It’s not easy being green with biofuels
Studies have found that biofuel production causes more harmful greenhouse gas emissions than do conventional fuels.
STUDIES pointing to high greenhouse gas emissions resulting from production of biofuels doesn't mean they have no future in replacing fossil fuels. But the research underscores how shifting away from a world that runs on oil, coal and gas cannot be isolated from economic, environmental and human factors. Finding alternatives to fossil fuels must be evaluated holistically for far-reaching and unintended repercussions.
The studies, published Thursday in the journal Science, concluded that almost all biofuels in use at present cause more harmful emissions than do conventional fuels when land-use changes and other elements, such as refining and transportation, are taken into account.
Of chief concern is global destruction of natural land that is being converted to cropland not just for biofuels, but to grow food plants displaced by more lucrative biofuel crops. Although crops absorb carbon, the amount taken in falls far short of carbon emitted or released when rain forests and grasslands are plowed under.
For Hawaii and the United States, biofuels, such as ethanol, has been seen as a way to loosen the grip of oil while reducing emissions. Despite cautions from scientists and environmentalists that ethanol wasn't the silver bullet, Congress passed and President Bush signed legislation that requires huge increases in its use and generous subsidies for production.
Biofuels do have a role in a greener energy future, but the right shades of green -- the right plants in the right place and for the right use -- must be chosen. Moreover, conservation cannot be ignored as the greenest preference.
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