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

Subscribe to Geographical!

Geographical Week

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

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

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    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...
    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 true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

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...

Energy

The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…

Tectonics

Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away

Climate

Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…

Wildlife

Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…

Oceans

A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…

Climate

The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…

Oceans

The Ocean Cleanup has launched System 001, a floating barrier…

Nature

New videos reveal how plants respond to wounds, sending forth…

Geophoto

The recent heatwave had everyone longing for a drop of…

Wildlife

The demand for horseshoe crab blood – vital for testing…

Climate

One of the problems in getting accurate climate science out…

Wildlife

Italy is divided over the future of its wolves and…

Energy

A Scottish tidal power project in the Pentland Firth has…

Oceans

The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the…

Geophoto

With the recent Saddleworth Moor fire, it can be easy…

Wildlife

Whale sharks have been found to not travel far from…

Wildlife

The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying…

Tectonics

Earlier this week, Indonesia was struck by a series of…

Energy

Efforts to reduce the energy drain of the internet are…

Energy

Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend,…