Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.
These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.
The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.
I think it is time to conclude that anyone who talks up biofuels is a) affiliated with an agri-biotech firm b) Big farmer c)Lobbyist, or d)Politician beholden to a,b and c.
It’s not even close. Clearing hitherto productive forest/grassland for biofuel growth releases 93 times the amount greenhouse gases saved by the use of this biofuel. Diverting farmland for biofuel use makes things worse as the crop substituted will then be grown on land cleared.
The studies do give sugarcane and biofuel from agricultural wastes a cautious maybe. Corn ethanol and palm biodiesel will lead to the destruction of our ecosystems, make food more expensive and scarce, and actually exacerbate global warming.
- Joseph Fargione, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne. Land
Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt. Science, page 1152747, 2008.
- Timothy Searchinger, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu. Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change. Science, page 1151861, 2008.
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