Destroying native ecosystems for biofuel crops worsens global warming

February 8, 2008

This article will certainly not be the last word on the subject, but physorg posts a study (to be published in Science magazine later this week) that claims destroying native ecosystems for biofuel crops worsens global warming. From the report

The carbon lost by converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands outweighs the carbon savings from biofuels. Such conversions for corn or sugarcane (ethanol), or palms or soybeans (biodiesel) release 17 to 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels, the researchers said.

I obviously haven’t read the soon-to-be-published paper, but here’s why I think it worth mentioning:

  1. It is likely that biofuel won’t become competitive energetically and economically until we learn how to make fuel out of waste. Converting waste fry oil into diesel might supply the fuel needs of several hundred people, but it’s hardly a national strategy. And converting food into fuel is simply not a solution in a world where many people do not get enough food. Only by deriving a set of industrial strength enzymes that can break down the cellulose in corn stalks can we make practical use of biomaterial.
  2. The factors that go into the environmental and economic impact are subtle. It’s not that you necessarily need a Ph.D. before you’re qualified to comment, it’s that it is best to study the problem carefully for a while before declaring the problem solved.
  3. There is a very good chance that Americans will have to change their consumption habits in the future. I find very few statements as poisonous as the Bush administration’s comment that “The American Way of Life is not Negotiable.” And the hope that goes along with that that we can all continue to commute 50 miles per day in giant SUVs, and that we just have to find another way of fueling them, one that is carbon neutral, one that is renewable, whatever. I certainly can’t see the future. Perhaps nuclear fusion really will save us all, but, were I a betting man, I would say that the odds are pretty small, and that very likely the American Way of Life will most likely change qualitatively in the next two decades.

One Response to “Destroying native ecosystems for biofuel crops worsens global warming”

  1. […] has noted similar results to ones I blogged on last week, that biofuels aren’t the carbon savior they claim to be, in that they actually increase the […]

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