According to a recent articles in the New York Times and Discovery News current biofuels may not be much better for the environment than fossil fuels. Two recent studies have found that biofuels may actually produce more greenhouse emissions than conventional fossil fuels. Previous studies have not considered the conversion of natural ecosystems to farmland. These studies have concluded that impact on the environment is the whether the cleared land is rainforest or scrubland. Previous studies have not considered the effect in changing the use of land. Dr. Timothy Searchinger, lead author in one of the studies, stated that in earlier the effect of land use on the environment was merely just a footnote. According to Joseph Fargione, co-author of one of the studies and founder of the Nature Conservancy, the amount of CO2 emitted by clearing grasslands is 93 times what would be saved by using biofuel.
One problem is that using biofuels has caused an increased demand for farmland.The European Union has placed restrictions on importing bio-fuel produced on de-forested rainforest. This restriction actually increases the destruction of the land it is trying to protect. Farmers in developing nations are trying to cash on the increased demand for biofuels. Land that was once used to produce food is now producing crops for biofuel. These farmers must now clear new land to produce food.
International groups like the UN believe more study on the matter is necessary. UN Environment Program spokesman Nicholas Nuttall urges caution in dismissing the use of biofuel. He believes biofuels can be a part of the solution to climate change. However there must be more stringent sustainability criterion.
Proponents of biofuels strongly disagree with the findings of the recent studies. The Renewable Fuels Association has deemed the studies as simplistic and irrelevant. Bob Dineen, director for the group, “Biofuels like ethanol are the only tool readily available that can begin to address the challenges of energy security and environmental protection.”
Searchinger believe that producing biofuel from sugar cane grown in Brazil is a viable alternative fuel. It takes less fuel to grow and refine. He recommends developing biofuels from sources like agricultural waste that do not require the use of additional crops or lands.
What do you think? Is the potiential damage to the environment due to changing land use insignicant? Should there be more research regarding the impact of changing land use on the environment?