Southeast Asia — Biofuel today isproduced, overwhelmingly, from oil palms and sugar cane, and overwhelmingly,these plantations stand where tropical rainforest recently stood. Over ayear ago, a well-documented essay entitled WorseThan Fossil Fuel, was published in the London Guardian by George Monbiot,an environmental activist and professor at Oxford-Brookes University in the U.K. In this article, Monbiot states Between 1985 and 2000 the development ofoil-palm plantations was responsible for an estimated 87 per cent ofdeforestation in Malaysia. In Sumatra and Borneo, some 4 million hectares offorest has been converted to palm farms. Now a further 6 million hectares isscheduled for clearance in Malaysia, and 16.5m in Indonesia.
One square mile is equivalent to 250 hectares. So using these figures,in just two countries, deforestation for biofuel will result in the loss ofat least 100,000 square miles of rainforest. Along the West African coastand in the Congo basin, similar rates of deforestation are occuring in a madrush to grow Cassava and Oil Palm. In Brazil, deforestation for sugar canecontinues to accelerate.
According to a study entitled Biodiversityand Conservation published by Peter J. Bryant, a professor at U.C.Irvine, by 1979, tropical rainforests had shrunk from 6.2 million square milesto 3.6 million square miles. And about that time, beginning in the Amazon,deforestation for production of biofuel began to compete with deforestation forpurposes of logging and ranching. Today, tropical rainforests are reducedto 2.5 million square miles, and thanks to the biofuel bonanza, there is noend in sight. Heres another excerpt from Monbiots essay:
Before oil palms, which are small and scrubby, are planted, vast foresttrees, containing a much greater store of carbon, must be felled and burnt.Having used up the drier lands, the plantations are now moving into the swampforests, which grow on peat. When theyve cut the trees, the planters drainthe ground. As the peat dries it oxidises, releasing even more carbon dioxidethan the trees. In terms of its impact on both the local and global environments,palm biodiesel is more destructive than crude oil from Nigeria.
It is well and good to consider biofuel farmed from algae grown in ponds inthe desert, or within enclosed bioreactors, or, perhaps, from cellusosicfibers found in agricultural waste. But none of these methods are yetfinancially viable, or even technically feasible. Meanwhile, the burningseason has begun again, this time fueled by biofuel mania, with results thatspell tragedy not only for the biota in these precious places, but also in termsof intensified droughts and less CO2 uptake. As we have argued beforeand will again, tropical deforestation may have more to do with whatever globalwarming we may be experiencing than burning of fossil fuel. So where arethe environmentalists and the skeptics when you need them?
Here is how Monbiot put it, when describing the reaction to his concernsabout biofuel: The biodiesel missionaries, I discovered, are asvociferous in their denial as the executives of Exxon.