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Monday, March 26, 2007

Not so fast with biofuels

Via IPS News Agency, Stephen Leahy warns of some unintended consequences that can occur with the rush to biofuels:

Biofuels Boom Spurring Deforestation

BROOKLIN, Canada, Mar 21 (IPS/IFEJ) - Nearly 40,000 hectares of forest vanish every day, driven by the world's growing hunger for timber, pulp and paper, and ironically, new biofuels and carbon credits designed to protect the environment.

The irony here is that the growing eagerness to slow climate change by using biofuels and planting millions of trees for carbon credits has resulted in new major causes of deforestation, say activists. And that is making climate change worse because deforestation puts far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire world's fleet of cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined.

The problem is that the demand is resulting in unsustainable practices, such as monoculture (tree plantations):
Plantation forests are nothing like natural or native forests. More akin to a field of maize, plantation forests are hostile environments to nearly every animal, bird and even insects. Such forests have been shown to have a negative impact on the water cycle because non-native, fast-growing trees use high volumes of water. Pesticides are also commonly used to suppress competing growth from other plants and to prevent disease outbreaks, also impacting water quality.

Plantation forests also offer very few employment opportunities, resulting in a net loss of jobs.

"Plantation forests are a tremendous disaster for biodiversity and local people," Lovera said.

Even if farmland or savanna are only used for oil palm or other plantations, it often forces the local people off the land and into nearby forests, including national parks, which they clear to grow crops, pasture animals and collect firewood. That has been the pattern with pulp and timber plantation forests in much of the world, says Lovera.

Thinking of buying carbon credits to offset your heavy footprint? Consider this:

"Europe's carbon credit market could be disastrous," Lovera said.

The multi-billion-euro European carbon market does not permit the use of reforestation projects for carbon credits. But there has been a tremendous surge in private companies offering such credits for tree planting projects. Very little of this money goes to small land holders, she says.

Plantation forests also contain much less carbon, notes Palo, citing a recent study that showed carbon content of plantation forests in some Asian tropical countries was only 45 percent of that in the respective natural forests.

So, as with everything else, the buyer must beware. At least as the market is currently operating, according to this IPS article - and IPS is hardly a right wing source - just casually buying carbon credits won't get it done.

I think it just goes to show again, that the simplest and surest way to lessen your impact on the earth is simply to consume less.

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