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On a Problem with Cultivating Poplar Trees for Biofuel Production

Paper Reviewed
Ashworth, K., Wild, O., Eller, A.S.D. and Hewitt, C.N. 2015. Impact of biofuel poplar cultivation on ground-level ozone and premature human mortality depends on cultivar selection and planting location. Environmental Science & Technology 49: 8566-8575.

Noting that "isoprene and other volatile organic compounds emitted from vegetation play a key role in governing the formation of ground-level ozone," Ashworth et al. (2015) describe how they used relationships between biomass yield and isoprene emissions for 29 commercially-available poplar hybrids to determine the impacts that the large-scale cultivation of these trees (for biofuel feedstock) may have on air quality and its subsequent impacts on human health, focusing on ground-level ozone concentrations in Europe. And what did they thereby learn?

The four researchers report that "the increases in ground-level ozone across Europe will increase the number of premature deaths attributable to ozone pollution each year by up to 6%," further noting that "substantial crop losses (up to ~9 Mt/yr of wheat and maize) are also projected." And in light of these very negative findings, they say they clearly indicate the need "for a concerted and centralized decision-making process that considers all aspects of future land use change in Europe and not just the effect on greenhouse gas emissions."

And clearly, we might add, we do not want the "cure" in this case to be worse than the "disease," especially when the disease -- a host of unsupported climate model predictions of CO2-induced global warming - is in reality no disease at all.

Posted 25 November 2015