World Food Crisis: Biofuels Update

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Anyone who's been following my frequent recent posts about the world-wide spike in food prices and the manifold problems associated with that will be familiar with some of this info. But in researching items for CL's Green Issue next week, I found that biofuels are a big part of the problem.

Science Magazine recently calculated that "biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained GHG advantages." Not bad, until you realize that developing nations are clear cutting at record rates to either plant biofuel crops or compensate for the switch from grain for consumption to fuel grain in other areas. That's when the shock comes - "Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a "biofuel carbon debt" by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annualgreenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels." Not very eco-friendly.

Here's the formula for biofuel crisis: US farmers switch from soy to corn to take advantage of the demand for biofuels. Brazil sees the demand for soy, and chops their rainforests and savannahs into neat little soy fields. Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia don't want to be left out of the bio-boom, so they clear-cut vast swathes to plant oil palms, displacing farmers and increasing food prices.

In 2006, more than 40,000 hectares of forest were destroyed every day. Deforestation puts more greenhouse gasses into the air than all the planes, trains, ships and automobiles across the world. Think about that before converting your car to "green biofuel."

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