I have a friend in Seattle (Ballard, to be more exact) who just bought a diesel Jetta. After doing much research on the subject (selectively reading articles that support biodiesel), she had concluded that it was the most ecologically sound vehicle available. She even has a bumper sticker to make sure everyone knows it: “Biodiesel: fuel for the revolution.” Had she consulted me before her purchase, I might have convinced her to do otherwise (as I did with another friend who was also considering a Jetta). Biofuels are going to be bad news for the planet’s biodiversity. As environmentalists, we should be resisting the idea, not promoting it.As I have said before, if we partake of this forbidden fruit, it will be the kiss of death for much of what remains of our biodiversity. I found this information on the Sprol site that Dave has mentioned:

The Mato Grosso state’s governor is also the agriculture tycoon Blario Maggi, who clears rainforest to grow soybeans. Maggi is the largest producer of soybeans in the world. Mato Grosso led all Brazilian states in deforestation with 48 per cent of the destruction last year.

The Penn State site has this to say about the disadvantages of biodiesel:

Biodiesel requires very high production costs. The reasons for this are mainly that soybeans, the predominant source of biodiesel, only yield 20% oil, when much more is needed. Recycled oils can be used more cost effectively, but there isn’t nearly enough recycled oil to satisfy the demand for biodiesel as a fuel. Understandably, there are also a lot of steps taken to produce and utilize the soybeans. The cultivation of the crops and the transformation of them into biodiesel takes time. The numerous amounts of manpower and machine needed for this process adds to the high cost.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

And it doesn’t stop there. Sugarcane is also being grown in Brazil specifically to make ethanol.

Potential solutions?

  1. Put more forests into the hands of private conservation NGOs (although that would not guarantee that a government won’t take the land for the public good)?
  2. Develop energy sources that would make growing crops non-competitive (another Manhattan project)?
  3. Nip our population at 7 billion instead of 9 with improved contraceptive technology that is capable of reducing our > 50% unplanned pregnancy rate?
  4. Lower demand for fuel with better designed cities, improved car technology, more telecommuting?

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.