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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Agriculture - Sustainable biofuels Redux
Year: 2008
Author(s): Robertson, G. P., Dale, V. H., Doering, O. C., Hamburg, S. P., Melillo, J. M., Wander, M. M., Parton, W. J., Adler, P. R., Barney, J. N., Cruse, et al., R. M.
Source Title: Science
Source Type: Journal
pages: 49-50
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Biofuel sustainability has environmental, economic, and social facets that all interconnect. Tradeoffs among them vary widely by types of fuels and where they are grown and, thus, need to be explicitly considered by using a framework that allows the outcomes of alternative systems to be consistently evaluated and compared. A cellulosic biofuels industry could have many positive social and environmental attributes, but it could also suffer from many of the sustainability issues that hobble grain-based biofuels, if not implemented the right way. Although many questions about biofuel sustainability remain unanswered—indeed, some remain unasked—what we now know with reasonable certainty can be readily summarized. First, we know that grain-based biofuel cropping systems as currently managed cause environmental harm. In addition to questions of carbon debt created by land cleared elsewhere to replace displaced food production, farming our existing landscapes more intensively, with even greater quantities of biomass extracted, can easily exacerbate existing environmental problems. The effects of more intense agriculture are well documented: increased soil erosion, greater nitrate and phosphorus loss, and a decline in biodiversity, with concomitant impacts on ground and surface water quality, air quality, and biodiversity based services such as pest suppression and wildlife amenities. Business as usual writ larger is not an environmentally welcome outcome.