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Is biofuels better than fossil fuels?

18 Sep

This is extracted from IDEA:

Biofuels help achieve energy independence

Point

The reliance of America and its western allies on conventional fossil fuels, chiefly oil, is a major security issue. Currently 22% of US oil comes from the Middle East, 22% from Africa, and 19% from Latin America1.The past actions of OPEC and the recent willingness of Russia to use its  supplies of natural gas to threaten European states both point to a need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels2. Oil prices often rise due to instability in the regions where it is produced, which has harmful impacts for consumers around the world. For example, in 2011 the invasion in Libya caused oil prices to rise because of fear of reduced oil production in the region The US and its allies lose leverage over many international actors as its hands are tied due to dependence on oil, as is the case with nuclear proliferation in Iran for example. The US Department of Agriculture determined that the US could produce enough biomass to meet 30% of its energy needs, which in addition to other forms of alternative energy could make a significant impact on oil consumption. Increasing the use of biofuels can therefore contribute to our security by ensuring that more of our energy needs are met from within the country, reducing dependence on foreign suppliers.

1 http://lugar.senate.gov/energy/graphs/oilimport.html 2http://money.cnn.com/2009/01/07/news/international/russia_ukraine/index.htm

Counterpoint

Attempting complete independence from other countries is impossible and undesirable – the world is now too interconnected and interdependent. Prosperity rests upon being able to trade goods and services widely with people in other countries and attempts to retreat from this free market will impoverish us as well as them. Nor are the USA and its western allies scarily dependent upon just one source for their fossil fuel needs – new countries like Angola and Canada have all become major energy suppliers in the past decade[1]. In any case, America’s demand for energy is so great that there is no possibility of achieving energy independence through biofuels. F all of America’s corn was used to produce ethanol, it would still only meet 4% of energy demand[2].

[1]http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text

[2] http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/06/biofuels

Biofuels are renewable and sustainable in the future.

Point

At present mankind is using up fossil fuel resources at an alarming rate, and often damaging the environment in order to extract them. If we go on relying on fossil fuels they will one day run out, and not only will our descendants no longer have viable energy reserves, but they will also have to cope with the ecological damage coal, oil and gas extraction have inflicted on the earth. Making fuel from crops provides a perfect, sustainable solution. Additionally, biofuels can be mixed with fossil fuels, and eventually replace them, without having to entirely change the infrastructure of countries. Other forms of alternative energy would call for new investment and development just to use them, whereas biofuels can slowly be introduced to cars in higher quantities, and gradually new cars will be designed to run entirely on biofuels. However, overturning the entire system would not be necessary, reducing the cost associated with using biofuels. Biofuels already have a great deal to offer today, but prospects for the future are even more exciting and deserve our support. New crops like Jatropha promise to produce much more energy from a given amount of land1. They also flourish without annual replanting or chemical inputs on marginal land. In the longer term, bio-engineers are working on producing “cellulosic” biofuels biofuels – in which the stems and leaves of plants or trees are used to produce ethanol, not just the fruits or seeds. Cellulosic biofuels would allow much more fuel to be produced from a given amount of land, and could also be made from the waste products of food or timber production, such as straw and woodchip 1. The future prospects for ethanol are great, and thus call for increased investment and development because only then will ethanol truly be a viable alternative.

1. http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=biofuel_home-basics

 

Counterpoint

For biofuels to be renewable and sustainable, they will have to be grown in mass quantities. Rainforests and grass lands, which naturally soak up carbon, will need to be cut down, ultimately making ethanol that much more environmentally irresponsible. While they may be renewable, the quantity that would have to be grown makes it an unreasonable solution.

 

Biofuels are better for the environment.

Point

Biofuels are the best way of reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for global climate change. As with fossil fuels, burning biodiesel or ethanol to drive an engine or generate electricity releases carbon into the atmosphere. Unlike with fossil fuels, however, growing the plants from which biofuels are made takes carbon from the air, so overall the process is carbon neutral1. This means policies to increase the use of biofuels could greatly reduce overall levels of carbon emissions, and so be a major part of tackling global climate change. Since the international community has made reducing climate change a priority, with different climate conferences like Copenhagen, seeking energy alternatives should be at the forefront of their efforts. Biofuels can also help improve local air quality as mixing ethanol with fossil fuels helps meet clean air standards, and overall be one of the tools used to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

1 http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=biofuel_home-basics

Counterpoint

The idea that ethanol is carbon neutral is overlooking the carbon emissions associated with growing the crops (energy for the machines) as well as transporting them to and from the processing facilities. Ethanol production consumes 6 units of energy to produce 11. In no world is that efficient or better for the environment.

