Burning biofuels emits less greenhouse gasses than burning fossil fuels. But producing some biofuels is far more environmentally costly, according to a new study commissioned by the Swiss government and reviewed by researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Science. In particular, sugarcane, US corn, Brazilian soy, and Malaysian palm oil may be worse overall than fossil fuels in environmental destruction, pollution, and damage to human health. The new study calculates the relative merits of 26 biofuels based on relative reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and an environmental-impact index. The best alternatives include biofuels from residual products, such as recycled cooking oil and ethanol from grass or wood Hmm. What are the chances we can be smart about this?
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.