Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Limits of Biofuels

The use of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels has exploded in the last few years, as oil production has plateaued. In the past six years the amount of land devoted to biofuels has risen from 12 million hectares to 80 million hectares.

At the same time world population continues to grow by 70 million a year while countries like India and China are increasingly switching to a higher protein, meat diet that requires more grain. The result has been soaring commodity prices, threatening more vulnerable regions of the world with the risk of food shortages.

Demand for biofuels has also resulted in charges of human rights abuses. A report by Friends of the Earth and indigenous rights groups claims that millions of hectares of Indonesian forests have been cleared to meet the growing demand for palm oil. As many as 90 million indigenous peoples who rely on the forests are losing their land to the palm oil companies. The report charges that the companies often use violent tactics to force natives off their land.

The push for biofuels began with a laudable desire to decrease use of oil and reduce carbon emissions, but the results show that present methods of producing biofuels soon run into serious human and environmental costs. This alternative to oil is already reaching its limits.


At 12:10 PM, Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

These posts raise interesting and important points. So what's the answer? More trains? More walking? More ride sharing? Or a new fuel we haven't yet discovered?

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At 4:04 PM, Blogger adrian2514 said...

Hey thanks for the great blog, I love this stuff. I don’t usually do much for Earth Day but with everyone going green these days, I thought I’d try to do my part.

I am trying to find easy, simple things I can do to help stop global warming (I don’t plan on buying a hybrid). Has anyone seen that www.EarthLab.com is promoting their Earth Day (month) challenge, with the goal to get 1 million people to take their carbon footprint test in April? I took the test, it was easy and only took me about 2 minutes and I am planning on lowering my score with some of their tips.

I am looking for more easy fun stuff to do. If you know of any other sites worth my time let me know.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Mitch77 said...

Thank you for raising the issues with biofuels. I believe that many people hear the word biofuel and think it must be great for the environment. Biofuels are better than gasoline as far as emissions from use, but that's about where it ends. What about emissions from production? What about land degradation? What about the opportunity cost of using the land for food? We continue production because we haven't made all of these connections. And as pointed out in the article, wealthy countries don't feel its price effects as much because they can still afford the food. Overall, biofuels are not the answer for renewable energy sources.

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At 12:49 PM, Blogger Tommy D said...

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At 12:54 PM, Blogger Tommy D said...

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At 3:20 PM, Blogger Tommy D said...

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At 3:23 PM, Blogger Tommy D said...

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At 8:58 AM, Blogger gusma said...

Well, it's interesting because what you say about palm oil. In south america there's a new hype on biofuels, saying that corn would be the new source for oil. Yet, you know how many acres would have to be planted a day to keep a steady supply of oil running? And yes, we mean corn for non consumption other than fuel.

Solar energy will always be a better option. Too bad the people that keep the patents are the ones who still want our engines running in some kind of fuel.


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