Indirect Land Use Change Debate: 10:15 2/16

February 16, 2010

Two friends were placed in the awkward situation of debating indirect land use impacts. In summary, there is much research and policy work yet to be done.

Michigan State University professor Bruce Dale disagreed substantially with the concept of indirect land use change, defining it as the concept that biofuels sales in the US reduce US exports and cause other countries clear land to grown more crops and export them. In response he tested models and found no correlation between soybean price and deforestation rate in Amazon indicating that land use model fails soybean test. Biofuels use surplus agricultural commodities and reduce dependence on oil, reduce greenhouse gasses, increase agricultural commodity prices. The real benefits of biofuels are ignored in the debate for land use with incomplete and bizarre scientific assumptions.

Dale supports better studies for increased understanding of impacts of all energy sources. Proposing a group to nucleate and understand impacts of biofuels systems. Building a critical mass of biofuels lifecycle researchers. Fertilizer waste and wasteful interactions with soil microbes is the largest single segment by far of ethanol greenhouse gases, and curtailing this waste with cleaner fertilizer or winter cover crops could lead to significant improvements. Dale also suggests further indirect study of oil.

National Resources Defense Council director Nathanael Greene commented that indirect land use is economics, which cannot be simplified into populist assumptions. The question of how much starvation and rainforest devastation do we want for biofuels? is a false argument. The real question: How do we grow the biofuels industry that mitigates problems and maximizes benefits. Acknowledge real markets, fix them over time, and grow industry in a manner that avoids unintended consequences and reduces greenhouse emissions.

Green fully supports international cap on carbon. Second best would be to mandate safe sources, with measured performance. Green suggested tying tax credits to more efficient systems.