By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
Environment: In 2005, America used 15% of its corn crop to replace just 2% of its gasoline. Two new studies say use of biofuels will leave the world a warmer and hungrier place.
The law of unintended consequences has reared its ugly head once again, with a study published in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Science.
According to University of Minnesota ecologist and study co-author David Tilman, converting the grasslands of the U.S. to corn for ethanol releases excess CO2 emissions of 134 metric tons per hectare (equal to 2.47 acres).
The reason is that plants, from grasses to trees, store carbon dioxide in their roots, shoots and leaves.
"I know that when I look at a tree that half the dry weight is carbon," says Tilman. "That's going to end up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when you cut it down."
"Any biofuel that causes land clearing is likely to increase global warming," says Nature Conservancy ecologist Joseph Fargione, the lead author of a second study also published in Science.
Fargione notes that ethanol demand in the U.S. has caused farmers to plant more corn and less soy. This has driven up soy prices and caused farmers in Brazil to clear more acres of rain forest to plant the increasingly valuable soy.
Tim Searchinger, an agricultural expert at Princeton University and lead author of the first study, says, "There is a huge imbalance between the carbon (released) by plowing up a hectare of forest or grassland from the benefit you get from biofuels."
According to Searchinger, "Corn-based ethanol, instead of producing 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse gas emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years."
So it's not surprising that 10 prominent scientists have written a letter to President Bush and other government leaders urging them to "shape policies to assure that government incentives for biofuels do not increase global warming."
Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, recently led a team that weighed the benefits of palm oil against the ecological harm from clearing virgin Asian rain forests for new plantations. He concluded that as a fuel, palm oil is more like snake oil, noting: "As a biofuel, it's a failure."
A team from Wetlands, Delft Hydraulics and the Alterra Research Center of Wageningen University produced a four-year study that detailed the environmental harm caused by the use of palm oil as an alternative energy source. The team zeroed in on Indonesia and Malaysia, where 85% of commercial palm oil is grown.
The study found that 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide go up in smoke every year from rain forest fires set to clear new land for biofuel plantations. An additional 600 million tons seep into the air from drained peat swamps. Those 2 billion tons of CO2 constitute 8% of the earth's fossil fuel emissions.
As we have noted, our increased use of corn for ethanol has driven up U.S. food prices across the board.
This process, Tilman notes, is "equivalent to saying we will try to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing food consumption. Unfortunately, a lot of that comes from the world's poorest people. We are converting their food into our fuel."
"We are witnessing the beginnings of one of the great tragedies of history," Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, said in a written statement. "The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before."
To avoid drilling in ANWR, we are increasing emissions of the greenhouse gases previously absorbed by plants and encouraging that process around the world. Meanwhile, a world of hungry people watches us stick ears of corn into our gas tanks.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Arguments against Bio-Fuels
Posted by whit at 2/24/2008 06:00:00 AM