Sample Masters Environmental & Socio-Economic Essay
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Environmental and Socio-Economic Impact of Biofuel Production
How can biofuels aid in energy conservation with implications on natural resources management; in terms of its production’s impact on the environment and effect on food security and poverty?
The increasing demands of energy through a rapid increase in population across the globe, along with deteriorating climatic conditions, has necessitated an urgent need to re-think on ways energy is being consumed and produced in the current world.
Energy conservation often refers to reducing energy consumption and efficient use of energy production and utilisation. Often through protection, the reduction on demand of a limited resource supply can occur, enabling the supply to rebuild itself (Zehner n.d.) sustainably. Indeed, the best execution method is through replacing the energy resource with sustainable alternate solutions, and much research is being conducted across the globe to achieve this objective.
Economies that are currently most dependent are on petroleum products such as petrol and diesel. Petroleum products and their use have had a bitter-sweet history in the modern world, with new research indicating the harmful effects of the product on human health and the environment.
Biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel enable the conservation of petroleum products as an alternative that competes directly to them (Augusto Horta Nogueira & Silva Capaz 2013).
The production of biofuels contributes to the conservation of energy by producing an environmentally friendly product and benefits the revitalization of agriculture, resulting in reducing poverty and increasing rural growth. Therefore, it is essential to examine biofuels as a budding replacement to fuel produced through prehistoric biological matter (i.e., fossil fuels).
The environmental impacts of biofuels include the mitigation of climate change, improvement in biodiversity, and sustainability. Baffes (2013) suggests that replacing fossil fuels with fuels produced from biomass has a potential positive climate change effect by creating lower greenhouse gas levels that contribute to global warming.
Maltsoglou et al. (2013) argue that bioenergy crops can also reduce or offset the emissions of greenhouse gases by directly removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow and store in crop biomass and soil. de Gorter et al. (2013) point out; aside from biofuels, many crops used in the production of biofuels generate co-products such as protein for animal feed, which allows saving energy that would have been used alternatively to make feed by other production methods.
On the contrary, Tyner (2013) reasons that although biofuel production may have impending benefits, there is evidence to suggest that depending on the methods used for the production of feedstock and process of fuel, some crops have the prospective to generate more greenhouse gases than compared to fossil fuels.
Hertel et al. (2013) argue that nitrous oxide, released from nitrogen fertilizers, is a greenhouse gas that can be around 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
Maltsoglou et al. (2013) counter the premise that the net effect of biofuels on greenhouse gas emissions varies greatly. Biofuels are produced from biomass, which in theory should be considered carbon neutral.
Their combustion would only allow the return of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere by the plant during its growth phases, unlike fossil fuels, which release carbon that has been stored for millions of years.
However, Augusto Horta Nogueira et al. (2013) maintains that biofuels can go on to replace traditional biomass such as fuelwood and charcoal, which holds the potential for drastic improvement in human health, especially for women and children, as it can reduce respiratory disease and deaths that are resulted from indoor air pollution.
Conversely, Hertel et al. (2013) argue that biofuel production may hurt water resources. The production of biofuel will result in the need for large quantities of water needed for the washing of plants and seeds in addition to evaporative cooling. One of the most significant impacts on local water availability comes from irrigation.
The availability of water resources may coerce the production of biofuel crops, specifically in countries that would seem to have an obvious advantage over others (Triggers & Factors n.d.). The amount of irrigation water that is needed in lower rainfall areas is extremely significant. Many countries in southern and eastern Africa, including northeastern Brazil, participate in irrigated sugar production, are already operating very close to their limits of available water resources (Tyner 2013).
Producing biofuel crops will also have an impact on water quality. Studies such as Thompson et al. (2013) suggested that converting pastures or woodlands into maize fields might increase soil erosion issues and runoff excess nitrogen and phosphorous into surface water and groundwater, leading to low-quality water for both consumption and agricultural purposes (see Fig. 1).
According to Fig. 1, in 33 rivers close to pastures converted to agricultural production fields for biomass, fluxes of both NO3 and N in the rivers correlated with the deposition of oxidized N coming in the form of runoff from soil erosion. Biofuel crop production can also lead to pesticides and other chemicals washing into water bodies, eventually leading to adverse health effects on the surrounding populace who come in contact with that water.
