The Biofuel Trilemma: Energy, Environment & Food

By John Lorinc, for the NY Times: The Food, Energy and Environment ‘Trilemma’

At the 2009 Bio World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, held in Montreal last week, industry players and scientists found themselves pondering two seemingly contradictory concerns.

One focused on how rapid advances in genetic engineering and biotechnology can expand the market for cellulosic ethanol and other “second-generation biofuels,” which are touted as low-emission substitutes for corn ethanol (itself a partial substitute for gasoline).

The other involved the problem of ensuring that exponential growth in the global biofuel market — which is projected to grow 12.3 percent a year through 2017, according to one recent study of the industry — will not hurt the environment and divert vast tracks of arable land needed for food or grain production….

Of course, use of the word “trilemma” implies that there’s a choice to make — which implies, in turn, that someone has a choice to make. Just who is that? Can consumers exercise anything like effective choice in this this domain? Should governments?

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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