1 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050329132436.htm

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The ‘Environment’ Question…

17 Sep

Gee Pee Land

Aside from technology questions, many have also expressed a desire to try the ‘environment’ question. I’m no expert on it, but I would like to remind you to please keep your essays argumentative and focus on addressing the issue instead of abusing the question as an opportunity to regurgitate your geographical knowledge. You would need to think about the various players involved (i.e. supra-national bodies, governments, companies, NGOS, consumers, farmers and so on), modern trends/contexts (capitalism, modern consumerism, ethical consumerism, green movements, globalization and spread of ideas, trade and long-distance transport, hydro-politics, developed/developing/emerging economics) and focus on debates surrounding key issues like food and water security, climate change, renewable energy, corporate social responsibility, greenwashing etc. If all you can mention in an environment essay are catalytic convertors and the Kyoto Protocol, then I suggest you avoid the environment question.

Some key resources or sites that may aid your last minute revision:

– The CJC lecture

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Why population hysteria is more damaging than it seems

17 Sep

Vanessa Baird

guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 October 2011 15.36 BST

Seven billion is a big number. It doesn’t seem quite so big, however, if you think that 7 billion of us could fit into the state of Texas and live there with a population density enjoyed by the residents of New York City.

But a major concern is the impact yet more humans will have on the health of the planet – and it’s for this reason that population anxiety has become a concern for people already worried about climate change and resource scarcity.

The United Nations, in its latest revision is projecting 9 billion by 2050 – and even 10 billion by 2100 – before world population stabilises and starts to decline. That’s the “medium fertility variant” projection – it would be 8 billion by 2050 declining to 6 billion by 2100 if you used the low fertility variant, and up to 16 billion if you used a high one. Which should serve as a bit of a warning about the nature of projections.

Much hangs on the question of the “total fertility rate” – or the number of children a woman has on average during her lifetime.

What the more alarmist news reports often fail to mention is that since the 1970s fertility has been declining in almost all nations and that once the trend to smaller family size begins it is hard to reverse – as policy makers in Japan, Korea and Italy have found.

Today, according to the UN’s population division, 42% of the world’s population lives in countries with fertility at below replacement level. Another 40% are in intermediate fertility countries, where people are replacing themselves. And the remaining 18% are living in countries with high fertility, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, where women may be having five or more children on average.

The places with largest family size are the poorest, where per capita consumption and energy use is low. The places where families are smallest are some of the richest, with high consumption and energy use, such as Japan and much of Europe.

And this is where an almighty hole appears in the argument of those who suggest that if we care about climate change we should worry about women having lots of children in the countries with high fertility rates.

Although low-income countries were responsible for more than 52% of population growth between 1980 and 2005, they were responsible for only 12.8% of the growth in global carbon emissions, according to David Satterthwaite, director of London’s International Institute of Environment and Development. High-income nations, meanwhile, provided only 7% of population growth but 29% of growth in emissions.

The reason is simple: so unequal are global consumption levels that one European or North American may be responsible for more emissions than an entire village of Africans.

So how about people in rich countries with high consumption, high pollution, habits doing the decent thing and abstaining from having children? That’s what some, including the radical US-based Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, are advocating. But even that would not be enough to get us out of trouble.

Researchers at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research at Boulder, Colorado have found that if population were to reach, say, 7.4 billion in 2050 instead of 9 billion, it would reduce emissions by 15% – not nearly enough to meet the most modest current targets advocated by the G8 of between 50 and 80% reductions by 2050.

But surely, any reduction in population growth is better for the environment than none?

Population is certainly a multiplier, but that does not make it the cause of the problem. As the Australian writer Simon Butler puts it: “People are not pollution. Blaming too many people for driving climate change is like blaming too many trees for causing bushfires.”

The real cause of climate change is an economy locked into burning fossil fuels for energy. Massive fossil fuel use in industrialised countries cannot be countered by handing out condoms.

The excessive focus on population is a dangerous distraction from the core problem, which is not how many of us there are but how we use the planet and share its resources.

