Food crops for the use of biofuels are massively controversial but the so-called second generation biofuel crops have massive side effects as well. These more recent crops are non food, but experts are warning that many of them are ‚Äòinvasive species’. In other words, they’re weeds which have huge potential to escape the biofuel farms where they’re grown and overrun natural land and other areas.
The problem has the attention of UN scientists. At a recent meeting in Bonn, Germany, specialists from the Global Invasive Species Program, as well as scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for Conservation of Nature published a scientific paper about invasive species warning about their effects.
The paper follows in the wake of recent international meetings questioning the ethics of using food crops like corn, rapeseed, sugarcane and palm oil to produce biofuels. The biofuel industry’s massive demand for these types of crops is believed to have been a factor in driving up the prices of food to sky high levels in countries whose populations are increasingly struggling to make ends meet.
The biologists, botanists and environmentalists writing the paper say that the second generation, non food crops that the sector is turning to at the moment may have unintended consequences which are not to be ignored. “Some of the most commonly recommended species for biofuels production are also major invasive alien species,” according to the scientists. They believe that the crops should be studied more thoroughly before being cultivated on a massive scale.
The scientists might have a case. For instance, the giant reed (whose Latin name is Arundo donax) originally grown in West Asia which is already invasive in parts of North and Central America. It is naturally flammable, and often causes wildfires, which is not only a global warming accelerator but also a direct threat to humans.
The scientists drew up a list of the most popular second-generation biofuel crops as well as a list of invasive species. They say the overlap is huge, which reveals that terribly little risk-evaluation has been performed. “Prevention is better than the cure,” according to The Nature Conservancy’s senior expert on the subject, Stas Bugiel. He urged people to stop invasions before they occur.
Spokespeople from within the biofuel sector retorted that the scientists were exaggerating. They believe that risk of biofuel crops morphing into weed problems is not as huge as made out by the UN organized scientists. The biofuel industry insiders say that the plants are tough, which means that they can be cultivated on marginal land that would not be used for food anyway.
Should invasive species really ‘take off’, potential damage is estimated at $1.4 trillion annually on a global basis, the scientists said. That represents 5% of the global economy. Controlling the spread of weeds in the US alone amounts to $120 billion annually currently. There are around 800 invasive species infestations in the US every year.