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The Dark Side of Biofuels
Not as "green" as once thought

Biofuels are presented as one way to help save our planet. Surprisingly, in many cases they do far more harm than good.

One study by the Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota found that producing bio fuels releases 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels.*

That’s hardly a solution to our energy crisis.

*These findings were also published in the February 2008 issue of the Journal Science

Carbon 101
Carbon is all around us. Photosynthesizing plants store or “sequester” carbon which is later released into the atmosphere when the plants decompose, are eaten, or are burned.

More carbon in the atmosphere creates higher temperatures worldwide. More carbon stored in plants means less carbon in the air.

The fear of global warming from the burning of fossil fuels has led policymakers to look for alternative sources of energy. One of the most popular is biofuels.

Biofuels are solid, liquid, or gas fuel produced from recently-dead biological material, usually plants. Fossil fuels are made from long-dead biological material. Two very popular types of biofuel are palm oil and ethanol (usually made from corn). 

The full price of biofuels
Annually, our planet loses around 50,000 square miles of forest to deforestation. Each year, that’s an area roughly the size of England.

One reason is a sharp increase in the prices of corn and palm oil. Huge areas of natural forest are cut down and converted into biofuel farms to meet the heavily-subsidized demand for biofuels.

These new farms are detrimental to the ecosystem. They uproot wildlife that previously lived in the natural forest. They alter the balance of water distribution. Biofuel farms also sequester less carbon than natural forests, because larger, older trees hold far more carbon.

The human cost to the third world
Biofuel farms offer few new jobs. In the tropics, 250 acres dedicated to family farming generate around 35 jobs. An oil palm plantation on the same land provides only about 10 jobs, and these are usually poorly paid.

Another serious “side effect”: more farmland for fuel equals less farmland for food. That’s hardly encouraging when the United Nations’ 2007 Human Development Report found that 2.6 billion people live on less than $2 a day.  roughly 1.4 billion people suffer extreme poverty. This is defined as trying to survive based on the purchasing power of what $1.25 buys in the USA.

Starvation is rampant - and growing.

A drop in the bucket
The International Energy Agency estimates that the world can produce a total of 147 million tons of biofuel in the next 23 years. This will barely offset one year’s increase in global oil demand, which is now at 136 million tons annually and growing.

There are many better solutions to global warming and the world's energy crisis. Here's a letter you can send to the press or your elected representatives.

Conclusion
Joe Fargione, leader of the energy team at the Nature Conservancy, sums up the fears of many. “In finding solutions to climate change, we must ensure that the cure is not worse than the disease”.


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by Matthew Donovan, Hearts & Minds volunteer, edited by Bill Blackman, president
Copyrights: Entire website 1997 - 2016 by Hearts and Minds Network, Inc.This web page - http://www.heartsandminds.org/environment/biofuels.htm - online
August , 2008, latest changes August 20, 2009

 

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