. He offered a blunt, one word answer: “Ethanol.”
Ethanol, of course, can be used as a fuel. In the United States ethanol comes primarily from corn, grown primarily in the Midwestern United States. Last fall the U.S. government upheld a mandate on the use of ethanol in gasoline sold in the country.
Environmentally speaking, ethanol is bad for the Gulf of Mexico because it ensures large amounts of fertilizer will be used to farm large amounts of corn, which push larger amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen into the Gulf. This, in turn, creates larger dead zones.
I thought it was an interesting answer coming from a scientist who has spent much of the last three years studying the BP oil spill.
Read more from Houston Chronicle science reporter Eric Berger on his SciGuy blog.