Biofueled Deforestation

Within the United States, biofuel crops will provide a welcome supplement to petroleum-based fuels, but comprehensive and enforced biofuel certification in the tropics is urgently needed.

According to a report in Tierramérica posted on March 26, 2007, entitled “Brazil Intends to Dominate Ethanol Market,” Brazil intends to “increase its current production of 17,300 million liters a year by a factor of 12, without sacrificing forests, protected areas or food cultivation.”

Would someone please explain how Brazil is going to increase their biofuel production twelve times, without massive additional deforestation?

What if tropical reforestation didn’t
just help wildlife, but also reduced
droughts and extreme weather?

If you believe, as I do, that global warming (and droughts and extreme weather) is caused by deforestation (especially in equatorial and tropical regions), desertification, and depletion of water tables – something which has affected over 50% of the land surface on earth – then this news is just another chapter in an unfolding catastrophe.

From Indonesia where rainforest gives way to oil palm plantations, to Africa where rainforest gives way to cassava plantations, to Brazil where new sugar cane developments roll over Amazonia, it appears the final 3 million square miles of rainforest are under relentless attack to grow biofuel crops, and environmentalists are looking the other way.

And even if you believe, as apparently nearly everyone does, that global warming is caused by increased CO2 emissions, where is the benefit from biofuel? Taking perennial rainforest out of the global CO2 sink, permanently replacing it with monocultures of biofuel plants is not a CO2 neutral operation. Tropical rainforests used to cover 8 million square miles, and their reduction to today’s mere 3 million square miles tracks perfectly with the increases in atmospheric CO2 observed over the past 100 years.

It certainly doesn’t help that each year the sugar cane fields are burned to facilitate planting the next annual crop. Much of the CO2 emitted in the past few years worldwide has been from deforestation, but unlike in past decades, this time the burning season is for the biofuel barons, not the loggers. And where are the environmentalists, as this CO2 rises, and the last Sumatran Tiger habitat is burned away?

Moreover, as the Tierramérica report helpfully points out “each liter of ethanol requires 30 liters of water.” Since deforestation causes drought, and biofuel crops are planted where forests once were, where on earth are we going to get all this water?

It is particularly ironic that the Europeans, who are falling over themselves to be sanctimonious about global warming, are mostly to blame for the accelerating destruction of rainforests, particularly in Asia and Africa, in order to grow biofuel.

Biofuel has potential to supplement global energy reserves. Someday, if and when cellulosic extraction methods are perfected, biofuel may contribute significantly to global energy supplies. But in the meantime, biofuel feedstock certification methods are way, way behind the curve. And environmentalists are emphasizing CO2 reduction at the expense of our rainforests, and climatologists are unwilling to admit their climate models do not sufficiently understand the role of forests, water tables, and water vapor in regulating the weather.