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Carbon-neutral Transport Systems: Are We Doing Enough?

Are we doing enough to ensure a rapid and smooth transition to carbon neutral transport systems this century? The sense of urgency evident in this question emanates from two scenarios: peak oil and g...

Are we doing enough to ensure a rapid and smooth transition to carbon neutral transport systems this century?

The sense of urgency evident in this question emanates from two scenarios: peak oil and global warming. I am using the word "scenarios" judiciously as the first is bogus and the second relies heavily on computer models. Moreover, it is not clear that our scarce resources are put to the best use in designing and implementing a carbon-neutral transport system "this century". They may be far better deployed in encouraging and researching carbon sequestration or other cleanup technologies, for instance.

The sciences of ecology and climatology (and meteorology) should not be confused with the hysterical hype and interest-driven fad that is environmentalism. The science is not yet there. We know precious little about the incredibly complex and entangled dynamics of global warming: who stands to benefit from it (yes, there are those, too!) and who to suffer. We know even less about the pernicious impacts that well-intentioned (and highly profitable) technologies such as biofuels and electric engines may have on our environment and natural endowments.

Thus, the first priority should be to invest in scientific studies and to formulate a set of questions and research protocols that are not the poisoned outcomes of political interference, NGO meddling, and mass panic, fomented by a sensation-hungry press and manufactured by compromised scientists. A carbon-neutral transport system sounds like a great idea. But, so did biofuels, DDT, and the Green Revolution.

The Case of Biofuels

Technologies that appear at first blush and in the lab to be both benign and efficacious often turn out, upon widespread implementation, to be counter-productive or even detrimental. We have yet to accurately capture and model the complexity of reality. Emergent phenomena, unintended consequences, unexpected and undesirable by-products, ungovernable economic and other processes all conspire to adversely affect the trajectories of even the most thoroughly studied inventions.

Biofuels are the poster children of such good intentions gone terribly awry. Rather than retard global warming, scientists (such as Holly Gibbs, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment, Matt Struebig from Queen Mary, University of London, and Emily Fitzherbert from the Zoological Society of London and University of East Anglia) are now warning that they may enhance and accelerate it by encouraging deforestation in the tropics. Indeed, the higher the prices fetched by biofuels, the more rainforests are being ferociously decimated in the quest for arable land.

Moreover, biofuels are energy-inefficient: their production consumes more energy than they yield in burning. The disastrous effect they have on food prices is amply documented. Another study demonstrates that their consumption releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the quantity of fossil fuels that they replace.

This "carbon debt" is especially true if we take into account the gases released by the incineration of trees mowed down to make place for the (often state subsidized) cultivation of biofuels. There is also a "biodiversity debt": up to five-sixths of indigenous species are extinguished once a forest is cleared to make way for oil palm plantations, for instance.

Though much hyped, biofuels should not serve as part and parcel of the energy policy mix. Some wonks suggest that biofuels should be allowed to be grown only on marginal or degraded land. But, this would require enormous investments in fertilizers and other technologies intended to halt soil erosion and nutrient leeching. From the point of view of environmental accounting, such tracts better be re-forested. Forests recycle rainwater, act as carbon skins, prevent floods, and serve as habitats to speciesArticle Search, some of them endangered.

Article Tags: Carbon-neutral Transport, Transport Systems, Doing Enough, Global Warming

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Sam Vaknin ( ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, and international affairs.

He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

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