Two biofuel studies, recently published in Science magazine, have been highlighted in a popular New York Times article:
Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat
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.
Turns out that naturally-existing ecosystems (rainforests, grasslands, etc.) are being chopped down to plant "green" biofuel crops. This "deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions". Which kinda ruins the whole point of using biofuels in the first place.
"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."
I'm a big fan of allowing scientists to have a greater hand in environmental policy. I certainly don't support the "tree-huggers are all idiots" viewpoint, but I tend to look at it more pragmatically. A portion of our trees need to be preserved to play their part in the natural cycle, and to provide natural spaces for hunting, fishing, hiking, and just enjoying the outdoors. Of course, a portion of trees need to be chopped down to make room for roads, schools, government buildings, and military installations. When to chop down, and when to preserve, is a decision that we should place more in the hands of the scientific community, and less in the hands of business interests.
IMO, Green marketing
tends to play too much of a part in our recent purchasing decisions. A "green" business is often no more or less ethical than a "conventional" business, and that's something that we need to accept. Here, the "gold rush" on biofuels has resulted in an increase in greenhouse gases, rather than a decrease.
That being said, there are many ways to extract energy from our universe, and, in certain cases, there may indeed be alternatives superior to conventional petroleum. In examining these alternatives, we need to stick to science-based methods of analysis, and not get too excited over the latest and greatest energy craze.
Otherwise, our attempts to "save" the environment may only contribute to its swifter destruction.