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February 8, 2008
Bio-Fuels an Environmental Threat
More bad news for advocates of ethanol and other bio fuels. Several recent studies have shown that these alternative fuels actually cause more greenhouse gas emissions than regular fuels:
The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. While the green argument was always the weakest, bio-fuels, advocates will still point to the fact that increasing our use of them will reduce our dependence on foriegn oil.
These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy. These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.
The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — 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. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.
Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.
This may be true but at what cost? Contributing to the depletion of the rain forest is something that most can agree is a bad thing. And the rush to produce bio fuel without examining its true cost to the environment much less the economies of the world has been a damaging element in what should be a cost/benefit argument instead of a crusade for greens and a windfall for farmers.
John McCain has argued against these subsidies which places him in a very small minority among politicians. Perhaps if he's elected, he can find a way to slow the process down until a better understanding of the consequences becomes known.