The Social Construction of the Image of Ethanol As a Sustainable Fuel: Conflicting Discourses

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:45
Location: Prominentenzimmer (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Mariana GAMEIRO, Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos, Brazil
Since 2003, the Brazilian sugarcane industry has made strong efforts to create and legitimate an image of sustainability for the ethanol fuel. Brazil is the largest world producer and exporter of sugarcane ethanol, internationally competing with the ethanol produced from corn in the United States. Domestically, the sugarcane/ethanol industry is one of the most economically and politically powerful segments of Brazilian agribusiness, generating a GDP of US$ 43.4 billion in the 2013/2014 season – an amount higher than the GDP produced in more than 100 countries worldwide. Once a traditional and conservator sector, the ethanol industry has passed through an expressive process of mergers and acquisitions, resulting in a highly globalized sector dominated by large multinational companies. The ethanol’s sustainability appeal was boosted by growing environmental concerns that emerged in the past decades: air pollution, the limited supply of fossil fuels, the urgency for renewable energy sources, greenhouse gas emissions, climate changes, etc. The ethanol was, then, presented as the most competitive renewable fuel, an environment friendly solution for the problems that scientists, civil society, governments and the private sector intended to fight against. The Brazilian federal government had also played an important role in the promotion of ethanol as a sustainable commodity. However, the reputation of sugarcane industry in Brazil has not always been compatible with this image: bad working conditions, land concentration and land grabbling, soil and water pollution, the competition for agri-food areas, among others are some of the arguments that intend to contest the discourse of sustainability of ethanol. In this context, this paper proposes to analyze the discourses pro and against the pretense sustainability of ethanol. It will additionally identify the social actors involved in these discursive disputes and their strategies. It is methodologically based on document analysis and bibliographical research.