How does biofuel crop diversity affect society and the environment?

Benefits of Growing Green

In 1973, the oil-producing nations of the Middle East stopped exporting oil. The embargo was a wake-up call to the rest of the planet. Governments scrambled to find alternative sources of energy, and many nations began in earnest to convert energy crops into biofuel.

Energy crops have many benefits. They can reduce our dependence on crude oil, and unlike fossil fuels, energy crops are sustainable -- meaning they'll likely never run out. In addition, the biofuel industry is a major job-producer. According to the Biotechnology Industry Association, the biofuel industry will create 190,000 jobs in the United States by 2022. In addition, the production of biofuels could reduce U.S. petroleum imports by $70 billion in 12 years [source: Biotechnology Industry Association].

Many of the energy crops and biofuels are better for the environment than fossil fuels. Farmers can plant energy crops almost anywhere in the world, and some of these crops, such as switchgrass and jatropha, actually thrive on land that is useless for growing food crops. The crops also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing the amount of heat-trapping gases. In addition, biofuels create less smog and other irritants, impacting the health of people in a positive way.

On another level, some energy crops, such as switchgrass, can improve soil conservation by limiting erosion. Other crops attract beneficial insects, such as Lady beetles and bees that control pests and pollinate crops [source: Science Daily].

But not all of the impacts of energy crops can be positive. Continue to the next page to see some of the negative impacts they can have on the environment and society.