The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suddenly reversed its support for biofuels. The panel now admits growing crops for fuel “poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Scientists—and many Green activists—turned against ethanol and biodiesel years ago because it took too much land. However, the United States and EU governments have kept their farmer subsidies. “Environmentalism” had suddenly become political payoff.
The key science for the turnaround was supplied in 2008 by Princeton’s Tim Searchinger in Science (“Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increased Greenhouse Gases Through Land Use Change,” Science 313:1238–1240). The research revealed that plowing up more grassland for renewable energy crops frees massive amounts of soil carbon to gas off into the air. When rainforests are cut in Brazil to grow sugar for ethanol or in Indonesia where peat-lands are drained to grow palm oil for EU biodiesel, the gas-off of soil carbon is far greater. That means tripling our food costs and paying higher costs for auto fuel has achieved no real reduction in greenhouse emission.