An effect you didn’t expect: the biofuel movement is hurting the rainforests Jason 22 Nov 2005

Forests paying the price for biofuels

The drive for “green energy” in the developed world is having the perverse effect of encouraging the destruction of tropical rainforests. From the orang-utan reserves of Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. And surging prices are likely to accelerate the destruction… The rush to make energy from vegetable oils is being driven in part by European Union laws requiring conventional fuels to be blended with biofuels, and by subsidies equivalent to 20 pence a litre. Last week, the British government announced a target for biofuels to make up 5 per cent of transport fuels by 2010. The aim is to help meet Kyoto protocol targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

The article goes on to explain that soya is the largest single cause of rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon. Now there’s one more thing we can do with the all-purpose soybean: deforest. Who knew?

Certainly this is a big complex hairy issue, but it does expose one thing: focusing on only one part of a solution often spawns other problems — some greater than the original. It’s similar to building software, actually.

In this case, the laser-like focus on cutting carbon emissions comes at the expense of the rainforests (which are suffering enough). This is clearly not my purview), but my gut tells me that all things considered, further loss of native species, old growth forest, undiscovered medicines, and reduced biodiversity may be as bad or worse than increased carbon emissions. But if the world’s stated goal is to cut carbon emissions then it’s whatever it takes as long as those numbers come down.