The Law of Unintended Consequences

Remember when I was so hyped up over the future of biodiesel? Well, lately my exuberance has been waning as I have been reading and hearing about the environmental consequences of growing crops for biofuels. After reading this week’s cover article in Time magazine called “The Clean Energy Myth,” my excitement over biofuels has all but disappeared.

Following are some quotes from the article (by all means, read the entire article here):

“The grain it takes to fill an SUV with ethanol could feed a person for a year. Harvests are being plucked to fuel our cars instead of ourselves.”

“The basic problem with most biofuels is amazingly simple, given that researchers have ignored it until now: using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon.”

“Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that its ranking among the world’s top carbon emitters has surged from 21st to third…”

“Deforestation accounts for 20% of all current carbon emissions.”

“Only sugarcane-based ethanol is efficient enough to cut emissions by more than it takes to produce the fuel. The rest of the “green fuels” are net carbon emitters.”

“One groundbreaking new study in Science concluded that when this deforestation effect is taken into account, corn ethanol and soy biodiesel produce about twice the emissions of gasoline.”

“The U.S. leads the world in corn and soybean production, but even if 100% of both crops were turned into fuel, it would be enough to offset just 20% of on-road fuel consumption.”

“It will take more than 400 years of biodiesel use to “pay back” the carbon emitted by directly clearing peat lands to grow palm oil; clearing grasslands to grow corn for ethanol has a payback period of 93 years.”

“Four years ago, two University of Minnesota researchers predicted the ranks of the hungry would drop to 625 million by 2025; last year, after adjusting for the inflationary effects of biofuels, they increased their prediction to 1.2 billion.”

“The lesson behind the math is that on a warming planet, land is an incredibly precious commodity, and every acre used to generate fuel is an acre that can’t be used to generate the food needed to feed us or the carbon storage to save us.”

I guess you can’t always have your cake and eat it too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *