Bioenergy is a rather confusing blanket term for many, but it simply refers to renewable energy that is sourced from natural sources. At its simplest, burning wood on a fire is an example of bioenergy. This method has been used by humans for many thousands of years, but more recently, scientists involved in green, renewable energy have developed fuels brought from many other natural sources. These include producing electricity from sugar cane, fuel from soya beans and even animal waste.
While renewable energy is globally considered to be good for the planet’s resources and for the atmosphere, some involved in the industry have raised concerns that biofuels from crop-based commodities may add to global warming. Those on both sides of the debate are vociferous in producing evidence to support their own case – on one hand, some have no doubt about the evidence for global warming, on the other, opponents deny that it is based on fact.
A Lively Debate
So concerns over soil carbon have also produced a lively debate from both camps. Different plants produce different amounts of soil carbon, but many argue that plant-based fuels, which in turn can replace natural resources such as petroleum and gas. No matter the amount of soil carbon produced, the benefits would outweigh any possible harm. The trouble with looking at soil carbon is that the process takes many years, and by the time enough research has been done, levels may have returned to where they were before biofuels started to be widely used.
There is no doubt, however, that the cultivation of biofuel (or biomass, or bioenergy) crops to be used in the poorer parts of the world does not have many disadvantages. Carbon, after all, is a natural part of our planet, along with everything else that we use. Some ’chemicals’ are deemed to be ‘bad’ for us, while others are globally accepted as ‘good’.
A Balancing Act
We are trapped in the Goldilocks Principle, where we are constantly forced into a juggle between the malign and the benign. Our planet cannot be too warm or too cold, neither too near or too far away from the Sun. It is this balancing act which not only worries some scientists and commentators, but makes many others at the happy accident that has made this planet the wondrous place that it is.
Too much of either will see us topple from one side of our tightrope or the other. The doom-mongers have already seized on the build-up of soil carbon in biomass agricultural as a potentially serious problem.
It has been noted by the American author and activist Michael Pollan that modern agriculture has shifted from being powered by the Sun to dependency on fossil fuels. Unfortunately for those in today’s debate, either those with a genuine concern or others who may have vested interests and merely want to lobby for their cause, that changes in our planet’s environment take place slowly, just as we live quickly, so none of us will be around to see the result.