Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Trouble with Biofuels

I know, this is going to feel like piling on, but still. The story is irresistible. It’s an environmentalist mess, proposed by the George W. Bush administration… to the effect that only renewable energy, as in biofuels, will prevent us from spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus destroying Mother Nature and blocking the sun-- see previous post. You see, biofuels are clean. Coal and gasoline are dirty. What more do you need to know?

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men and of Bushies, oft go astray. Or better, in the original, gang aft a-gley. The original is from poet Robert Burns and is written in Scottish… for your information.

Anyway, panicked about global warming, our politicians and climate change embracers decided that palm oil was the solution. If only we could replace diesel fuels with palm oil, all would be well and Mother Nature would flourish. The New York Times has the story.

They went to Indonesia, a land that excels in producing palm oil:

Indonesia is rich in timber and coal, but palm oil is its biggest export. Around the world, the oil from its meat and seeds has long been an indispensable ingredient in everything from soap to ice cream. But it has now become a key ingredient of something else: biodiesel, fuel for diesel engines that has been wholly or partly made from vegetable oil.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, even though there were some doubters:

In the mid-2000s, Western nations, led by the United States, began drafting environmental laws that encouraged the use of vegetable oil in fuels — an ambitious move to reduce carbon dioxide and curb global warming. But these laws were drawn up based on an incomplete accounting of the true environmental costs. Despite warnings that the policies could have the opposite of their intended effect, they were implemented anyway, producing what now appears to be a calamity with global consequences.

The solution: plant more palm trees. How do you plant more palm trees? You burn the existing forests and plant palm trees in their place. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The problem was: burning the trees produced a monumental amount of pollution. It ramped up the production of carbon emissions. And I had thought that automobiles were the major problems. Apparently, environmentalist policies privileging biofuels were the real problem:

The Times explains:

The tropical rain forests of Indonesia, and in particular the peatland regions of Borneo, have large amounts of carbon trapped within their trees and soil. Slashing and burning the existing forests to make way for oil-palm cultivation had a perverse effect: It released more carbon. A lot more carbon. NASA researchers say the accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions. Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than the entire continent of Europe. The unprecedented palm-oil boom, meanwhile, has enriched and emboldened many of the region’s largest corporations, which have begun using their newfound power and wealth to suppress critics, abuse workers and acquire more land to produce oil.

They burned more carbon than the entire continent of Europe. If that does not wean you off of your love of renewable fuel sources, I don’t know what will.


whitney said...

That made me laugh. Does that mean I'm a cynic?

Sam L. said...

Burning foodstuffs for fuel... Seems like insanity to me.