Monday, May 14, 2007

Biofuels versus Efficiency

There has been much in the news about the use of biofuels lately. However, one thing that is very little publicized is that there are some people who are concerned about the increased use of biofuels.

Their concern is from the fact that for some temperate countries their source of biofuels will be palm oil found in tropical, mostly poor, countries. This demand for palm oil then encourages planting of oil palm. Farmers therefore plant the oil palm as a cash crop instead of planting rice, cereals, or other food crops. It also encourages destruction of forest areas, which in turn increases risks of flooding, etc.

I have heard even a few people call this push for palm oil from tropical countries "colonialism". While I do not go that far, I would agree with their general argument. The problem is best summed up by the title of an article written many years ago by Amory Lovins, a well-known sustainable energy expert and founder/chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute: "Technology is the Answer, but what was the Question?"

The point made by most of those questioning biofuels, and a point I have made many times before, is that efficiency is the real issue. With improved efficiency we can immediately reduce energy use and hence carbon emissions. I have seen estimates that, using currently available technology, we can reduce energy use by 20% from increased efficiency alone.

This issue leads to two points. Do not simply jump on the bandwagon because something is declared "environmental friendly". And think about the indirect effects of doing anything, including what you might think is environmental.

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