Today’s BBC ran a story entitled “Shifting Sands,” which describes towns in the Nigerian Sahel that are being swallowed up by the Sahara desert which is marching southwards.
The presumption is this: Global warming is causing desertification, and the villages of northern Nigeria are among the victims. But this is almost certainly false. Desertification is being caused by two factors stronger than global warming – it is being caused by deforestation, and it is being caused by drought.
There is a clear link between deforestation and drought, particularly in West Africa, as cited in the MIT study “Desertification, Deforestation and Drought,” where they demonstrate that deforestation along the southern coast of West Africa (e.g., in Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast) may result in complete collapse of monsoon circulation, and a significant reduction of regional rainfall. Connections between deforestation and drought are well established throughout the tropics.
Once deforestation in coastal regions causes regional drought, the abusive patterns of land use in the interior, where swollen populations continue to forage for firewood even though they consume it far faster than it grows, leave the parched land even more vulnerable to desertification.
In West Africa the biggest new cause of deforestation in many regions is to grow biofuel. The land rush to establish biofuel plantations in developing nations is one of the most intense the world has ever seen. Literally millions of square miles could be turned into biofuel plantations in the tropics, and the impact this will have on global rainfall and global temperatures is incalculable – it is surely comparable to anything caused by anthropogenic CO2.
Moreover, the rush to deforest the tropics to grow biofuel – cassava in Nigeria, sugar cane in Brazil, oil palms in Indonesia – is a form of neocolonialism that environmentalists should find horrifying. Tariff barriers are being streamlined to allow tropical developing nations to export biofuel to the industrial north, food crops are being crowded out, small farmers are unable to participate, and in 100 square mile increments, land ownership passes into the hands of energy multinationals. And weather patterns take a turn for the worse.
If biofuel is to have a future we can all look forward to, it will be factory farmed using algae or the like – otherwise it would take nearly all the farmland and forests in the world for biofuel to replace petroleum. Biofuel is valuable as a supplemental fuel if it is grown on arid lands to stablize soil and reverse desertification, but not as a cash crop on land where tropical rainforests once stood.
It is interesting that environmentalists expend considerable energy trying to provide indigenous peoples alternatives to firewood, yet condone industrial-scale deforestation to grow crops to refine and burn in the engines of our cars. Biofuel, produced in this way, is not “carbon neutral,” and it is going to accelerate global warming, not slow it down.