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Biofuels: Increase CO2?

Student Directions

Joe Fargione is a young ecologist who works for the Nature Conservancy, a non-profiit agency created to protect U.S. land and water. Recently Dr. Fargione created quite a stir (he was in Time magazine etc.) because he criticized the new global push for biofuel* production. His critique centers on conversion of non-agricultural land for biofuel production. In an interview Dr. Fargione made the statements below in quotes (http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/features/art23819.html).

*Biofuel is solid, liquid, or gas fuel made from recently-dead biological matter, usually plants. Fossil fuel, in contrast, is made from long-dead biological matter.

First read the statements and in the space below, write down anything you do not understand.

  • "Previous conclusions that biofuels reduce greenhouse gases were based on incomplete analyses. They did not include the effect that biofuels have on the conversion of natural ecosystems to crops. Most people don't realize that globally there is almost three times as much carbon in the plants and soils as there is in the air".
  • "Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States ... [releases] 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels they replace."

1. Things you do not understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Make two drawings below, one for an undisturbed grassland area and the other a grassland area that has been cleared for biofuel production and planted with corn. Using words, phrases, arrows etc. show as best you can the Carbon (C) cycle in these two systems. Include the following components: C in the atmosphere (air), C in plants, C in soils and C that has been exported from the system as grass cut and removed - and the chemical forms of C that the carbon is in. Also show the processes? that link the different parts of these components in the two systems. Circle parts of the drawings you are most uncertain about.

 

 

 

 

For instance,

 

CO2 -------> C in corn plants (sugars)

C in carbon dioxide in the air is changed into C in sugars by plants in the process of photosynthesis

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