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Ethics and Biofuels

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Are there right ways and wrong ways to bring biofuels to life?

Absolutely, say Alena Buyx and JoyceTait in the April 12 online issue of Science magazine's Policy Forum. In an effort to help biofuels development take the high road, the British ethicists offer policy makers five principles against which to weigh emerging technologies, summarized from the Biofuels: Ethical Issues report released by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics earlier this year:

1. Biofuels development should not be at the expense of people's essential rights. Making food unaffordable or creating slave-like work conditions: Not OK.

2. Biofuels should be environmentally sustainable. Developers must weigh environmental benefits against harms such as water depletion or nutrient pollution.

3. Biofuels should contribute to net reduction of total GHG emissions and not exacerbate global climate change. 'Nuff said.

4. Biofuels should recognize the rights of people to just reward. In ethical systems, workers get fair wages and intellectual property is appropriately protected.

5. Costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way. Do those who shoulder the societal costs of producing biofuels also reap the benefits?

Going a step further, the authors also assert that society has an ethical duty to support development of biofuels that meet these five ethical principles, and suggest that lignocellulosic and algae-based biofuels are two promising candidates to meet the test. 

Does what you pump into your tank measure up? Something to think about on your drive home today - for that matter, every day.

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.