But there is, in fact, one positive benefit of the global economic slowdown: Carbon dioxide pollution declined last year for the first time in a decade.
According to a study published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, reduced manufacturing and curtailed travel resulted in a 1.3 percent decline in global emissions from 2008 to 2009. But the study's authors suspect carbon pollution is already on the rise this year, perhaps to an all-time high.
Angst over CO2 emissions and their role in climate change are nothing new. But this week, a leading crusader for the environment disclosed the "inconvenient truth" of how political ambition shaped his position on America's predominant alternative fuel.
Speaking at a green energy business conference this week, climate change activist Al Gore said it is "not good policy to subsidize first-generation ethanol." The term "first-generation" refers to ethanol produced primarily from food and feed stocks like corn.
The statement is an about-face from Gore's position during his bid for the presidency in 2000, when he adamantly supported corn-based ethanol.
Al Gore, Vice President: "We need to develop new sources of income with rural development that takes advantage of some of the new possibilities with the internet just to cite one example. And we need to support ethanol."
Campaign rhetoric aside, Gore now characterizes his original support for first generation ethanol as "a mistake," saying,"One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee and I had a particular fondness for farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president."
Gore said he now supports next-generation technologies that use farm waste or non-food sources such as switchgrass to create ethanol.
In a response to Gore's statements, the Renewable Fuels Association, an industry trade group criticized Gore's change of heart. According to RFA spokesman Matt Hartwig: "Gore should stop apologizing for having supported ethanol. He had it right the first time." Hartwig also said "[Gore] should heed President Obama's statement that the "transition to [the next-generation] will be successful only if the first-generation biofuels industry remains viable in the near term."
In addition to strident criticism from vocal opponents, the U.S. ethanol industry also faces the looming expiration of two key support programs.
Currently, a 54-cent per gallon import tariff on foreign ethanol and a 45-cent per gallon tax incentive, known as the "Blender's Credit", are scheduled to expire December 31st.