You may know that biofuels produced from plant matter such as corn and soybeans have been touted as the great hope for replacing petroleum to fuel cars and heat buildings. But though policy makers have rushed to the technology, it's turning out that the costs may far outweigh the benefits when it comes to global warming and other environmental damage.
According to a New York Times article by Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat," published February 8:
- Two recent studies show that "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."
- The conversion of forestland and grassland to cropland, in order to produce biofuels, "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."
- Indeed, "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."
Additionally, a previous New York Times article by James Kanter, "Europe May Ban Imports of Some Biofuel Crops," published January 15, said:
- "Not only is native vegetation, including tropical rain forests, being chopped down in places to plant the crops, but fossil fuels, like diesel for tractors, are often used to farm the crops. They also demand nitrogen fertilizer made largely with natural gas and consume huge amounts of water."
- "Already, the draining and deforesting of peatlands in Southeast Asia — mainly to make way for palm plantations — accounts for up to 8 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions, said Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group."
- Perhaps there is some good news in the fact that "experts say certain types of fuels, particularly those made from agricultural wastes, still hold potential to improve the environment, but they add that governments will have to set and enforce standards for how the fuels are produced."
Cartoon courtesy of Car Advice (click image to enlarge).