The issue of water scarcity in biofuels production is a significant factor in its minimal production currently. However, other more beneficial environmental effects may make the production of biofuels highly popular.
The impact of biofuel production on food security is complex because of its effect on the household level. Academics use indicators of food prices and household incomes to assess the impact of biofuels on food security (Thompson & Meyer 2013; Gibson 2013; Augusto Horta Nogueira & Silva Capaz 2013; de Gorter et al. 2013; Baffes 2013; Hertel & Tyner 2013; Jolya et al. n.d.).
The more income a household has, the more food can be bought, including more food of better quality. Consequently, the higher food prices on household food security can become worse in urban and rural areas; in the meantime, better abled rural households who are not the direct sellers of food have the opportunity to gain a great deal from the increase of incomes that lead to higher food prices (Baffes 2013).
Looking at the long-term effects in the production of biofuels, Page 4 of 9, their emergence can increase the demand for agriculture products and aid in revitalizing agriculture in developing countries.
Maltsoglou et al. (2013) state that the surge in food prices could increase agricultural production for non-food crops without compromising food crop production and may eventually result in improved food security. Gibson (2013) debates that the world’s poorest countries can then become major agricultural producers in supplying feedstock to produce liquid biofuel.
Maltsoglou et al. (2013) argue that agricultural growth aids in improving food security by initiating rural income opportunities and reducing food prices for other consumers. The growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) in agriculture is twice as effective in decreasing poverty and increasing development in all other sectors (Gibson 2013).
The previous arguments are countered with the premise that rising commodity prices have pushed up the costs of imports, and food imports have thus resulted in record-setting high levels, which are evident in studies like de Gorter et al. (2013).
The significant increase is caused by rising prices of cereals and vegetable oils, both of which are heavily present in biofuel production, as seen in Fig. 2. Other feed ingredients result in higher prices for meat and dairy products, increasing the expense of imports of such commodities.
Figure 2- Food commodity price trends 1971 – 2007, with projections to 2017 (Source; OECD, 2015)
Joyla et al. (n.d.) also note that risks are linked with the development of biofuels that result in deteriorating income distribution and the degradation of women’s status.
Triggers et al. (n.d.) suggest that the expansion of biofuel production will result in greater land competition. This means that smallholder farms, female farmers, and pastoralists have weaker tenure rights, resulting in these farmers’ displacement.
Bouis et al. (1990) found in their study that the introduction of sugar cane in the southern Philippines increased land-tenure situations, with many households losing their access to land. On the other hand, government policies can mitigate the displacement of such marginal groups like women and small farmers.
The government should invest in contract farming to allow rural households and communities to share in commercial agriculture benefits while also maintaining themselves as independent farmers.
Thompson et al. (2013) claim that contract farming is more likely to succeed if policies are made using proven technology and a legal environment. A great example of this is Brazil; the government had developed the Social Fuel Stamp program, which encouraged biodiesel producers to buy feedstock from small family-run farmers in the country’s poorest districts.
Companies that had joined this program benefited from partial or total federal tax exemption; this allowed over 400,000 small farmers to join the program and sold mostly soybeans, castor beans, and palm oil to refinery companies leading to more significant community growth and income security (Augusto Horta Nogueira & Silva Capaz 2013).
The production of biofuels leads to various economic, social, and environmental impacts beneficial for both developed and developing countries. There is evidence to suggest that the production of biofuels and their use results in decreased emission of greenhouse gases.
Yet, there is also evidence explaining the increased production of other greenhouse gases through the biofuels’ production process, especially in feedstock production. Another theoretically harmful environmental impact throbiofuels’ the products are undeniably water scarcity, especially for developing countries facing a water crisis.
Based on the analysis, it is evident that increased crop products used to make stock feed and eventually biofuel will significantly strain water resources. Nevertheless, water scarcity can be resolved through improved policy-making by governments. One of the significant benefits of biofuels’ production is its impact on food security and poverty alleviation.
The production of biofuels will increase vigor in developing nations’ agricultural sectors who will become significant players in producing crops for feedstock. By revitalizing the farming sector, individuals and communities will find the opportunity to produce income, allowing them to become active consumers in purchasing food.
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Anon, Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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