(CNSNews.com) - An alternative fuel source once considered more Earth-friendly than petroleum is now being derided by some environmentalists and farming experts for allegedly hastening the destruction of the world's rainforests.
Bio-fuels, fuel made from corn, sugar cane or vegetable oil, can be used to power up everything from sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to diesel engines. Yet in spite of its reputation as a viable alternative to petroleum, this alternative fuel has prompted some environmental groups to point to the potential for environmental damage.
The British government, hard pressed to meet emission restrictions laid out by the greenhouse gas limiting Kyoto Protocol, is being criticized by the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) for proposing to force oil companies to include bio-fuels in five percent of their gas and diesel fuels by 2010.
FOE is concerned that increased production of bio-fuels will cause the destruction of the world's rainforests.
"We live in a global marketplace and the worry is that some of these fuels will be imported," said Roger Higman of FOE, according to the UK Telegraph on Nov. 11. Higman is concerned that much more land will be needed to grow the crops necessary to produce bio-fuels and in turn increase deforestation.
"It could be genetically modified crops or palm oil from freshly cleared rainforests. There is also a concern that British farmers could flatten the countryside in order to grow bio-fuels," Higman added.
Alistair Darling, the transport secretary in Birmingham England, said the mandate of bio-fuels in Britain would save a million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of eliminating one million cars from the roadways.
A U.S. group, not usually in agreement with the green movement, lauded Higman of Friends of the Earth for recognizing the potentially harmful effects on the environment from bio-fuel mandates.
"I am glad that Friends of the Earth is finally recognizing the environmental threat of expanding bio-fuels. That may be the first time that I have ever heard the greens give bio-fuels the scrutiny it deserves," said Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues. Avery described his group as being "concerned about feeding as many possible people from as little land as possible in order to save more room for nature.
"Good farmland is the scarcest resource on this planet and we are already farming 37 percent of Earth's land area to get today's food supply," Avery told Cybercast News Service.
Avery slammed world governments for attempting to increase mandates for bio-fuel as an alternative to petroleum.
"Now, suddenly governments are saying, 'Oh we should have lots of bio-fuel so that we don't have to get oil out of the ground,' but we would have to clear 16 million square miles of forest on the planet if we wanted to make any dent in the demand for petroleum," Avery said.
He added that the green movement and world governments need to wake up to the fact that bio-fuels are not a viable energy alternative.
"In the island of Kalimantan in Indonesia, they are clearing tropical forests rich in species in order to grow chicken feed while American farmers grow [the bio-fuel] ethanol instead of chicken feed," Avery said.
The green movement must take responsibility for promoting bio-fuels and risking more clear-cutting of the world's forests, according to Avery.
Despite that threat to the globe's forests, many environmental groups still tout bio-fuel as a viable alternative energy source. Another representative of Friends of the Earth has gone on the record as praising Great Britain for its bio-fuel mandate.
"We're delighted to see the government support bio-fuels in this way; they have a vital role to play in cutting transport emissions," the FOE's Tony Bosworth said, according to a press release.
Bosworth did express concern about the potentially harmful effects on the environment.
"[U]se of bio-fuels must be tied to a strong assurance scheme to ensure their production doesn't damage the countryside, encourage the destruction of tropical rainforests or promote intensive farming of GM (genetically modified) crops," he explained.
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