Have you ever tried to solve a problem only to discover that you made things worse in the process? This is happening right now with biofuels. We are on the road to disaster because the problem we are trying to solve has been framed inadequately. Harmful impacts from large-scale biofuel production are largely overlooked. And we aren’t even addressing the right problem! The truth can be seen when we frame issues in the context of livability.
Policymakers have been grappling with the fact that an excessive amount of carbon dioxide is polluting our atmosphere, disrupting global weather patterns and shifting the world’s climate beyond safe boundaries. The solution required by this problem is that we stop increasing greenhouse pollution levels. This can be accomplished by shifting our energy sector in a direction that ultimately reduces the amount of heat-trapping gases that have accumulated since the dawn of the industrial revolution.
On the surface, biofuels present the ideal solution to this problem. We can grow them in large amounts, and the carbon that is released by burning them is equal to the amount they breathe in as they grow. This simple mental accounting is very appealing, but woefully inaccurate for describing what is really going on.