What’s Up With the Rainforest: Are biofuels an ethical solution?

While scientists make strides in researching solutions towards a better future, we have become apathetic to our environmental crisis. Are we falling back on the idea that technology will save us? We need technology and innovation combined with the power of human action and devotion in order to win the fight for a sustainable, clean environment. This week the Rainforest Newsladder has brought to light both encouraging scientific advancements, as well as sobering truths about the way we see the world. Along with our partner Rainforest Alliance, we hope you become an active participant towards a brighter tomorrow.

As we have seen in the past weeks, biofuels, especially palm oil, are being scrutinized for their negative environmental, economic and social effects. Our first group of stories looks into the new energy alternatives being studied to provide a solution that will be both beneficial to the environment and to our lifestyle. One option scientists are considering is using “biochar – charcoal created in an oxygen-free environment – to improve soil quality and sequester carbon”. Still in the early stages of research, it is impossible to tell, with certainty, biochar’s impact on the environment, but the lab results so far have been promising, suggesting that biochar would lead to less carbon in the atmosphere while also improving crops and soil fertility.

Another possible solution could be growing right in your backyard, grass. The Carbon Trust has recently announced it will be working with the University of York to “research how using microwave technology could turn garden and wood waste into biofuel”. According to the Carbon Trust, the environmental benefits could be substantial, with this new pyrolysis biofuel producing a carbon footprint that could save “95 per cent of carbon compared to fossil fuels”. In relation, a new consortium of British businesses led by Axion Energy has been created in order to enhance existing technology to produce biofuels created from organic waste materials en masse, with hopes of having a pilot plant up and running by 2014.

Although scientists continue to develop innovations and new strategies, the drive towards a sustainable future must be carried by all of us. Unfortunately, as indicated in this next article, environmental concerns are at a 20-year low in the US. An annual Gallup survey saw “record-low levels of concern in all but two of its categories – global warming and maintenance of fresh water supply”. What caused the drop in numbers? Gallup speculates it could be “due in part to Americans’ belief that environmental conditions in the U.S. are improving”, as well as “greater public concern about economic issues, which is usually associated with a drop in environmental concern”. This study reveals the “alarming disconnect from the problems that still face the planet”, we don’t live in a world where we can afford to ignore our environmental crisis, yet we continue to act that way.

However, Daniel Janzen, pioneer biologist, reminds us how hard it is for the youngest generation to not be apathetic about what the world now looks like, because “they don’t have any idea of what they…could be seeing, or what they could have in their backyard”. That combined with the digital age means the only kind of biodiversity they become exposed to is through their laptop or television screen. But Janzen has an idea on how to instill a new perspective – through a DNA barcoder that fits in your back pocket and would allow you to identify “anything, anywhere, anytime”. Janzen hopes that “if people can ‘read’ biodiversity, they will then find it much more valuable to be interested in”.

The environment and climate change can be a complicated web to understand, but becoming informed on the issues that face our planet today, each of us can become a passionate advocate for a better world. Start your journey by checking out the Rainforest Newsladder to discover the top stories happening around the globe, and then connect with other concerned citizens to continue the conversation by visiting our Facebook page.

James Boyce is the founder of Common Sense, an advertising agency supporting progressive causes like the Rainforest Alliance, Human Rights First, Natural Resources Defense Council, and others. James was one of the original contributors to The Huffington Post and is one of the top progressive bloggers in the country.

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