A new study in the journal Science ($ub req’d) validates what many have been saying here in Gristmill: Biofuels, especially those from the tropics, are far worse for the planet than regular old crude oil.
The study finds that we could reduce global warming pollution two to nine times more by conserving or restoring forests and grasslands than by razing them and turning them into biofuels plantations — even if we continue to use fossil fuels as our main source of energy. That’s because those forests and grasslands act as the lungs of the planet. Their dense vegetation sucks up far more carbon dioxide and breathes out far more oxygen than any biofuel crop ever could.
When you destroy that wilderness, much of the carbon stored in its living matter is either burned or otherwise oxidized — which is why the destruction of tropical forests accounts for more than 20 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions (more than China produces). Meanwhile, we’d be saving all the creatures that rely on those wildlands for habitat. The scale is huge: replacing even 10 percent of our gas with biofuels would require 43 percent of U.S. arable land.