unintended consequences of alternate energy policy

Renewable energy sources that reduce our dependence on oil and gas and decrease the emissions of green house gases may unintentionally do more harm than good.

In the rush to develop biofuels, forests are burned in Asia to clear land for palm oil, and swaths of the Amazon are stripped of diverse vegetation for soya and sugar plantations for ethanol.
The campaign [for sustainable biofuel standards] is driven by evidence that developers in the two Asian countries have burned vast tracks of rain forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleash millions of tons of carbon dioxide and smoke that shroud entire areas of Southeast Asia in eye-watering smog for weeks at a time.

The Netherlands is Europe’s biggest importer of palm oil, used in a wide range of supermarket products as well as a fuel oil supplement. One Dutch company has plans [as of 2005] to build three 50 megawatt power stations exclusively running on palm oil.

This is part of a hurried effort by The Netherlands to produce biofuels, which is not just an internal environmental decision but a reaction to stringent limits on carbon emissions imposed by the EU and a response to skyrocketing oil prices. To promote the use of biofuels, the Dutch government has created a basket of tax incentives. The government is rethinking the consequences of the push.

The Cramer Commission, which conducted the study, has recommended “a track-and-trace system to follow a [sustainably developed] product from plantation to power plant, like an express delivery package”. This may be a good test case for RFIDs. The original goods/packaging could be peppered with the minute ID tags. Enough should survive each step so the provenance of the goods could be determined. Not to say there wouldn’t be problems (e.g., diluting the ‘sustainable’ products with non-sustainable oil) but my experience with certificate programs suggests that they are quite difficult to enforce. Every bit helps.

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