Switch to Corn Promotes Amazon Deforestation

Corn ethanol has many flaws and is, at best, not a substantial climate solution, as we’ve seen. Now Science magazine has published a letter from William F. Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute casting yet more doubt on our corn ethanol strategy. I reprint it here in its entirety, with references and notes:

The United States is the world’s leading producer of soy. However, many U.S. farmers are shifting from soy to corn (maize) in order to qualify for generous government subsidies intended to promote biofuel production (1); since 2006, U.S. corn production has risen 19% while soy production has fallen by 15% (2). This in turn is helping to drive a major increase in global soy prices (3), which have nearly doubled in the past 14 months.

The rising price for soy has important consequences for Amazonian forests and savanna-woodlands (4). In Brazil, the world’s second-leading soy producer, deforestation rates (5) and especially fire incidence (6) have increased sharply in recent months in the main soy - and beef-producing states in Amazonia (and not in states with little soy production). Although dry weather is a contributing factor, these increases are widely attributed to rising soy and beef prices (5, 7), and studies suggest a strong link between Amazonian deforestation and soy demand (8, 9).

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