Leave the Corn, Take the Algae: Time to Say Buona Notte to Food-Based Biofuels

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Leave the Corn, Take the Algae: Time to Say Buona Notte to Food-Based Biofuels

You have a bushel of corn. You can either produce 2.7 gallons of ethanol or feed 50 people. Which would you choose?
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You have a bushel of corn. You can either produce 2.7 gallons of #ethanol or feed 50 people. Which would you choose? http://bit.ly/AAziHV
Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 9:02am

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On December 31, 2011, America's three-decade-old federal tax credit for ethanol expired, ending a government subsidy that poured more than USD 20 billion into an industry that the New York Times called one of Congress's "most resilient boondogles." Oil companies received a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit to blend ethanol into gasoline, costing American taxpayers between USD 5-6 billion a year.[1]

THE PROS AND CONS OF BIOFUELS

Of course, there are many environmental benefits of biofuels, including reductions in particulate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (they are inherently carbon-neutral because burning them simply releases back into the atmosphere the same amount of carbon that was initially absorbed by the plant matter) and a move toward local production, which is not only less transport-heavy than importing fuel, but also reduces dependency on unreliable foreign resources. Overall, advocates stress the energy security to be found in biofuel production.

But while biofuels are inherently carbon-neutral, growing biofuel crops like corn, oil palms and sugar cane means the creation of vast plantations -- and that means massive deforestation, which is responsible for up to 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, about 1.6 billion tonnes, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).[2]

"[Ethanol's] environmental virtues were less than advertised," according to the New York Times. "Billed as a lower-carbon replacement for fossil fuels, corn ethanol generated more carbon dioxide than gasoline after taking into account the emissions caused when new land was cleared to replace the food lost to fuel production."[3]

LOWER BIODIVERSITY, HIGHER FOOD PRICES

And all that clearcutting of forests means the destruction of natural habitat and loss of biodiversity. The endangered orangutan, for example, is rapidly losing its habitat in Indonesia due to the conversion of tropical forests to palm oil plantations.[4]

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Reynard is a Justmeans staff writer for Sustainable Finance and Corporate Social Responsibility. A former media executive with 15 years experience in the private and non-profit sectors, Reynard is the co-founder of MomenTech, a New York-based experimental production studio that explores transnational progressivism, neo-nomadism, post-humanism and futurism. He is also author of the blog 13.7 Billion Years, covering cosmology, biodiversity, animal welfare, conservation and ethical consumption. He is currently developing the Underground Desert Living Unit (UDLU), a sustainable single-family dwelling envisioned as a potential adaptation response to the future loss of human habitat due to the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Reynard is also a contributing author of "Biomes and Ecosystems," a comprehensive reference encyclopedia of the Earth's key biological and geographic classifications, to be published by Salem Press in 2013.

Keywords: Responsible Production & Consumption | Deforestation | Energy Security | International Institute for Sustainable Development | biodiversity | biofuels | ethanol | food crisis | greenhouse gas emissions | renewable energy | sustainable development

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