The ethics of biofuels

December 14, 2010, University of Calgary

In the world-wide race to develop energy sources that are seen as "green" because they are renewable and less greenhouse gas-intensive, sometimes the most basic questions remain unanswered.

In a paper released today by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, authors Michal Moore, Senior Fellow, and Sarah M. Jordaan at Harvard University in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, look at the basic question of whether these sources are ethical.

In addition to arguing that the benefits of are overstated by many policymakers, the authors argue that there are four questions that need to be considered before encouraging and supporting the production of more biofuel. These questions are:

  1. What is the effect of biofuel production on food costs, especially for poor populations?
  2. Should more land be used for biofuel when the return of energy per acre is low? Are there better uses for that land?
  3. In addition to worrying about the impact of , should we not consider the impact on land of massively expanding biofuel production?
  4. What are the other economic impacts of large scale production of biofuel?
"Policymakers, especially in the U.S., have been in a rush to expand biofuel protection," says Michal Moore. "But they need to start thinking outside of the box of climate change and the corn lobby."

"If policy is designed to create better outcomes for everyone, then we need to subject policy to ethical tests. In many respects, current around biofuels fails those tests."

Explore further: Study finds concerns with biofuels

More information: www.policyschool.ucalgary.ca/publications

Related Stories

Study finds concerns with biofuels

March 31, 2008

Biofuels are widely considered one of the most promising sources of renewable energy by policy makers and environmentalists alike. However, unless principles and standards for production are developed and implemented, certain ...

Biofuels: More than just ethanol

April 5, 2007

As the United States looks to alternate fuel sources, ethanol has become one of the front runners. Farmers have begun planting corn in the hopes that its potential new use for corn will be a new income source. What many ...

Biofuels policy fails to achieve goals warns study

February 16, 2010

US biofuel policies will fail to achieve the intended environmental, energy and agricultural goals, warns an article in the journal Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy (AEPP).

A 'red flag' for expanding biofuels in the tropics

July 9, 2008

Biofuels, by recycling atmospheric carbon, are a potential boon to the world's ailing climate. But efforts in the tropics to significantly expand biofuel production by replacing tropical forests with oil palm, sugarcane and ...

Recommended for you

New study brings Antarctic ice loss into sharper focus

February 21, 2018

A NASA study based on an innovative technique for crunching torrents of satellite data provides the clearest picture yet of changes in Antarctic ice flow into the ocean. The findings confirm accelerating ice losses from the ...

'Chameleon' ocean bacteria can shift their colors

February 21, 2018

Cyanobacteria - which propel the ocean engine and help sustain marine life - can shift their colour like chameleons to match different coloured light across the world's seas, according to research by an international collaboration ...

Stable gas hydrates can trigger landslides

February 21, 2018

Like avalanches onshore,many processes cause submarine landslides. One very widespread assumption is that they are associated with dissociating gas hydrates in the seafloor. However, scientists at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ChiRaven
5 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2010
Add to this, what is the impact of continuing to subsidize biofuels on retarding the normal development of other modes of transportation that might, in the long run, be more economical than the personal vehicle.

Subsidies of ANY sort tend to distort the normal operation of markets in the determination of "winners" and "losers". I don't think we want to be doing that to favor something that is probably far from an optimal economic solution to most of our transportation problems.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.