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Breaking Down the Biofuel Boondoggle

The recent green fascination with biofuels might be funny if it wasn’t such a serious problem. Biofuels were sold as a renewable, non-emitting energy source, when on balance this anachronistic energy source does more harm to the environment than good. Will Boisvert has an excellent piece on the subject for the Breakthrough:

On the face of it, bioenergy would seem to embody the ecological vision: an energy source rooted in the soil, attuned to the seasons, and governed by life’s cycling rhythms of growth, decay, and reuse. But today, that expression of the ecological vision is destroying nature in order to save it. From the production forests of Germany to the rainforests of Southeast Asia to the American Midwest, we are using millions of square miles of land for crops to feed our cars and power plants that could be used to feed people or become wilderness.

America’s biofuel boondoggle is well-documented. Our idiotic ethanol mandates have done nothing to lower emissions (they may have raised them), but they have raised global food prices (and starved the world’s poor) and may even have incited riots abroad. But Boisvert takes the time to look outside America to Germany’s biofuels policy, which is at least as ill-conceived as our own:

Germany’s heavy investments in solar and wind get most of the attention, but 29 percent of its renewable electricity comes from burning woody biomass in power plants. Throw in liquid biofuel production and wood-fired space heating and biomass provides 38 percent of Germany’s non-fossil-fueled energy.

Half of Germany’s timber harvest is now burned for fuel, and 17 percent of its arable land is used to grow energy crops for biodiesel, ethanol, and biogas production, a proportion that may rise to one third by 2020.

Boisvert’s piece is a serious and comprehensive takedown of the current infatuation with biofuel. It traces the history of the energy source—which faded in to obscurity with the widespread consumption of fossil fuels, only to reemerge years later like some sort of persistent weed—and explicates the many environmental damages the supposedly green fuel wreaks.

But what really makes this piece worth reading in its entirety—you should go do that—is how it traces the interest in biofuels to the more heady concept of how greens see themselves in relation to nature. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking piece to read this weekend with some real-world relevancy, look no further. You’ve found it.

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