Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Biofuels - not so hot

I was already a big skeptic of biofuels before today. Using cropland to grow giant monocultures that are then burned as fuel instead of fed to people seems like a not-so-hot idea - think of the pesticides! More mono-cropping means more chemical pesticides and fertilizers that end up harming downwind and downstream communities and ecosystems. Yuck!

Today, I learned that two recent studies confirm that in addition to being a source of pesticide pollution, biofuels aren't actually preventing global warming either. Princeton University and The Marshall Fund published a study in the journal Science, and The Nature Conservancy has put out a study with similar conclusions.

From an article in The Washington Post on these findings:

"(...) As the study from the Nature Conservancy warns, 'converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia and the United States creates a 'biofuel carbon debt' by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels they replace.' There are other negative effects. Massive amounts of water are needed to irrigate cornfields, setting up potential competition between farms and homes. The runoff of pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers used by farmers could lead to increased pollution and oxygen-depleted waterways. The natural gas used to make the fertilizer adds to the carbon deficit created by biofuels.

An essay in the May-June 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs by two professors from the University of Minnesota highlighted still another problem: The biofuels craze could starve people. "By putting pressure on global supplies of edible crops, the surge in ethanol production will translate into higher prices for both processed and staple foods around the world," they wrote. "If oil prices remain high -- which is likely -- the people most vulnerable to the price hikes brought on by the biofuel boom will be those in countries that both suffer food deficits and import petroleum."

Will someone please get the memo to decision makers in Washington who are pouring money into biofuels right now?? Eep!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just Say No to Endosulfan

The EPA is taking public comment on its review of the acutely toxic pesticide endosulfan until next Tuesday, Feb. 19. The EPA considers endosulfan a potential human endocrine disruptor, and mounting evidence links endosulfan exposure with increased risk of autism and delayed puberty in boys. Endosulfan is already banned in Cambodia, the Philippines and most of Europe, but is still used in many other parts of the world including India and the U.S. In North Carolina, endosulfan is used on cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, apples and tobacco, with the highest concentrations of use in Eastern NC.

Our friends at the NC Conservation Network are conducting an online petition calling for a complete ban of endosulfan. Take a minute and let the EPA know where you stand!

It's worth noting that part of the reason these highly toxic chemicals are still around is that the people most affected by their continued use--farmworkers--are largely disenfranchised. Current laws not only fail to protect workers from the misuse of pesticides in the field, but they also fail to protect them from retaliation if they dare to file a complaint about it!

Picture a world in which farmworkers aren't hiding in the shadows, and you'll see a world in which toxic pesticides like endosulfan are a thing of the past.