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The New York Times: Biden Outlines a Plan for Cleaner Jet Fuel. But How Clean Would It Be?

Article published: 13 Sep,  2021

IB Economics syllabus: Microeconomics (market failure, negative externalities, government intervention, sustainability)

Note that this article is over two pages, so it should not be used as an article for your IB Economics commentary. Yet, I’m sharing it anyway as it gives a fantastic insight into how biofuels lead to negative externalities. While biofuels are usually regarded as a green alternative to fossil fuels (just check out this video by Bill Gates touching upon the matter), their production also generates greenhouse gases – “sometimes offsett[ing] their advantages over fossil fuels.”

“Scientists’ concerns center on the complicated calculations that go into assessing the true climate-friendliness of biofuels, a major subset of sustainable fuels. Growing crops like corn and soy to be made into biofuels can significantly change how land is used, and trigger emissions increases — for example, if forests are cut down or grassland is dug up to make way for those crops.”


“Growing crops for fuel also competes with food production and strains water resources, according to scientists. And making fuels from waste, like discarded cooking oil, presents a far simpler challenge: There just isn’t enough old cooking oil available.”

At one point, one of the scientists even states that “The problematic part is that today’s biofuels don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not where the state of the science is. They can actually make them worse.” Therefore, make sure to use these points in case you’re evaluating a Paper 1 evaluation question (part b, 15 marks) about the external benefits of using biofuels or if you’re writing your commentary about a similar topic. Moreover, it’s interesting to see how this plan can affect corn and soy producers, who “are pushing for a review of those requirements.” Once again, this article is just too long to be used for an IB Economics commentary, but it gives a lot of great ideas for evaluating such a topic regarding sustainability, market failure and interdependence.

Source of image: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

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