SOURCE: Ecological Society of America
January 10, 2008 09:30 ET
Biofuels Sustainability: Nation's Ecological Scientists Weigh in on Biofuels
WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - January 10, 2008) - The Ecological Society of America, the
nation's professional organization of 10,000 ecological scientists, today
released a position statement that offers the ecological principles
necessary for biofuels to help decrease dependence on fossil fuels and
reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global climate change.
The Society warns that the current mode of biofuels production will degrade
the nation's natural resources and will keep biofuels from becoming a
viable energy option.
"Current grain-based ethanol production systems damage soil and water
resources in the U.S. and are only profitable in the context of tax breaks
and tariffs," says ESA. "Future systems based on a combination of
cellulosic materials and grain could be equally degrading to the
environment, with potentially little carbon savings, unless steps are taken
now that incorporate principles of ecological sustainability."
Three ecological principles are necessary:
1) SYSTEMS THINKING: Looking at the complete picture of how much energy
is produced versus how much is consumed by extracting and transporting the
crops used for biofuels. A systems approach seeks to avoid or minimize
undesirable production side effects such as soil erosion and contamination
of groundwater. Consistent monitoring is critical to ensure that biofuel
production is sustainable.
2) CONSERVATION OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: Maximizing crop yield without
regard to negative side effects is easy. On the other hand, growing crops
and retaining the other services provided by the land is far more
challenging, but very much worth the effort. For example, lower yields
from an unfertilized native prairie may be acceptable in light of the other
benefits, such as minimized flooding, fewer pests, groundwater recharge,
and improved water quality because no fertilizer is needed.
3) SCALE ALIGNMENT: How agriculture is managed matters at the individual
farm, regional, and global level. Policies must provide incentives for
managing land in a sustainable way. They should also encourage the
development of biofuels from various sources.
"The current focus on ethanol from corn illustrates the risks of exploiting
a single source of biomass for biofuel production," says ESA.
Continuously-grown corn leads to heavy use of fertilizers, early return of
land in conservation programs to production, and the conversion of marginal
lands to high-intensity cropping. All of these bring with them well-known
environmental problems associated with intensive farming: persistent pest
insects and weeds, pollution of groundwater, greater irrigation demands,
less wildlife diversity, and the release of more carbon dioxide. Carbon
dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change.
Ironically, one of the touted benefits of biofuels is to help alleviate
global climate change, a benefit that is considerably diluted under a
high-intensity agriculture scenario.
The Ecological Society of America will contribute more to this timely issue
in a few months when it convenes a conference devoted to the ecological
dimensions of biofuels.
Like other organizations, ESA is also concerned about the hardship on the
nation's poor communities as higher crop prices drive up the cost of food.
It has been said that biofuels have achieved cult-like status and in the
rush it is only too easy to overlook the big picture of environmental
implications. Iowa alone has planted more than a third of its land surface
with corn and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the federal
government has some 20 laws and incentives to boost ethanol use.
A biofuels infrastructure that incorporates systems thinking, conserves
ecosystem services, and encompasses multiple scales can best serve U.S.
citizens, the economy, and the environment.
--Note to Reporters-- Registration for the ESA Biofuels conference is
waived for reporters with recognized press credentials. Interested press
should contact Nadine Lymn (Nadine@esa.org) to register for "Ecological
Dimensions of Biofuels."
The Ecological Society of America is the country's primary professional
organization of ecologists, representing 10,000 scientists in the United
States and around the world. Since its founding in 1915, ESA has pursued
the promotion of the responsible application of ecological principles to
the solution of environmental problems through ESA reports, journals,
research, and expert testimony to Congress. For more information about the
Society and its activities, visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.