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A new study in the journal Science ($ub req'd) validates what many have been saying here in Gristmill: Biofuels, especially those from the tropics, are far worse for the planet than regular old crude oil.

The study finds that we could reduce global warming pollution two to nine times more by conserving or restoring forests and grasslands than by razing them and turning them into biofuels plantations -- even if we continue to use fossil fuels as our main source of energy. That's because those forests and grasslands act as the lungs of the planet. Their dense vegetation sucks up far more carbon dioxide and breathes out far more oxygen than any biofuel crop ever could.

Also posted on Kos - worth supporting.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Aug 20th, 2007 at 03:30:34 PM EST
Yet the Worldwatch Institute says (in a puff for a new book they're selling):

Food and Fuel: Biofuels Could Benefit World's Undernourished | Worldwatch Institute

"Decades of declining agricultural prices have been reversed thanks to the growing use of biofuels," says Christopher Flavin, president of the Institute. "Farmers in some of the poorest nations have been decimated by U.S. and European subsidies to crops such as corn, cotton, and sugar. Today's higher prices may allow them to sell their crops at a decent price, but major agriculture reforms and infrastructure development will be needed to ensure that the increased benefits go to the world's 800 million undernourished people, most of whom live in rural areas."
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"It is critical to the stability of the climate that we prevent biofuels from expanding at the expense of rainforests and other valuable ecosystems that store carbon and provide other ecological services," says Suzanne Hunt, who directed the team of 15 researchers from four countries."Energy crops should instead be established on the millions of hectares of degraded land that can be found around the world."

"Current biofuels production methods place a heavy burden on land and water resources, due in part to the fossil fuel- and chemical-intensive corn that is used to produce over half the world's ethanol," says Hunt. "Farming practices need to be reexamined if agriculture is to provide energy as well as food for a rapidly growing global population that is hungry for both."

The book concludes that the long-term potential of biofuels is in the use of non-food feedstock, including agricultural and forestry wastes, as well as fast-growing, cellulose-rich energy crops such as perennial grasses and trees. Following the model of Brazil's sugar cane-based biofuels industry, cellulosic ethanol could dramatically reduce the carbon dioxide and nitrogen pollution that results from today's biofuel crops.

So, apparently, biofuels would be just great if only we didn't produce them as we do in fact produce them, and if second-generation methods were available (which they're not, yet -- and are not certain to become).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Aug 20th, 2007 at 03:50:51 PM EST
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