Fossil Fuels Better for Environment than Biofuels
If saving the environment is our goal, we’d be better off if “governments steer away from biofuel and focus on reforestation and maximizing the efficiency of fossil fuels instead.”
It sounds counterintuitive, but burning oil and planting forests to compensate is more environmentally friendly than burning biofuel. So say scientists who have calculated the difference in net emissions between using land to produce biofuel and the alternative: fuelling cars with gasoline and replanting forests on the land instead. They recommend governments steer away from biofuel and focus on reforestation and maximising the efficiency of fossil fuels instead.
The reason is that producing biofuel is not a “green process”. It requires tractors and fertilisers and land, all of which means burning fossil fuels to make “green” fuel. In the case of bioethanol produced from corn — an alternative to oil — “it’s essentially a zero-sums game,” says Ghislaine Kieffer, programme manager for Latin America at the International Energy Agency in Paris, France.
What is more, environmentalists have expressed concerns that the growing political backing that biofuel is enjoying will mean forests will be chopped down to make room for biofuel crops such as maize and sugarcane. “When you do this, you immediately release between 100 and 200 tonnes of carbon [per hectare],” says Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust, UK, a conservation agency that seeks to preserve rainforests.
Much more at the link. The story is based on a subscriber-only article in the current Science.
Andrew Samwick observes, “Putting energy reform in the hands of domestic agricultural producers seems like no better an idea than putting it in the hands of domestic petroleum producers.”
And this is in addition to the moral question of whether it’s a good idea to convert a cheap, efficient form of food (say, corn or soybeans) into an inefficient substitute for fossil fuels.