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Bioenergy – Rachel Smolker

Bioenergy – Rachel Smolker

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A new, global rush to embrace biofuels—for transport, heat, and electricity—is a growing threat to ecosystems, wildlife, human health, and the climate. The trend poses
the danger of increased commodification of forests, greater competition between food and energy markets, and even more pressure on the world’s rural poor that depend upon local biomass for their energy needs.
A new, global rush to embrace biofuels—for transport, heat, and electricity—is a growing threat to ecosystems, wildlife, human health, and the climate. The trend poses
the danger of increased commodification of forests, greater competition between food and energy markets, and even more pressure on the world’s rural poor that depend upon local biomass for their energy needs.

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Sep 18, 2013
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05/15/2014

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BIOENERGY
A DISASTER FORBIODIVERSITY,HEALTH, ANDHUMAN RIGHTSRACHEL SMOLKER
 
This publication is an excerpted chapter rom
The Energy Reader: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth
, Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner,eds. (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2012).
The Energy Reader 
is copyright© 2012 by the Foundation or Deep Ecology, and published in collaboration withWatershed Media and Post Carbon Institute.For other excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing visit energy-reality.org or contact Post Carbon Institute.Photo: Josh Schlossberg.
Wood chips, delivered to generation stations by rail, truck, and ship,are increasingly a globalized energy commodity.
about the author
Rachel Smolker
is a codirector o Biouelwatch. She has researched, written, and organized extensively on thethreats to orests, biodiversity, people, and the climate rom biouels. She has a PhD in ecology rom the Universityo Michigan, worked previously as a eld biologist, and is author o 
To Touch a Wild Dolphin.
Post Carbon Institute | 613 4th Street, Suite 208 | Santa Rosa, California 95404 USA
 
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ince humans rst learned to manipulate re, peo-ple have used local biomass—including wood,other plant matter, and dried animal dung—or heatand or cooking. Billions o people continue to do so.But now, in addition to these traditional uses there isan unprecedented push or large-scale industrial/com-mercial bioenergy. This new trend includes reningplant materials (corn, wheat and other grains, sug-arcane, soy and palm oil) to make liquid biouels or transportation and burning plant materials (wood, agri-cultural residues, municipal waste, etc.) or heat andelectricity. Less widely known is the development o plant-based petroleum substitutes or use in bioplastics,biochemicals, inks, abrics, pharmaceuticals, and other products. Proponents reer to a new “bioeconomy” ea-turing massive bioreneries that take in millions o tonso plant biomass and convert them into all manner o energy and materials.But two important questions are oten overlooked inthe rush toward bioenergy: Where will all that plantbiomass come rom, and what will the consequencesbe on ecosystems, wildlie, agriculture, human rights,climate, water, and soil?
Transport Fuels
Biouels or transportation—ethanol and biodiesel— have been enthusiastically embraced as “green”alternatives to petroleum uels, with claims that theywould reduce greenhouse gas emissions while revivingdomestic uel production. Brazil is the model coun-try, having already made considerable progress towardreplacing petroleum uels with sugarcane ethanolnationwide. In the United States, ethanol rom cornis supported with generous subsidies. Mandated targetsor biouel use have been signed into law in the UnitedStates, Europe, and elsewhere.The negative impacts o this rush to biouels are alreadyapparent. Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol industry is convert-ing vast parts o the delicate Cerrado savanna ecoregioninto industrial sugar monocultures—cleared, plowed,sprayed with chemicals, and repeatedly burned over.The appalling work conditions o “sugar slaves” havealso been documented. In the United States, expand-ing corn production or ethanol has resulted in theincreased use o synthetic ertilizers (visible in theexpanding dead zone in the Gul o Mexico), ormer conservation lands being planted with corn, and deple-tion o reshwater aquiers. Increased demand or cornhas also shited U.S. production away rom soybeans,causing production in Brazil and elsewhere to expandto ll the void, oten at the expense o tropical rain-orests. This sort o “indirect land use change” hasbeen a topic o heated debate, and industry has oughtto exclude it rom consideration—because when indi-rect land use is taken into consideration, virtually all
 
A new, global rush to embrace biofuels—for transport,heat, and electricity—is a growing threat to ecosystems,wildlife, human health, and the climate. The trend posesthe danger of increased commodification of forests,greater competition between food and energy markets,and even more pressure on the world’s rural poor thatdepend upon local biomass for their energy needs.

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