Con #4: Biofuels

The following is from John Truman Wolfe’s e-book, The Anatomy of a Con Job
Permission to circulate this work has been granted by the author
PDF version is available here

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By John Truman Wolfe

global warming-wolfeA friend of mine drives around to restaurants late at night and collects used vegetable oil. He uses it in his diesel Mercedes that will qualify for Medicare next year. He has converted the Mercedes to burn vegetable oil as fuel.

One of the solutions to the “carbon crisis” is biofuels.

Biofuels are essentially fuels produced from plants.

There are two basic types of biofuels. Ethanol, which can be used as petrol and is made from corn, sugar cane, beets, wheat and other grains, and biodiesel which is made from oil seeds, tree nuts or waste oil (à la the Medicare Mercedes above).

Biofuels are supposed to be clean, convenient and carbon neutral. But don’t look too closely because the environmental consequences of their use are something out of a Stephen King novel.

DEFORESTATION

The planet’s tropical rain forests are being obliterated as if some frenzied Jolly Green Giant were running an immense weed wacker through the Amazon.

Biofuels are broadly promoted as a solution to the production of carbon dioxide. But a closer examination reveals that they damage the environment on two fronts: the first is massive planetary deforestation.

Tropical forests are the most powerful carbon reservoirs on the planet. In other words, they sequester and store carbon dioxide more effectively than any other resource.

Cutting forests down not only releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it eliminates them as both a carbon reservoir and a generator of oxygen. (Again, for those of you that slept through high school biology, or, like me, never had the guts to take it, plants use carbon dioxide and sunlight to make oxygen.)

But government mandates and corporate greed are pushing the cultivation of biofuels so intently that tropical forests are vanishing from the planet at an appalling rate.

The European Union, for instance, has mandated a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. This is to be partly achieved by mandating that 10 percent of vehicles be powered by biofuel. Financial incentives, which we examine in detail below, have driven global investment in biofuels from $5 billion in 1995 to an estimated $100 billion in 2010. Everyone from George Soros to British Petroleum and Shell Oil are players in this market.

As a result, vast amounts of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil have been destroyed for soybean and sugar cane cultivation. Brazil proudly announced last year that deforestation was on track to double that year.

A report by Friends of the Earth revealed that between 1985 and 2000, the development of palm oil plantations in Malaysia was responsible for the deforestation of 87 percent of the country’s forests. Eighty-seven percent! In fact, palm oil is now referred to as “deforestation diesel.”

In Sumatra and Borneo, 4 million hectares of forest were lost to palm oil farms (9.8 million acres—almost twice the size of the state of New Hampshire).

As an added sucker punch to Mother Nature, biofuel-driven deforestation has also led to Holocaust-like species extinction. The forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are home to the orangutan, Sumatran rhinos, tigers, gibbons, tapirs, proboscis monkeys and thousands of other species, many of which are under serious threat of extinction from habitat loss.

And then there is this troubling little fact: while biofuels generate less carbon emissions than oil, they are doing so by replacing vegetation and soil that suck up even more carbon. In other words, the carbon absorption lost by razing the wilderness to cultivate biofuels is dramatically more than the gains achieved by using the cleaner- burning fuels.

The “inconvenient truth” is that the biofuel craze is destroying nature, and, incidentally, adding to the carbon dioxide on the planet, not decreasing it.

OCEAN POLLUTION AND DEAD ZONES

If you have ever walked by a body of water and noticed an acrid smell, felt your eyes burning or saw that it was blanketed by a thick red, blue or green plant covering, you’ve probably had an unfortunate run-in with an HAB, Harmful Algal Bloom.

In almost all cases, the production of biofuels is accompanied by the use of nitrogen, phosphorous, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, etc.

Nitrogen, along with other toxic materials, filters downward to the water table and finds its way to rivers, streams and eventually the ocean. There, the nitrogen and, to a lesser degree, the pesticides generate massive, abnormal and very toxic “algal blooms,” which rapidly decay into huge areas of oxygen-sucking dead algae. This is highly destructive of marine life.

Corn cultivation utilizes the greatest application of fertilizers and pesticides. No surprise, then, that the heaviest concentration of these toxins occurs in the U.S. corn belt. The result? Nitrogen and other toxins in the Mississippi River system have mercilessly poured into the Gulf of Mexico creating a dead zone of 22,000 square kilometers (8,492 square miles, an area about the size of New Jersey). It’s not just the Gulf of Mexico. The number of oceanic dead zones has spread around the planet like an environmental cancer.

Since the onset of the biofuel craze in the 1980s, the number of dead zones has increased 450 percent.

But that’s not all.

Species Extinction

There are currently about 405 dead zones on the planet, the largest, 70,000 square kilometers (27,020 square miles—larger than the state of West Virginia), in the Baltic Sea. Species extinction is a direct effect of these zones. In the last ten years, 14,000 dead seals and dolphins have washed up on California’s coast and 650 gray whales have been found beached. In Florida, hundreds of manatees have been killed and 80 percent of the coral reef in the Caribbean has been smothered. Seventy-five percent of California’s fish-rich kelp forest has been ruined and the problem is beginning to affect the availability of seafood for human consumption.

About 1.7 million plant and animal species have been identified on the planet. According to some reports, species extinction is now occurring at the rate of about 20,000 to 30,000 annually. Whatever the number, the endangered species list increased 150 percent last year alone. The single largest reason for this is habitat destruction and pollution, most of which is a result of biofuel production.

Makes you feel warm all over, doesn’t it?

Oxygen Depletion

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown rather partial to breathing. It brings a certain awareness to life.

So the fact that biofuel production is depleting the planet’s oxygen is more than a little troubling.

Sounds alarmist, doesn’t it? Perhaps even a bit conspiratorial. How could one of the most prolific solutions to global warming be destroying the planet’s supply of oxygen?

The oceans are the planet’s largest carbon sink. (The rain forests are the most effective carbon sinks; oceans are the largest.) It is the algae in the oceans that absorb the bulk of the earth’s CO2. That’s right; the earth’s primary CO2 sponge is the algae in the oceans.

The algae then convert sunlight and the CO2 in the ocean into oxygen.

Seventy to eighty percent (70%–80%) of this planet’s oxygen is produced by the algae in the oceans. Yet the nitrogen, phosphates and other chemicals pouring into the oceans around the world as a result of biofuel production are destroying the very element that produces the bulk of that oxygen—the algae in the oceans.

This is Con #4: Biofuels don’t reduce carbon; they destroy the rain forests and are depleting the very air we breathe. Which begs the question, have these people forgotten to pay their brain bills, are they just plain evil or . . . is there something else at play here?

And that brings us to the last piece of the puzzle and the final con.

Con #5: Carbon Credits

Link to entire article: Anatomy of a Con Job

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