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Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat

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  • Pete Cohon
    Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat [NY Times] By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL Published: February 8, 2008 Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2008
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      Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat



      [NY Times]

      By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL

      Published: February 8, 2008



      Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than
      conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these "green"
      fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have
      concluded.



      The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months,
      as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their
      production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal
      Science, are likely to add to the controversy.



      These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the
      emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted
      to cropland globally to support biofuels development.



      The destruction of natural ecosystems - whether rain forest in the tropics
      or grasslands in South America - not only releases greenhouse gases into the
      atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of
      natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less
      carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.



      Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if
      it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas
      contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken
      globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or
      indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for
      food or fuel.



      "When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using
      or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,"
      said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher
      in environment and economics at Princeton University. "Previously there's
      been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior
      analysis."



      These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels
      because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon
      absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly
      simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own
      emissions - for refining and transport, for example.



      The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas
      that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph
      Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature
      Conservancy. "So for the next 93 years you're making climate change worse,
      just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions."



      - - -



      Full story:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/08/science/earth/08wbiofuels.html



      OR: http://tinyurl.com/2e4sbg





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