289108 The Ethics of Biofuels in a World of Nine Billion People

Wednesday, October 31, 2012: 9:00 AM
334 (Convention Center )
John J. Sheehan, NREL, Golden, CO

Our global agriculture system is failing us:


  • Food prices are up.
  • A billion people face obesity.
  • A billion people face starvation and malnutrition.
  • Nitrogen and phosphate pollution from farms continue to threaten the health of our waterways and other natural ecosystems.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural expansion and land clearing continue to contribute a third to our total emissions.
  • Agriculture remains the largest single consumer of land and water on the planet.

And in the midst of all this, we are struggling to realize a vision for a truly sustainable bio-economy that will put more demands on the global agriculture system.

This talks focuses on the ethical as well as technical challenges facing the nascent bio-economy, especially with respect to the challenge of feeding nine billion in the year 2050. Never has there been a time when it was so urgent to untangle these issues. We need a straightforward discussion of the ethics of sustainable development and sustainable biofuels.

Built off a recent paper by Foley et al in Nature on how we will feed more people demanding more food, the talk extends this question to include feeding and fueling the world. It focuses on four key strategies that are vital to maintaining a sustainable agricultural system: 1) Elimination of expansion of agricultural lands globally; 2) Reduction of the agricultural yield gap around the world; 3) Improvement of resource utilization (water and fertilizer); and 4) Reduction in meat consumption and food system waste. Successfully pulling off these strategies may provide room for agriculture to deliver food, fuel and chemicals to an increasingly wealthy population of nine billion people in the year 2050.

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See more of this Session: Sustainable Biorefineries Plenary Session (Invited Papers)
See more of this Group/Topical: Sustainable Engineering Forum