Hearts & Minds - Information for ChangeSM
The Dark Side of
Not as "green" as once thought
Biofuels are presented as one way to help save our
planet. Surprisingly, in many cases they do far more harm than good.
One study by the Nature Conservancy and the University
of Minnesota found that producing bio fuels releases
17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels.*
That’s hardly a solution to our energy crisis.
*These findings were also published in the
February 2008 issue of the Journal Science
Carbon is all around us. Photosynthesizing plants store or “sequester”
carbon which is later released into the atmosphere when the plants
decompose, are eaten, or are burned.
More carbon in the atmosphere creates higher
temperatures worldwide. More carbon stored in plants means less carbon
in the air.
The fear of global warming from the burning of
fossil fuels has led policymakers to look for alternative sources of
energy. One of the most popular is biofuels.
Biofuels are solid, liquid, or gas fuel produced
from recently-dead biological material, usually plants. Fossil
fuels are made from long-dead biological material. Two very
popular types of biofuel are palm oil and ethanol (usually made from
The full price of biofuels
Annually, our planet loses around 50,000 square miles of forest to
deforestation. Each year, that’s an area roughly the size of England.
One reason is a sharp increase in the prices of corn
and palm oil. Huge areas of natural forest are cut down and converted into
biofuel farms to meet the heavily-subsidized demand for biofuels.
These new farms are detrimental to the ecosystem. They
uproot wildlife that previously lived in the natural forest. They alter the
balance of water distribution. Biofuel farms also sequester less carbon than
natural forests, because larger, older trees hold far more carbon.
The human cost to the third
Biofuel farms offer few new jobs. In the tropics, 250 acres dedicated to
family farming generate around 35 jobs. An oil palm plantation on the same
land provides only about 10 jobs, and these are usually poorly paid.
Another serious “side effect”: more farmland for fuel
equals less farmland for food. That’s hardly encouraging when the United
Nations’ 2007 Human Development Report found that
2.6 billion people live on
less than $2 a day. roughly
1.4 billion people suffer extreme poverty. This is defined as trying to
survive based on the purchasing power of what $1.25 buys in the USA.
Starvation is rampant - and growing.
A drop in the bucket
The International Energy Agency estimates that the world can produce a total
of 147 million tons of biofuel in the next 23 years. This will barely offset
one year’s increase in global oil demand, which is now at 136 million tons
annually and growing.
There are many better solutions to global warming and
the world's energy crisis. Here's a letter you
can send to the press or your elected representatives.
Joe Fargione, leader of the energy team at the Nature Conservancy, sums up
the fears of many. “In finding solutions to climate change, we must ensure
that the cure is not worse than the disease”.
More on the Environment
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by Matthew Donovan, Hearts & Minds volunteer,
edited by Bill Blackman, president
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Hearts and Minds Network, Inc.This web page - http://www.heartsandminds.org/environment/biofuels.htm - online
August , 2008,
August 20, 2009