WASHINGTON (CIRCA) - Food-based fuels that have been promoted as "green" and "sustainable" alternatives to oil and gas may actually do more harm than good, according to a new environmental investigation by Mighty Earth.
"We took a really hard look at biodiesel and biofuels generally, and the main takeaway is that biofuels are not nearly as green as the industry would like you to believe, and, in some cases, they're even worse for the climate and worse for the environment than oil and gas."
The massive destruction of fields is occurring in places like Argentina and Indonesia, which happen to be huge global producers of biodiesel, to make room for soy and palm plantations, Garr added. In turn, these crops are being re-purposed into biofuels and imported into the United States.
"There's a lot of carbon stored into forests and in rainforests," she told Circa. "And when you bulldoze that forest, or you burn that forest, a lot of carbon is released into the atmosphere."
According to environmental experts, the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributes to global warming, and the removal of trees only exacerbates the process. That's because trees often serve as a natural filter to offset the Earth's carbon footprint.
The unintended consequences brought upon by biofuels are harming the local communities that live near the soy and palm plantations as well, the report detailed. One family who resided in the rural Chaco province told their story on the condition of anonymity in fear of retaliation. The father said that agricultural run-off and pesticides put his wife and children into the hospital -- leaving them with skin rashes, stomach problems and anemia.
In a larger context, Garr said the re-allocation of food resources to produce biofuels is also creating an imbalance in the global food market.
"It can raise food prices, it can make food less available," she said. "It makes it much harder for the world's very poorest to be able to eat, and that's a problem."
The United States' increasing dependence on biofuels goes back to 2007 with the expansion of a well-intentioned federal program known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases, expand the country's renewable footprint, and rely less on imported oil. As a result, the U.S. production of biofuels nearly doubled, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center.
"Our understanding of biofuels, like, scientifically, has changed a lot in the last decade. And 10 years ago, there was a lot of hope and optimism that this law would be beneficial environmentally. Unfortunately, we don't think that's true anymore."
But one of the world's largest biotechnology trade associations doesn't buy that argument. Paul Winters, a spokesperson for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said that the Mighty Earth report makes an "unsupportable assumption" that biofuels in the U.S. contribute to deforestation in the world elsewhere.
He continued, "Over the years, far-left groups have blamed rainforest destruction on a myriad of consumer products that they dislike -- fast-food chain hamburgers, for instance. Pressure on South American rainforests is a serious problem that deserves a more effective response than this old blame game."
And though the biofuel issue may seem like a lose-lose situation, since experts also link natural gas to a myriad of environmental issues caused by fracking, Garr is still optimistic that change can come. She says that's possible by improving, not scrapping, the Renewable Fuel Standard.
"We want Congress to reform the RFS to make sure that we're using more of the good biofuels and less of the food-based ones that are having these enormous environmental consequences."
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