The truth About Biofuel
By Kyle Knight – the Shield [www.usishield.com], April 24, 08
With biofuels touted as one of the safest and efficient ways to reduce greenhouse emissions, many jumped on to the bandwagon to help ensure a better climate for the world.
Recently some have decided to jump off, and sound the alarm, as scientists and researchers point out the detrimental factors resulting from biofuels.
Several have presented research identifying that biofuels have resulted in the deforestation of rain forest for more crops and even increasing world hunger. Most recently, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culture Organization released a report calling on developing nations to in act measures to ensure the protection of the environment and reduce hunger. The report said, “the diversion of agricultural crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger throughout the world.”
Recently the price of oil has spurred significant interest in biofuels. Current expectations predict ethanol consumption will rise to over 1.2 billion gallons by 2012, but research indicates the process releases a significant amount of greenhouse gases.
The desire for biofuels has motivated many countries to begin deforesting rain forests for crop production for biofuels, which releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the air. In study by The Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota, Joseph Fargione estimated that clearing those lands creates a ” ‘biofuel carbon debt'” by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels they replace.”
Further, once those plants and trees have been removed they can no longer absorb carbon dioxide. In the New York Times, Fargione said, “so for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”
In another study for Science magazine, two scientists found that “by using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that cornbased ethanol, instead of producing a 20 percent savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switch grass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50 percent.” Biofuels also factor into the recent food shortages, causing significant problems in under-developed countries.
Although drought and the economical growth of other countries contribute to the overall circumstances, biofuels remain an area where countries can exercise restraint and help alter the present circumstances. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently placed biofuels as accounting for over a third of the price increase for global foods.
Joachim Von Braun, the author for IFPRI report, “Rising Food Prices,” said “about 30 percent of U.S. maize production will go into ethanol in 2008 rather than into world food and feed markets.” Instead, of cultivating crops such as soybeans and wheat, which a significant portion of underdeveloped countries consume, American farmers receive subsidies to produce corn for biofuels. Farmers in other countries then begin to clear greenhouse absorbing areas like peat lands and rain forests to grow soybeans to meet the demand at home.
The research journal Amber Waves, found that “worldwide agricultural commodity price increases were significant during 2004-06: corn prices rose 54 percent; wheat, 34 percent; soybean oil, 71 percent; and sugar, 75 percent. But this trend accelerated in 2007, due to continued demand for biofuels and drought in major producing countries.”
Allow little can be done about the recent droughts in countries like Australia; we can have an impact by altering our path with better management of biofuels. Some have begun calling on developed-countries to alter their policies, but thus far, Europe and the United States have ignored the call. Recently the European Commission rejected an appeal to halt Europe’s goal of making biofuel account for 10 percent of its transportation fuel by 2020.
In an interview with Nature, Fargione suggested that to efficiently utilize biofuels we must act “in ways that do not require the conversion of natural ecosystems.” Von Braun from the IFPRI, recommended developing countries alter their policy on which crops to develop.
Instead of basing what to produce on government subsidies, they should develop crops based on the world market prices for food. Ultimately, it’s time Congress reconsidered current environmental legislation in light of this new evidence and begin altering the present.
If we begin to take lead, and heed the warnings of several respected institutions, others developed nations might follow. As William F. Laurance, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute said, “we need to be smart and promote the right biofuels, or we won’t be helping the environment much at all.”