Biofuel Monocultures

Forests are considered sacred by most environmentalists. Over the past twelve years we’ve reported on deforestation and reforestation, and there has always been a consistent refrain from environmentalists: Monocultures are not forests. This point of view, while debateable, is one we basically agree with.

So why are environmentalists relatively silent on the potential problems with biofuel plantations?

Biofuel Monocultures

Most environmentalists as well make much of the “carrying capacity” of the planet. They point out, correctly, that there is a limit to how much the Earth’s biosphere can generate. Their concerns are manyfold – we will run out of forests, we will run out of farmland, we will run out of wilderness, we will run out of water – with all the attendant catastrophes that each of these depletions would cause.

So why are environmentalists so happy that we’ve just found a new way to deforest the planet and plant monocultures? Why are the Americans in particular suddenly embracing biofuel as though it is the solution to everything from global warming to energy shortages?

The following reports constitute just a small example of how dangerous the worldwide craze to develop biofuels could become:

Palm oil plantations decimating orang-utans says report

China funds massive palm oil plantation in rainforest of Borneo

Biofuels threaten rainforests as important European Commission decision lies ahead

Biofuels: Green energy or grim reaper?

Clearly, some environmentalists are beginning to understand how problematic massive development of a global biofuels industry could become. For biofuel to even make a dent in world energy hunger, literally millions of square miles of biofuel plantations would be necessary.

In a brilliant presentation to the California Air Resources Board in September 2006, Martin Eberhard, CEO of Tesla Motors, included a slide “What About Ethanol?” (see pages 25 and 26 of the .pdf file). In this slide he superimposes on a map of North America a square representing how much land, planted with biofuel crops, it would take to offset 50% of the car miles driven in the United States. The area covers about 1.0 million square miles.

We’ve covered the quantitative trade-offs between biofuel production and land use extensively in the past year. Read our Biofuel section for more information. What you find may concern you.

It is incredible that groups such as the Global Footprint Network can release stories such as “Ecosystems Face Collapse” yet take a nuanced position on biofuel. Anybody who claims we are already “Eating the Planet” ought to be horrified that now we’re also going to grow our fuel. The unpleasant fact is biofuel production will not be easily regulated in the places where regulation is most required, the developing nations. The genie is out of the bottle, and environmentalists are now going to have to undo the momentum they’ve encouraged.

Categorized | Energy & Fuels
3 Responses to “Biofuel Monocultures”
  1. Agree 100%, although environmentalists are certainly split on the issue. But I can’t for the life of me see why any environmentalists believe that biofuels are going to save the day.


    Robert Rapier

  2. Jack Sprat says:

    But all the salvage logging to which the environmentalists have been so opposed could be permitted, and the scraps sent to a cellulosic ethanol distillery! We might drive up and down the roads on the energy that used to fuel our forest fires.

  3. Zinedine says:

    I think it is a difficult situation to be in with biofuels being pushed so that petroleum usage can be reduced. At the same time some of the earth will be changed. But what will happen to this earth if we do not use biofuel? It might be worse. Maybe just replant what is taken down. Make it sustainable and force biofuel companies to do the same.


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