Argument: Cellulosic ethanol land-use harms forests, environment, climate

Issue Report: Cellulosic ethanol


David Schneider. “Loser: Grassoline’s Dark Side.” IEEE Spectrum. January 2010: “Carpeting the continent with enough switchgrass to displace all that petroleum use is theoretically possible—but it would be an environmental catastrophe on many counts. For one, it would devastate what’s left of the already besieged wilderness. And according to estimates that Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University and his colleagues published in the journal Science in 2008, it would also exacerbate the world’s greenhouse-gas problem, not help solve it. That’s because even if switchgrass agriculture were limited to established cropland, we’d end up having to convert forests and other land to agriculture just to feed ourselves. That in turn would release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Many of the wonks now working out carbon-emissions policy have missed this simple fact, an oversight that Searchinger and his colleagues pointed out in another piece in Science this past October. Biofuel can’t be considered carbon neutral, Searchinger says. ”Even the strongest advocates in the biofuel industry would agree that it’s not,” he says. But biofuel advocates downplay that and other environmental risks.”

Rhett A. Butler. “Cellulosic energy may trigger dramatic collapse in the Amazon”. 11 Marc. 2008 – “Next generation biofuels may trigger the ecological collapse of the Amazon frontier and could have profoundly unexpected economic consequences for the region, warns a paper published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.”

David Schneider. “Loser: Grassoline’s Dark Side.” IEEE Spectrum. January 2010: “If switchgrass proves highly profitable, what’s to prevent farmers from raising it everywhere? Strict U.S. regulations may save forests from being replaced by fields of switchgrass, but elsewhere in the world trees would inevitably be chopped down, either to make way for biofuel feedstock or to grow the crops that switchgrass displaces elsewhere. For this reason alone, DDCE’s project is destined to be a loser, even if it one day proves a commercial success.”