There’s no dodging it. We need an energy revolution – away from fossil fuels and towards renewables and energy conservation – which is as radical and more rapid than the industrial revolution that laid the basis for our carbon economies. And we need it regardless of how big the population gets.

So, instead of a fanfare of orchestrated fear and panic, let us welcome baby 7 billion with a resolution to tackle the real issues facing humanity – climate change, inequality and poverty – and stop obsessing about human numbers.

• Vanessa Baird is the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to World Population, recently published by New Internationalist

 

Facts and figures

• Fertility is declining. The global average is now 2.5 children per woman. In the developing world the rate fell from six children to about three between 1950 and 2000. (Source: UN population division)

• Between 2010 and 2050, 45 countries are expected to decrease in population size. China’s population should start shrinking in 2023. (Source: UN population division)

• The CO2 emissions of the average US citizen are 19.9 tonnes per year, and of the average African citizen 1.2 tonnes per year. (Source: IEA, 2009)

• Industrialized countries with 20% of the world’s population are responsible for 80% of the accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

• The world is already growing enough grain to feed a population of 10 billion on a vegetarian diet. (Source: Fred Pearce, Peoplequake, 2010)

• Of the 2bn tonnes of grain grown in the world in 2008, under half was eaten directly by people. (Source: Fred Pearce, Peoplequake, 2010)

• Americans throw away 50% of the food they buy, and Britons 30%. Farmers grow 25% more than needed to meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. In economically booming India, large amounts of food rots in warehouses and gets thrown away while the poor go hungry because they cannot afford to buy it. (Source: Tristram Stuart, Waste, 2009.)

• Land sold to speculators increased from 4 million hectares in 2006 to 60 million (the  size of France) in 2009

What’s Your Consumption Factor? -The New York Time

17 Sep

TO mathematicians, 32 is an interesting number: it’s 2 raised to the fifth power, 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2. To economists, 32 is even more special, because it measures the difference in lifestyles between the first world and the developing world. The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. That factor of 32 has big consequences.

To understand them, consider our concern with world population. Today, there are more than 6.5 billion people, and that number may grow to around 9 billion within this half-century. Several decades ago, many people considered rising population to be the main challenge facing humanity. Now we realize that it matters only insofar as people consume and produce.

If most of the world’s 6.5 billion people were in cold storage and not metabolizing or consuming, they would create no resource problem. What really matters is total world consumption, the sum of all local consumptions, which is the product of local population times the local per capita consumption rate.

The estimated one billion people who live in developed countries have a relative per capita consumption rate of 32. Most of the world’s other 5.5 billion people constitute the developing world, with relative per capita consumption rates below 32, mostly down toward 1.

The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that’s a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya’s more than 30 million people, but it’s not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.

People in the third world are aware of this difference in per capita consumption, although most of them couldn’t specify that it’s by a factor of 32. When they believe their chances of catching up to be  hopeless, they sometimes get frustrated and angry, and some become terrorists, or tolerate or support terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, it has become clear that the oceans that once protected the United States no longer do so. There will be more terrorist attacks against us and Europe, and perhaps against Japan and Australia, as long as that factorial difference of 32 in consumption rates persists.

People who consume little want to enjoy the high-consumption lifestyle. Governments of developing countries make an increase in living standards a primary goal of national policy. And tens of millions of people in the developing world seek the first-world lifestyle on their own, by emigrating, especially to the United States and Western Europe, Japan and Australia. Each such transfer of a person to a high-consumption country raises world consumption rates, even though most immigrants don’t succeed immediately in multiplying their consumption by 32.

Among the developing countries that are seeking to increase per capita consumption rates at home, China stands out. It has the world’s fastest growing economy, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the United States population. The world is already running out of resources, and it will do so even sooner if China achieves American-level consumption rates. Already, China is competing with us for oil and metals on world markets.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level. Let’s also make things easy by imagining that nothing else happens to increase world consumption — that is, no other country increases its consumption, all national populations (including China’s) remain unchanged and immigration ceases. China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.

If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven’t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

We Americans may think of China’s growing consumption as a problem. But the Chinese are only reaching for the consumption rate we already have. To tell them not to try would be futile.

The only approach that China and other developing countries will accept is to aim to make consumption rates and living standards more equal around the world. But the world doesn’t have enough resources to allow for raising China’s consumption rates, let alone those of the rest of the world, to our levels. Does this mean we’re headed for disaster?

