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Biofuels boom could fuel rainforest destruction, Stanford researcher warns
Date:2/14/2009

Farmers across the tropics might raze forests to plant biofuel crops, according to new research by Holly Gibbs, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment.

"If we run our cars on biofuels produced in the tropics, chances will be good that we are effectively burning rainforests in our gas tanks," she warned.

Policies favoring biofuel crop production may inadvertently contribute to, not slow, the process of climate change, Gibbs said. Such an environmental disaster could be "just around the corner without more thoughtful energy policies that consider potential ripple effects on tropical forests," she added.

Gibbs' predictions are based on her new study, in which she analyzed detailed satellite images collected between 1980 and 2000. The study is the first to do such a detailed characterization of the pathways of agricultural expansion throughout the entire tropical region. Gibbs hopes that this new knowledge will contribute to making prudent decisions about future biofuel policies and subsidies.

Gibbs will present her findings in Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 14, during a symposium that begins at 1:30 p.m. CT at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The symposium is titled "Biofuels, Tropical Deforestation, and Climate Policy: Key Challenges and Opportunities." She will participate in a press conference at 12 p.m. CT on the same day.

With climates ideal for growing biofuel crops and an abundance of arable land, tropical countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia have already responded to growing demand for food, feed and fuel from crops such sugarcane, soy and oil palm by increasing their production, Gibbs said.

For example, the area of cropland dedicated to soybean production in Brazil has increased at a rate of nearly 15 percent per year since 1990, and Indonesia's oil palm production tripled during the 1990's and then doubled again from 2000 to 2007,
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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