Maize grown for biofuel
Audrey Garric

PARIS - It is a new stain on the already tarnished reputation of biofuels. After being accused of aggravating food insecurity and driving up food prices, accelerating tropical deforestation and even increasing greenhouse gas emissions, crop-based biofuels are now being accused of worsening air pollution and creating health problems.

The European Union’s target of 10% renewable energy in the transport sector by 2020 in order to reduce the effects of climate change, could in fact be aggravating ozone pollution and causing nearly 1,400 premature deaths every year, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Researchers from England’s Lancaster University studied the production of wood-based energy and biofuel that is supposed to limit the use of polluting oil and coal.

In their case study, enough land area in Europe to meet the EU’s 2020 objectives – around 72 million hectares – was converted into short rotation coppice biofuel crops such as willow, poplar or eucalyptus trees in order to produce high amounts of ethanol.

These crops are characterized by high tree density (1500 to 3000 trees per hectare), in rotations of five to ten years and have high yields. They also have the characteristic of emitting higher levels of the chemical isoprene as they grow, than do the traditional crops they are replacing.

Isoprene is reactive volatile organic compound – that when mixed with other air pollutants (such as nitrogen oxide) produces toxic ozone, one of the most dangerous air pollutants.

Lung problems and premature deaths

This pollution can cause lung problems and affect the brain, kidneys and eyes, and is blamed for the deaths of about 22,000 people a year in Europe. The increase in isoprene emissions created by these new crops will lead, according to the study, to an extra 1,365 premature deaths per year, costing society $7.1 billion.

Another consequence: crop yields would be affected, since ozone impairs crop growth by reducing their gas exchange and chlorophyll. The study estimates that the production of wheat and maize would be reduced by 7.1 million tons (3.5% of current wheat crops) and 800,000 tons (1% of maize crops) each year, a loss of $1.5 billion.

"Growing biofuels is thought to be a good thing because it reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," explains Nick Hewitt, one of the authors of the study. “Large-scale production of biofuels in Europe would have small but significant effects on human mortality and crop yields.”

The researchers suggest planting biofuel crops far away from population centers or zones of intense agricultural production with the aim of limiting ozone formation. Genetic engineering could be used to reduce isoprene emissions.

However, the study from the University of Lancaster did not compare the potential damage caused by biofuels to the impact on human health from producing coal, oil or natural gas. “We are not in a position to make that comparison,” said Hewitt. According the European Environmental Agency, overall air pollution, mainly from fossil fuels, causes around 500,000 premature deaths in Europe every year.

“‘There are many different biofuel crops, cultivation methods, production and processing systems post-harvest, and different final biofuels. Each one has advantages and disadvantages, which must be compared to the advantages and disadvantages of alternative options,” explains Professor Ottoline Leyser, Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory of the University of Cambridge.

Dr Angela Karp, Scientific Director for the Rothamsted Research Center says that ““Land use calculations of impacts for willows and poplars need to consider that they are among many biofuels crops being grown (most of which are not trees but grasses) and take into consideration the large land areas already under forests. For all these reasons we do not see that the UK needs to reconsider its interest in biofuels.”

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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.


💬  LEXICON

Magal

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger


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