Environmentalists have been pushing biofuels - those derived from carbon-based, recently living matter like trees and grass - as the alternative to fossil fuels, which have been charged with causing the greenhouse gas emissions supposedly responsible for warming the earth.
Many tout biofuels as unequivocally better than fossil fuels because they are "renewable" and emit less greenhouse gases when burned.
I'm no expert on biofuels or alternative energy in general, but since the global warming fad caught on, I've been skeptical, trying to look at the whole picture even as global warming activists, led by patron saint and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore, try to slam the door shut on earnest inquiry into what these fuels and other environmental measures empirically accomplish.
Although the debate still rages, an article in today's International Herald Tribune seems to validate the idea that it's okay to question whether biofuels result in a net reduction in greenhouse gases, a drop in the guilt of groups who think we're slow-cooking ourselves or just an earnings spike in the bank accounts of those who have us fooled into paying for a big scam.
The article takes biofuels to task, citing two studies as saying that, taking account the fossil fuels expended and the land cleared to produce biofuels on a commercial scale, there's "probably" a net increase in greenhouse gases wafting into the atmosphere.
It's particularly encouraging to see this study being publicized because it bolsters those of us who would question the environmentalist orthodoxy. I don't mind people espousing opinions, and I don't claim to know whether global warming is a man-made catastrophe or a sensationalist fairy tale. I just want people to back up their claims with reason rather than emotion and with pure motives rather than a lust for profits. And I want people to look at the whole gamut of potential consequences, not just the ones beneficial to their own interests.
As a reporter, I've written articles about Germans pushing for legislation that would make wind and solar energy sources more economically viable in the U.S., and I've interviewed a top water technology official from Israel. Throughout those discussions, I've come to the conclusion that as many supposed environmental crusaders as there are out there, companies will not and cannot operate at a loss, no matter how strong their ideology.
In light of these studies, we should take a serious look at the economic (and now environmental) implications for government-mandated biofuel consumption, and when we hear green crusaders spouting their relentless rhetoric, we should do our best to figure out which kind of "green" they're after.
Photo by Trevor Williams in Xinjiang province, China. Copyright 2006.