Biofuels are produced from biomass, which is any organic matter that can be burned or otherwise used to produce heat or energy. While not a new technology—biofuels have been around for well over 100 years—they are experiencing something of a renaissance in the United States and other countries across the globe. Today, biofuels have become the single most common alternative energy source in the U.S. transportation sector with billions of gallons of the fuel produced annually. The expansion of the bio-based economy in recent years has been intertwined with mounting concerns about environmental pollution and the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere. In the United States, for example, biofuels mandates have been championed as key to solving not only the country’s increasing energy demand problems and reliance on foreign oil, but also growing fears about global climate change. Of course, the use of biomass and biofuels to combat global climate change has been highly controversial. While proponents argue that biofuels burn cleaner than gasoline, research has suggested that any reductions in CO2 emissions are offset by land use considerations and the energy required in the biofuels-production process. How publics perceive of climate change as a problem and the use of biomass and biofuels as potential solutions will go a long way toward determining the policies that government’s implement to address this issue.
Michael A. Cacciatore
Worldwide, governments subsidize agriculture at the rate of approximately 1 billion dollars per day. This figure rises to about twice that when export and biofuels production subsidies and state financing for dams and river basin engineering are included. These policies guide land use in numerous ways, including growers’ choices of crop and buyers’ demand for commodities. The three types of state subsidies that shape land use and the environment are land settlement programs, price and income supports, and energy and emissions initiatives. Together these subsidies have created perennial surpluses in global stores of cereal grains, cotton, and dairy, with production increases outstripping population growth. Subsidies to land settlement, to crop prices, and to processing and refining of cereals and fiber, therefore, can be shown to have independent and largely deleterious effect on soil fertility, fresh water supplies, biodiversity, and atmospheric carbon.