Expert Insight: Dr. David Tilman Comments on Biofuels

How do we combat climate change?  It is a question that begs an answer and nations around the world are working hard to address this with a range of solutions.   At the forefront of these options is a global push toward increasing biofuels.   Many governments worldwide are mandating the incorporation of bioenergy into their fuel use as an attempt to move away from their dependence on gasoline and diesel fuel consumption.

But are biofuels really the solution? The New York Times recently covered this rising debate in the scientific community in an article this February (read the article here).  “The argument for aggressive deployment of bioenergy assumes that it is carbon-neutral because plants pull COback from the air when they grow, offsetting the carbon emitted from burning them as fuel.  But diverting a cornfield or a forest to produce energy requires not using it to make food or, just as important, to store carbon.”

In some cases, scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are even in direct conflict over the issue.  In response to an EPA policy memo last fall in which wood harvesting for fuel was seemingly considered a “carbon-free source”, a group of 78 scientists joined together and suggested the opposite (click here for their response).   They stated that when credited properly, biofuels do not in fact reduce emissions, but increase them: “Burning biomass, such as trees, that would otherwise continue to absorb and store carbon comes at the expense of reduced carbon storage.”  If these skeptics are correct, “the hunt for biomass on a large scale could vastly change the world’s land use, food supply and ecosystems while helping little to prevent climate change.”

Bren Professor, Dr. David Tillman, who teaches Ecology of Managed Ecosystems, offered his insight into this latest discussion on biofuels, as seen below in our latest Expert Insight video. 


*cover photo from NYT article: Jan Sochor/Latincontent/Getty Images

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