Bioenergy and Land Use: Framing the Ethical Debate
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Increasingly, ethical concerns are being raised regarding bioenergy production. However, the ethical issues often do not stand out very clearly. The aim of the present paper is to improve on this situation by analyzing the bioenergy discussion from the perspective of land use. From this perspective, bioenergy production may give rise to ethical problems because it competes with other forms of land use. This may generate ethical problems mainly for two reasons. First, bioenergy production may compete, directly or indirectly, with food production; and as consequence the food security of poor people may be adversely affected (social aspects arguments). Secondly, the production of bioenergy may directly or indirectly lead to deforestation and other changes of land use that have a negative effect on greenhouse gas emissions (environmental arguments). So from this perspective the main challenge raised by bioenergy production is to secure responsible land use. The purpose of the paper is not to advocate, or promote, a specific ethical position on bioenergy, but to structure the main arguments found. The paper falls in two parts. One part addresses social aspects arguments for using agricultural land for bioenergy—where food insecurity, malnourishment, and significant food poverty are the main concerns. The second part scopes environmental implications—notably greenhouse gas emissions impact, as affected by deforestation and other (indirect) land-use changes. Alongside showing some of the current dilemmas presented by wider land-use changes, arguments are analyzed from two ethical angels: a consequentialist and a deontological.
KeywordsBiofuels Bioenergy Consequentialist Deontological Environment Ethics Food security
We would like to thank two anonymous referees for helpful comments. Special thanks are also due to Paul Robinson. Financial support through the Subproject “International and national governance of bioenergy: trade, environment and integration of energy systems” under the Research Alliance “Enabling and Governing Transitions to a Low Carbon Society” funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research (Grant no. 09-067275/DSF) and the UK project LACE and the BBSRC Sustainable BioEnergy Centre (BSBEC) is gratefully acknowledged.
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