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Biofuels Bust: Not as Good for the Climate as Previously Calculated

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: biofuels, global warming, health news

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(NaturalNews) By failing to take the larger ecological impacts of biofuels production into account, scientists have allowed governments to present the fuels as better for the world's climate and environment than they really are, according to a paper published in the journal Science. This has put the debate over biofuels dangerously off course, the authors warned.

"We made an honest mistake within the scientific framing of the debate, and we've got to correct it to make it right," said co-author Steven P. Hamburg of the Environmental Defense Fund

Because biofuels such as ethanol and wood chips come from plants that absorbed carbon dioxide as they grew, climate laws in the United States, Europe and other countries consider these fuels "carbon neutral" - they release only what they had already removed, and so need not be considered as carbon dioxide polluters. But this fails to take into account the fact that massive areas of natural forest and grassland are being cleared to plant biofuels - a process that not only threatens biological diversity and immediately releases all the carbon dioxide stored in the bodies of those plants, but also permanently removes important planetary "carbon sinks."

This oversight has since been legislated and made its way into all major climate treaties. Biofuels are treated as carbon neutral and governments are providing incentives for their production, while carbon emissions from land-use activities remain glaringly unregulated.

"If you only count part of the carbon, you set up a set of incentives that are all wrong," said Jae Edmonds of the U.S. Energy Department's Pacific Northwest Laboratory.

Lead author Timothy D. Searchinger of Princeton University warned that the biofuels oversight must be corrected immediately, before the industry becomes too large and influential.

"You think it's hard to solve now?" he said. "If you don't solve it now, it just doesn't get solved."

Sources for this story include: www.washingtonpost.com.

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