I told you so. The environmentalist boosters of biofuels and the nature conservationist wings of the environmentalist movement are now duking it out. A new report in Science (subscription required) magazine finds that conserving forests is a far more effective way to fight man-made global warming than biofuels. As The Guardian reports:
Increasing production of biofuels to combat climate change will release between two and nine times more carbon gases over the next 30 years than fossil fuels, according to the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from biofuels.
The environmentalist website Mongabay.com quotes one of the study's authors:
"For reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, maintaining our forests and restoring them is much more effective than using land for biofuels," [Renton] Righelato told mongabay.com. "When forest is destroyed more CO2 is lost than can be saved in 50 years or more through producing biofuels on the cleared land."
Now Righelato may not be exactly dispassionate. He is, after all, the chairman of the board of trustees of the World Land Trust. However, he is right that current bioethanol technologies imply plowing up a lot of newly cleared land to produce fuel.
The New Scientist does note that cellulosic ethanol, that is, ethanol produced using non-food crops like trees and switch grass may be better than reforestation in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
In any case, I did warn that current biofuels would chew up lots of land and that fact would provoke a fight between the naturalist and energy wings of the environmentalist movement.
The Science study concludes:
"For the longer term, carbon-free transport fuel technologies are needed to replace fossil hydrocarbons."
Maybe electricity produced by nuclear power plants and used by plug-in hybrid automobiles?