Biofuels, Indonesia: rainforest disaster

by Antonio Pasolini on March 24, 2009

Fans of well-researched journalism with a sense of narrative, here’s an excellent article about the environmental disaster that biofuel represents, with an emphasis on the Indonesian case. Indonesia is where most oil palm comes from and production is expected to grow at the cost of the country’s rainforests, of which only 2% will remain by 2022.

Biodiesel emits less than one-quarter the carbon of regular diesel once it’s burned. But when production—and the destruction of ecosystems in the developing countries where most biofuel crops are grown—is factored in, many biofuels may actually emit more carbon than does petroleum, the journal Science reported last year. Because oil palms don’t absorb as much CO2 as the rainforest or peatlands they replace, palm oil can generate as much as 10 times more carbon than petroleum, according to the advocacy group Food First. Thanks in large part to oil palm plantations, Indonesia is now the world’s third-largest emitter of CO2, trailing only the US and China.

This is, in a sense, a modern-day Dickensian tale set in the tropics, where hemmed in villagers and aboriginal people are led to collaborate with the destruction of their most precious natural assets in order to feed the world’s hunger for fuel. And of course, there’s also the wildlife that is displaced from its habitat with nowhere left to go. It’s a disaster in every sense of the word.

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