Biofuels : Friend or Foe?

Dear Fellow Worldwatcher,

Are biofuels an over-hyped ecological nightmare, or a potential element of a sustainable energy system? Are they saving carbon, or destroying forests? Are they helping small farmers make a living, or lining the pockets of agribusiness owners? Are they creating new jobs, or diverting food from the hungry?

None of these questions has simple answers. Biofuels are complex and controversial—but whether we like them or not, they aren’t going away anytime soon.

The key question now is: how do we ensure that environmental considerations play a priority role in guiding the future of biofuels?

Long before headlines decried the faults of corn-based ethanol, Worldwatch was researching more sustainable approaches to biofuels as part of our vision of a renewable energy future. We have always advocated a cautious approach to biofuels—one that respects biodiversity, the health of farming communities, and the need for ample and affordable food supplies.

If global policies on biofuels continue on their current path, the costs of increasing production may outweigh the gains. These costs include nitrogen runoff into waterways, biodiversity loss, the decline of freshwater supplies, and reduced air quality in many rural areas. Other potential costs are rising food prices and pressures to cut down the remaining forests in areas such as the Amazon Basin.

These potential costs demand careful research and major changes in existing biofuels regulations and subsidies. Our goal is to redirect the current biofuels bandwagon promoted by agriculture interests and to accelerate the transition to a second generation of sustainable biofuels.


Christopher Flavin

– sensitive senses


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