By Jose San Mateo

In an uncharacteristic move, President Bush acknowledged the issue of climate change with an initiative that calls for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline consumption over the next ten years.

The proposal, dubbed the “Twenty in Ten plan,” aims to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil by developing ethanol and other alternative fuels, a move Bush forecasted during his State of the Union Address.

Climate change advocates are not enthusiastic about the new plan. Jason Barbose, a representative with the statewide environmental organization Environment California, was frankly critical of the goals of Bush’s Twenty in Ten initiative.

“In terms of efficiency, it does not guarantee our independence from foreign oil,” Barbose said.

Scientists that examine climate change and alternative energy are also skeptical of Bush’s initiative. Daniel Kammen, Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy lab based in Berkeley, also criticized Bush’s plan.

“The president’s plan is the least effective [option],” Kammen said. “It just benefits what we do now.”

At issue is the focus on ethanol as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Dan Kalb, a representative with the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained that the makeup of ethanol is critical to its effectiveness.

“Ethanol is an alternative fuel. Where it comes from determines the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it produces,” Kalb said. “Ethanol produced from corn stock is not the most efficient means of reducing greenhouse gases.”

However, according to Kammen, who has published research on the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel, it is still a viable alternative that can produce modest results.

According to a 2006 study conducted by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University, corn-based ethanol could account for 20 percent of fuel consumption in the U.S. by 2015.

Kalb agreed that ethanol could produce modest reductions, but said it is a transition that “only helps in the short term.”

Bush’s plan garnered a lukewarm response from politicians and lawmakers in California. Part of the reason may be statewide legislation that is far more comprehensive in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The bill, called AB 32, mandates a 25 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020. On Jan. 9, Governor Schwarzenegger made the first step in fulfilling the mandate by issuing a directive that would reduce the carbon intensity of passenger vehicles by at least 10 percent.

A statement from Congressman Sam Farr (D-Santa Cruz) acknowledged Bush’s efforts to combat global warming, but said he was disappointed that, in comparison to AB 32, the President’s goals were very vague.

“[AB 32] requires the state to find specific mechanisms to meet specific goals,” Farr said. “The president’s speech did not provide a clear plan for increasing our use of renewable fuels.”	

The president’s plan is by no means a silver bullet in addressing U.S. dependence on foreign oil or growing concerns about global warming.

“Ultimately, we need to move towards a replacement for gas-powered cars,” Kalb said. “[We need] something like fuel cells or electric cars.”