Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Biofuels - not so hot

I was already a big skeptic of biofuels before today. Using cropland to grow giant monocultures that are then burned as fuel instead of fed to people seems like a not-so-hot idea - think of the pesticides! More mono-cropping means more chemical pesticides and fertilizers that end up harming downwind and downstream communities and ecosystems. Yuck!

Today, I learned that two recent studies confirm that in addition to being a source of pesticide pollution, biofuels aren't actually preventing global warming either. Princeton University and The Marshall Fund published a study in the journal Science, and The Nature Conservancy has put out a study with similar conclusions.

From an article in The Washington Post on these findings:

"(...) As the study from the Nature Conservancy warns, 'converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia and the United States creates a 'biofuel carbon debt' by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels they replace.' There are other negative effects. Massive amounts of water are needed to irrigate cornfields, setting up potential competition between farms and homes. The runoff of pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers used by farmers could lead to increased pollution and oxygen-depleted waterways. The natural gas used to make the fertilizer adds to the carbon deficit created by biofuels.

An essay in the May-June 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs by two professors from the University of Minnesota highlighted still another problem: The biofuels craze could starve people. "By putting pressure on global supplies of edible crops, the surge in ethanol production will translate into higher prices for both processed and staple foods around the world," they wrote. "If oil prices remain high -- which is likely -- the people most vulnerable to the price hikes brought on by the biofuel boom will be those in countries that both suffer food deficits and import petroleum."

Will someone please get the memo to decision makers in Washington who are pouring money into biofuels right now?? Eep!

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