Biofuels Are Threatening Tropical Rain Forests

Published July 1, 2007

Increasing use of biofuels threatens environmental degradation in the Earth’s most fragile ecosystems, according to an April 17 report by the environmental group Ecologists in Action.

The report, released at a biofuels conference in Madrid, Spain, asserts “greater use of biofuels will lead to intensive monocultures in the most vulnerable and most ecological areas [sic] of the planet.” The report called biofuels a “serious threat” to the planet.

Harvesting Forests, Killing Species

Palm oil and sugar cane are being used extensively in Africa, Asia, and South America for ethanol and biofuels production. This is causing the eradication of tropical forests and the many endangered species that live there, the report says.

“Within 15 years 98 percent of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, little more than a footnote in history. With them will disappear some of the world’s most important wildlife species, victims of the rapacious destruction of their habitat in what conservationists see as a lost cause,” reported the April 4 London Guardian.

A February 2007 report by the United Nations Environment Programme, “The Last Stand of the Orangutan,” also claims 98 percent of the Indonesian and Malayan rainforests could be gone by 2022, in large part to meet biofuel goals.

Fuel vs. Food

The growing use of biofuels is definitely reducing the amount of arable land dedicated to food production in some of the world’s poorest nations.

“The world doesn’t have enough land to simultaneously grow enough crops to support the expected human population and produce large amounts of biofuels, while still preserving land for wildlife, in the year 2050,” said Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute. “What has to go is the biofuels.”

The World Conservation Union calculates that a single tank of ethanol for a Range Rover requires enough grain to feed one person for an entire year.

“If we continue attempting to get tiny yields of biofuels from our precious croplands, we will double and triple the cost of food,” Avery said. “We will savage the poor with dramatic cost-of-living increases, and when there are crop production problems like drought and crop disease epidemics, we risk enormous harm to human health and welfare.”

John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. ([email protected]) is a member of the Science and Policy Advisory Board of the American Council on Science and Health and teaches emergency medicine at CR Darnall Army Medical Center, Fort Hood, Texas.

For more information …

“Biofuel: Green Savior or Red Herring?”, April 2, 2007,

“Palm Oil: The Biofuel of the Future Driving an Ecological Disaster Now,” London Guardian, April 4, 2007,,,2049671,00.html

“Biofuels: The Next Threat to Forests?” Conservation International, May 4, 2007,