Friday, February 08, 2008

Biofuels Are Anything But Green

Oops! Oh well, it sounded like a good idea.

Two studies released yesterday have concluded that biofuels are not as effective at reducing greenhouse gases as was thought. In fact, not effective at all.
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.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

What is really pathetic is that we had to wait on two studies to confirm this when it was quite obvious by thinking this through that biofuels are not the answer to our problem. And how in the hell could someone not foresee massive land use changes from attempts to grow enough fuel?
The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “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.”

Needless to say, not everyone is in agreement. The Renewable Fuels Association and other industry groups are getting a tad pissy, calling the data "simplistic" and not putting the issue "into context." Of course they would.

Keep up the good work. At the very least we'll make no impact on greenhouse gases and destroy what's left of the Amazon rain forests. Admirable.

What is simplistic is our overall outdated approach to solving this problem on a global level and making the assumption that baby steps are going to buy us time.

Personally, I think the planet is already fucked and at the base of most of these attempts at solving the problem lies more greed, corruption, distortion of facts and profiteering, all cleverly cloaked in a package intended to mislead the public into believing our current wasteful standard of living will never require extremely uncomfortable adjustments.

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