No, we could have a stable outcome in which all countries converge on consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels. Americans might object: there is no way we would sacrifice our living standards for the benefit of people in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours,  yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

Other aspects of our consumption are wasteful, too. Most of the world’s fisheries are still operated non-sustainably, and many have already collapsed or fallen to low yields — even though we know how to manage them in such a way as to preserve the environment and the fish supply. If we were to operate all fisheries sustainably, we could extract fish from the oceans at maximum historical rates and carry on indefinitely.

The same is true of forests: we already know how to log them sustainably, and if we did so worldwide, we could extract enough timber to meet the world’s wood and paper needs. Yet most forests are managed non-sustainably, with decreasing yields.

Just as it is certain that within most of our lifetimes we’ll be consuming less than we do now, it is also certain that per capita consumption rates in many developing countries will one day be more nearly equal to ours. These are desirable trends, not horrible prospects. In fact, we already know how to encourage the trends; the main thing lacking has been political will.

Fortunately, in  the last year there have been encouraging signs. Australia held a recent election in which a large majority of voters reversed the head-in-the-sand political course their government had followed for a decade; the new government immediately supported the Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Also in the last year, concern about climate change has increased greatly in the United States. Even in China, vigorous arguments about environmental policy are taking place, and public protests recently halted construction of a huge chemical plant near the center of Xiamen. Hence I am cautiously optimistic. The world has serious consumption problems, but we can solve them if we choose to do so.

Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the author of “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs and Steel.”

7 Billion: Can the Earth take it?

17 Sep

Gee Pee Land

Why the Real Victim of Overpopulation Will Be the Environment
by Bryan Walsh from TIME (link here

Maybe it’s just the fact that the official day has been set for Oct. 31 — Halloween — but there’s a distinct whiff of panic and fear around the expected birth of the 7 billionth person on the planet. Here’s Roger Martin, chair of the NGO Population Matters, writing in the Guardian recently:

The 7 Billion Day is a sobering reminder of our planet’s predicament. We are increasing by 10,000 an hour. The median UN forecast is 9.3 billion by 2050, but the range varies by 2.5 billion — the total world population in 1950 — depending on how we work it out.

Every additional person needs food, water and energy, and produces more waste and pollution, so ratchets up our total impact on the planet, and ratchets…

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Two Reasons Why Shut Down Of Japan’s Nuclear Power Reactors Could Cause Trouble

14 Sep

Japan will shut down the last of its 54 nuclear power reactors this weekend,  a little over a year after the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima  that left 16,000 dead and 3,000 missing, Reuters  reports.

But the move, which leaves Japan without nuclear power for the first time  since 1970, could signal economic, energy, and environmental problems for the  country.

It could increase public spending on oil and gas and cause  electricity shortages over the summer

Nuclear power used to provide for about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity  needs before the Fukushima disaster. The government even had plans to increase  that dependence to over 50 percent by 2030.

But public concern meant the plants not only had to be shut for maintenance,  but the government is also loath to reopen them, according to Reuters.  As a result, Japan is having to spend billions more on oil and gas imports,  leading to its first deficit in more than three decades in 2011.

Renewable energy as an alternative is currently not well-developed enough to  replace nuclear power. Hydroelectric energy accounts for about nine percent of  Japan’s power generation. Wind and solar together contribute about one  percent.

Electricity producers are worried that if Japan suffers no electricity  shortages over this non-nuclear summer, public opposition to nuclear energy  would become stronger, leading to a permanent shutdown of nuclear plants.

It could increase Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions

The Ministry of Environment projects that Japan will produce about 15 percent  (180-210 million tons) more greenhouse gas emissions this fiscal year than it  did in 1990, raising doubts about whether it will be able to meet the Kyoto  Protocol goal to slash 1990-level emissions by 25 percent by 2020, the  AP reports.

It would also erase much of the progress made in emission reduction over the  last 10 years.

As previously mentioned, Japan hasn’t developed renewable energy sources as  much as, say, Germany  (another country trying to phase out nuclear power). And while the Japanese  government will require utilities to buy power from renewable energy producers  starting in July, higher production costs will mean higher prices for  consumers.

Read more: http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-05-04/news/31570946_1_nuclear-power-fukushima-renewable-energy#ixzz26RCGxaZV

How Nuclear Power Works

13 Sep