Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Green loopholes

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Energy
The industrial production of US wood pellets is being used as a renewable energy source in Europe The industrial production of US wood pellets is being used as a renewable energy source in Europe Imfoto
31 Mar
2018
Well-meaning promises don’t always have positive outcomes. Marco Magrini finds that green paradoxes abound despite the best of intentions

We already know that all that glitters is not gold. Yet, the glittering enthusiasm expressed by big polluters when selling the adoption of biofuels as a way to reduce atmospheric CO2 – such as America during the Clinton and Bush administrations – couldn’t be more tarnished. Ethanol production has nearly tripled since 2007 and gasoline consumption is at an all-time high. And, while waiting for better technologies to turn carbohydrates into hydrocarbons, we cannot say that biofuels have been an environmental success so far either. As argued by the economist Hans-Werner Sinn, when a climate policy turns out to accelerate global warming we get a ‘green paradox’. Sinn was specifically referring to owners of fossil fuel sources, who may be encouraged by climate policies to extract more today than in the future. But there are plenty of other paradoxes.

In recent years, China has encouraged the adoption of electric scooters. As a result, huge waste dumps of rusting petrol motorbikes lie beside dumps of used bike batteries (generally shorter-lived than car batteries). Or take Germany, that has managed to build an impressive array of renewable energy sources but, after it started phasing-out nuclear power, has resorted to coal thus wiping out most of its CO2 emission reductions. With only one planet and atmosphere to share, it is easy to step into paradoxical loopholes.

Europe is the standard-bearer of climate action, in terms of willingness and regulations. Yet it has now come under the focus of American environmentalists, calling for a revision of its famed Renewable Energy Directive. Under the directive, wood ‘biomass’ qualifies as a renewable energy source. As a result, millions of tons of wood is being harvested in southeastern America and turned into pellets to be burned in Europe for electricity. ‘This will lead to long-term, landscape-scale loss of critical habitats that will worsen ongoing threats to the region’s biodiversity,’ reads a letter sent to Brussels by a group of scientists. Not to mention that harvesting trees for biomass can never be a ‘net zero carbon’ endeavour.

This is not to say that climate policies are useless or harmful. It is just to remind us that the path to a decarbonised world is long, bumpy and paved with unknowns. It must be carefully planned, continuously revised and swiftly travelled.

This was published in the April 2018 edition of Geographical magazine.

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Celebrated author Professor Tim Birkhead provides a fascinating insight into…

Oceans

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle…

Oceans

Ocean conservation group urges world governments to step up action…

Climate

As climate conditions at the 100th meridian, the traditional United…

Climate

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…

Wildlife

The winner of the 2018 Whitley Gold Award is Pablo…

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…