Biofuels: More Bang -- or Is it Baggage? -- for the Buck
Bouwman, A.F., van Grinsven, J.J.M. and Eickhout, B. 2010. Consequences of the cultivation of energy crops for the global nitrogen cycle. Ecological Applications 20: 101-109.
What might be some of the less-than-favorable impacts of these several consequences of carbon-tax-supported biofuel production?
For starters, the three Dutch researchers note that the greenhouse gas emissions that are supposed to be reduced by using biofuels instead of fossil fuels "are offset by 20% in 2030 and 15% in 2050 if N2O emission from the cultivation of energy crops is accounted for." Yet even this blowback is but a fraction -- 30-60% for maize and sugar cane, according to Bouwman et al. -- "of total emissions from the cultivation, processing, and transportation of biofuels." In addition, they write that "on a regional scale, increased N leaching, groundwater pollution, eutrophication of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, N2O and NH3 emissions from energy crop production, and NOX emissions from combustion of biofuels may cause relevant loss of human and ecosystem health." And with respect to the availability of land for the growing of biofuels, Bouwman et al. write that "the OECD-GC scenario shows a rapid expansion of agricultural land, mainly in Africa and the former Soviet Union," and they say that "this expansion will lead to a further loss of biodiversity."
Finally, on top of everything else, there is the question of economics: Is the use of biofuels really an economical approach to dealing with the perceived but unproven problem of CO2-induced global warming? ... and why? The answer is provided by the three employees of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in the final paragraph of their paper, where they write that "bioenergy is economically feasible," but only "because of the climate change policies" that they say are "implemented through carbon taxes."