Renewable Is Not a Synonym for Sustainable

Cross-posted from the blog — cman.

This is a good mantra for the times.  Keep reciting it to yourself… Renewable  is not a synonym for sustainable. Letter to the Editor of the Des Moines Register from Dale Shires of Iowa City.

One of my dad’s maxims was “never buy or sell hay.” Buying hay might bring in the seeds of weeds we had spent years trying to control; selling hay removed tons of nutrients without replacing it with commensurate manure.Thousands of years of unharvested prairie had built the rich silt loam. The first 75 years of diversified, value-added farming saw mainly livestock and livestock products leave a nearly-level farm, using no commercial fertilizer, yet with ever-increasing yields.

We began raising soybeans during World War II, rotating and covering about one-fifth of the acreage each year. By 1954, soil tests showed a need for phosphate fertilizer. (The southwest Iowa soils were high in potassium and we inoculated the beans for nitrogen fixation.)

The Ethanol Bubble  —  prices to $4.50 per bushel in February, I think we can begin to call it a Bubble — is on the rise.  Even at the $3.70 or so price of last week, farmers willl sorely tempted to plant every last acre in corn.  Never mind the fences or the marginal land, or the “green strips” or the CRP fields. 

America’s farmers, ably abetted by America’s agribusiness interests and politicians seem perfectly willing to sacrifice the last few inches of world-class topsoil in order to extend the Age of Easy Motoring just a couple more years.

Also, check out The Exchange, (MP3 file) from Iowa Public Radio last week as Dennis Keeney, Senior Fellow at Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, cautions against irrational exuberance in renewables.

We need a sustainable, future-proof energy policy.  Renewables and ethanol (from whatever source) are just a small part of the eventual solution. 

How’s that $3.00 a gallon gas treating you?

Drive less.  Ask your presidential candidates why they don’t have the courage to say so.

  • so true

    Along the same lines, an article from the AP just got posted on the I-Renew list. It’s about a report released on May 8 by UN-Energy, a consortium of 20 United Nations agencies and programs. Some choice excerpts follow:

    U.N.: Biofuels Could Devastate Environment

    ROME, May 8, 2007
    (AP) The United Nations said Tuesday that biofuels like ethanol can greatly help reduce global warming and create jobs for the rural poor, but warned that the benefits may be offset by serious environmental problems and higher food prices for the hungry.

    In its first major report on bioenergy, the U.N. tried to temper the enthusiasm over biofuels by raising the alarm about their potential negative impact.

    The report said bioenergy represents an “extraordinary opportunity” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it warned that “rapid growth in liquid biofuel production will make substantial demands on the world’s land and water resources at a time when demand for both food and forest products is also rising rapidly.”

    Changes in the carbon content of soils and carbon stocks in forests and peat lands might offset some or all of the benefits of the greenhouse gas reductions, it said.

    “Use of large-scale monocropping could lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching,” it said, adding that investments in bioenergy must be managed carefully, at national, regional and local levels to avoid new environmental and social problems “some of which could have irreversible consequences. ”

    It noted that soaring palm oil demand has already led to the clearing of tropical forests in southeast Asia. Such clearings could result in emissions that were even higher than those caused by fossil fuels.

    “More and more, people are realizing that there are serious environmental and serious food security issues involved in biofuels,” Greenpeace biofuels expert Jan van Aken said. “There is more to the environment than climate change,” he said. “Climate change is the most pressing issue, but you cannot fight climate change by large deforestation in Indonesia.”

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