Biofuels have lately been indicated as a promising source of cheap and sustainable energy. In this paper we argue that some important ethical and environmental issues have also to be addressed: (1) the conflict between biofuels production and global food security, particularly in developing countries, and (2) the limits of the Human Appropriation of ecosystem services and Net Primary Productivity. We warn that large scale conversion of crops, grasslands, natural and semi-natural ecosystem, (such as the conversion of grasslands to cellulosic (...) ethanol production, or plantation of sugar cane and palm oil), may have detrimental social and ecological consequences. Social effects may concern: (1) food security, especially in developing countries, leading to an increase of the price of staple food, (2) transnational corporations and big landowners establishing larger and larger landholdings in conflict with indigenous areas and the subsistence of small farmers. Ecological effects may concern: (1) competition with grazing wild and domesticated animals (e.g., millions of grazing livestock in USA prairies), (2) an excessive appropriation of Net Primary Production from ecosystems, (3) threatening biodiversity preservation and soil fertility. We claim that is it well known how ecological and social issues are strictly interwoven and that large scale biofuels production, by putting high pressure on both fronts, may trigger dangerous feedbacks, also considering the critical fact that 9 billion people are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050. There is a need to conduct serious and deep analysis on the environmental and social impact of large scale biofuels production before important energy policies are launched at global level. Biofuels will not represent an energetic panacea and their role in the overall energy consumption will remain marginal in our present highly energivorous society, while their effect on food security and environment preservation may have detrimental results. We should also have the courage to face two key issues: (1) we cannot keep increasing resources consumption at present pace, and have to change our life style accordingly, and (2) we have to deal with population growth; we cannot expect to have 9–10 billions people inhabiting the earth by 2050, without this representing a major impact on its support system. (shrink)
The increasing demands placed on the global water supply threaten biodiversity and the supply of water for food production and other vital human needs. Water shortages already exist in many regions, with more than one billion people without adequate drinking water. In addition, 90% of the infectious diseases in developing countries are transmitted from polluted water. Agriculture consumes about 70% of fresh water worldwide;for example, approximately 1000 liters (L) of water are required to produce 1 kilogram (kg) of cereal grain, (...) and 43,000 L to produce I kg of beef New water supplies are likely to result from conservation, recycling, and improved water-use efficiency rather than from large development projects. (shrink)
Despite the application of 2.5 million tons ofpesticides worldwide, more than 40% of all potentialfood production is lost to insect, weed, and plantpathogen pests prior to harvest. After harvest, anadditional 20% of food is lost to another group ofpests. The use of pesticides for pest control resultsin an estimated 26 million human poisonings, with220,000 fatalities, annually worldwide. In the UnitedStates, the environmental and public health costs forthe recommended use of pesticides total approximately$9 billion/yr. Thus, there is a need for alternativenon-chemical (...) pest controls, and genetic engineering(biotechnology) might help with this need. Diseaseand insect pest resistance to various pests has beenslowly bred into crops for the past 12,000 years;current techniques in biotechnology now offeropportunities to further and more rapidly improve thenon-chemical control of disease and insect pests ofcrops. However, relying on a single factor, like theBacillus thuringiensis toxin that has beeninserted into corn and a few other crops for insectcontrol, leads to various environmental problems,including insect resistance and, in some cases, athreat to beneficial biological control insects andendangered insect species. A major environmental andeconomic cost associated with genetic engineeringapplications in agriculture relates to the use ofherbicide resistant crops (HRC). In general, HRCtechnology results in increased herbicide use but noincrease in crop yields. The heavy use of herbicidesin HRC technology pollutes the environment and canlead to weed control costs for farmers that may be2-fold greater than standard weed control costs. Therefore, pest control with both pesticides andbiotechnology can be improved for effective, safe,economical pest control. (shrink)
Aquatic ecosystems are vital to the structure and function of all environments on earth. Worldwide, approximately 95 million metric tons of fishery products are harvested from marine and freshwater habitats. A major problem in fisheries around the world is the bioethics of overfishing. A wide range of management techniques exists for fishery, managers and policy-makers to improve fishery production in the future. The best approach to limit overfishing is to have an effective, federally regulated fishery, based on environmental standards and (...) fishery carrying capacity. Soon, overfishing is more likely to cause fish scarcity than fossil fuel shortages and high energy prices for fish harvesting. However, oil and other fuel shortages are projected to influence future fishery policies and the productive capacity of the fishery industry. Overall, small-scale fishing systems are more energy efficient than large-scale systems. Aquaculture is not the solution to wild fishery production. The energy input/output ratio of aquacultural fish is much higher than that of the harvest of wild populations. In addition, the energy ratios for aquaculture systems are higher than those for most livestock systems. (shrink)
Less than 0.1% of pesticides applied for pest control reach their target pests. Thus, more than 99.9% of pesticides used move into the environment where they adversely affect public health and beneficial biota, and contaminate soil, water, and the atmosphere of the ecosystem. Improved pesticide application technologies can improve pesticide use efficiency and protect public health and the environment.
The US will face serious energy shortages in the near future as high energy consumption and the ever-increasing US population will force residents to confront the critical problem of dwindling domestic fossil energy supplies. The development of solar energy technologies, paired with energy conservation, to meet future US energy needs is discussed.
The use of organic farming technologies has certain advantages in some situations and for certain crops such as maize; however, with other crops such as vegetables and fruits, yields under organic production may be substantially reduced compared with conventional production. In most cases, the use of organic technologies requires higher labor inputs than conventional technologies. Some major advantages of organic production are the conservation of soil and water resources and the effective recycling of livestock wastes when they are available.
Problems of fuel ethanol production have been the subject of numerous reports, including this analysis. The conclusions are that ethanol: does not improve U.S. energy security; is uneconomical; is not a renewable energy source; and increases environmental degradation. Ethanol production is wasteful of energy resources and does not increase energy security. Considerably more energy, much of it high- grade fossil fuels, is required to produce ethanol than is available in the energy output. About 72% more energy is used to produce (...) a gallon of ethanol than the energy in a gallon of ethanol. Ethanol production from corn is not renewable energy. Its production uses more non- renewable fossil energy resources in growing the corn and in the fermentation/distillation process than is produced as ethanol energy. Ethanol produced from corn and other food crops is also an unreliable and therefore a non-secure source of energy, because of the likelihood of uncontrollable climatic fluctuations, particularly droughts which reduce crop yields. The expected priority for corn and other food crops would be for food and feed. Increasing ethanol production would increase degradation of agricultural land and water and pollute the environment. In U.S. corn production, soil erodes some 18- times faster than soil is reformed, and, where irrigated, corn production mines water faster than recharge of aquifers. Increasing the cost of food and diverting human food resources to the costly and inefficient production of ethanol fuel raise major ethical questions. These occur at a time when more food is needed to meet the basic needs of a rapidly growing world population. (shrink)
Because the agriculture/food sectors appear to be driven by short-term economic and political forces, cheap energy, and agricultural-chemical technologies, waste and environmental/social problems in the agricultural/food sectors are estimated to cost the nation at least $150 billion per year. Most of the waste and environmental/social problems can be eliminated through better resource management policies and the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.