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
Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society
Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences