Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Biofuels vs. Food Crisis Underscores Need for New Climate Change Strategy by Bob Doppelt

21.05.2008
The European Union's recent attempt to salve the wounds of rising food prices and social unrest caused by its rush to promote biofuels once again unveils the dangers of using traditional thinking to resolve global warming.

The EU wants biofuels to make up 10 percent of transport fuels by 2020, and whether or not this has caused the recent food crisis, it has already begun to reduce our capacity to prevent climate change.

Rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this approach is likely to make the problem worse, and the haste to grow the biofuels industry is merely the latest in a century long line of examples of the 'take-make-waste' thinking that produced global warming.

One of the most insidious outcomes of this thinking is the search for the quick fix. Ethanol, for example, was seen by policymakers as an easy way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with farmers and fuel companies taking advantage of a quick way to meet rising market demand for clean fuels while generating revenue in tough economic conditions. The World Bank has since estimated that corn prices rose by more than 60 percent from 2005 to 2007 due to these policies.

The broader implications, however, go far beyond the current food crisis. Marginal lands and forests have been cleared for biofuels production, making it even more difficult for forests and agricultural lands to act as sinks to absorb CO2. In South-East Asia for example, 87% of all deforestation between 1985 and 2000 can be attributed to the palm oil plantations, according to Friends of the Earth.

One of the reasons government and industry pursue quick fixes is to avoid the fundamental changes needed to resolve complex problems such as global warming. For example, they hope that technological solutions such as ethanol can solve the problems without having to make deep-seated changes in our mobility systems.

This is a form of wishful thinking. It is based on the hope that some new invention will resolve our problems and relieve us of the need to alter our behaviour. The reality, however, is that rather than solving the problem, given our current thinking most new technologies require more of everything—more resource extraction, more raw materials, more processing, more transportation, and even more energy.

Numerous studies, for example, have demonstrated that the energy return on energy invested (EROI) from most forms of corn and sugar-based ethanol is at best marginal and at worse a net loss. Bio-ethanol must also be grown, collected, dried, fermented, and burned. These steps require resources, infrastructure and transportation that often produce as much pollution as ethanol saves.

The destruction of farm lands and impacts on small farmers and communities in East Africa and Brazil may be even greater than the energy balance and pollution problems. Even the shift to non-food based biofuels such as algae, food waste, and other cellulosic-based fuels runs the risk of unintended ecological, economic and social consequences. Great care must be taken to consider the systems-effects of biofuels. Quick fix technological solutions usually fail and often make things worse.

The biofuels problem demonstrates once again that global warming is not, at the core, an energy, technology or policy problem. It is the greatest failure of thought in human history. Only after people alter their thinking, which means to think sustainably, will the personal and organizational behaviors, clean energy technologies, and policies required to reduce emissions and stabilize the climate become evident.

To think sustainably means we must avoid quick fix, technology-can-save-us and other harmful thought patterns. We must continually consider the effects of every decision we make on the systems we all rely on for life. Let's hope the EU now understands the errors of their ways and begins to think sustainably as it moves to aggressively reduce emissions.

This article is based on the forthcoming book The Power of Sustainable Thinking: How To Create a Positive Future for the Climate, The Planet, Your Organization and Your Life (Earthscan, 2008).

Bob Doppelt is director of the Climate Leadership Initiative in the Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Dan Harding | alfa
Further information:
http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=22122

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Minimized water consumption in CSP plants - EU project MinWaterCSP is making good progress
05.12.2017 | Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum

nachricht Jena Experiment: Loss of species destroys ecosystems
28.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Midwife and signpost for photons

11.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

How do megacities impact coastal seas? Searching for evidence in Chinese marginal seas

11.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

PhoxTroT: Optical Interconnect Technologies Revolutionized Data Centers and HPC Systems

11.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>