The Green Plague: How Biofuels Are Damaging the Environment

Publication, Environment, Eric Merkley

Executive Summary

The production and use of biofuel produces more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels do when factoring in direct and indirect land-use change and nitrous oxide emissions from the production process.

The agriculture intensification necessary to maintain corn-ethanol feedstock will contaminate water systems with excess nutrients from fertilizer run-off. These nutrients, through a process called eutrophication, create hypoxic zones that are devoid of oxygen such as in the Gulf of Mexico and increasingly in Lake Winnipeg. These zones destroy marine ecosystems and harm local anglers.

Biofuel production is far more water inefficient than fossil fuel is. The irrigation required to grow feedstock on more-marginal land as production expands will put increasing strain on freshwater stocks—a commodity of increasing demand and scarcity.


In the past decade, Canada, the United States and the European Union have increasingly placed biofuel at the centre of their “green” strategies. Initial studies highlighted the potential for large reduc-tions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the biofuel production. Rural leaders support potential job creation by develop-ing ethanol and biodiesel industrial plants, and farmers hope biofuel can act as a permanent floor for agricultural prices. Canadian governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on subsidies.

In addition, with the mixture mandates, (laws that require a minimum percentage of renewable fuel in gas at the pump), biofuel has a guaranteed market share regardless of production costs. The cost of biofuel production is substantial, so it is important to explore fully whether there truly are environmental benefits to its production and the eventual replacement of fossil fuels.

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