Biofuels Could Cause More Harm Than Good

Prof. Steven Hamburg was currently in Washington, DC, attending a biofuels workshop – there was a lot of interest in linking the science and policy to ensure that biofuels help farmers, address climate change, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and protect the environment and economy. That is possible with the right policy instruments.

The move to biofuels is a good thing in moderation – too much and we could actually cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. There are several concerns with biofuels. Central among them is that if we use productive lands to produce biofuels we can directly or indirectly cause increased rates of deforestation and release of stored carbon in a variety of landscapes.

And to the extent food diverted to biofuels is not replaced, because higher prices reduce demand, the world’s poorest people will bear much of the cost. That represents a greenhouse gas benefit but not an acceptable one.

Opportunities to produce environmentally beneficial biofuels come from:

  • municipal or industrial waste
  • agricultural wastes
  • harvesting fall grass from agricultural reserve lands
  • tapping into unutilized forest harvest byproducts
  • Increased forest harvesting when sustainable

Biofuels do not have to be liquid fuels, in some situations it makes more sense to directly burn biofuels.

Prof. Steven Hamburg
Head of the Global Environment Program
Watson Institute for International Studies
Brown University, Box 1970
Providence, RI 02912-1970

Prof. Steven Hamburg – Biography

Steven Hamburg is an ecosystem ecologist specializing in the impacts of disturbance on forest structure and function. His research activities have most recently focused on linking climate change impacts to climate change mitigation, including in the corporate sector. He has served as an advisor to both corporations and non-governmental organizations and was awarded an Environmental Merit award by the US Environmental Protection Agency for his climate change-related activities.

At Brown he is the advisor for the environmental science concentration and graduate advisor for the Center for Environmental Studies, as well as director of Watson’s Global Environment Program. He is the vice chair of the International Long-term Ecological Research Network, whose first secretariat is being established at Watson.

He has published widely including in Nature and Science and has served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Hamburg came to Brown in 1995 after spending a year at Environmental Defense working on climate change-related issues and nine years at the University of Kansas, where he directed the Environmental Studies Program and served as Environmental Ombudsman. He received his graduate training at Yale University, held a post-doctoral position at Stanford University, and was a Bullard Fellow at Harvard University.

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