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Ethical Issues of Biofuels Essay

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Updated: Mar 26th, 2021

Background Information

The rising cost of fossil-based fuels has seen an increase in biofuels and their users’ interest globally. The other motivations behind using bio-fuels include the world-wide concerns of the rate of atmospheric temperatures and a phenomenon known as global warming over the years due to greenhouse emissions from engines running on fossil fuels like diesel. While bio-fuels’ usage has received admiration as being responsive to the dwindling fossil oil-resources across the world, it has also been subject to various condemnations based on ethical considerations (Friedland, 2008).

Bio-fuels are mainly derived from food materials. For example, bio-ethanol is a derivative of starchy foods such as maize, and bio-diesel is manufactured from oils in vegetables or animal products. Other sources of the fuels are non-food vegetations across the globe. The ethical concerns surround the usage of food materials in the production of fossil fuels in the face of the starving populations in various parts of the world and the destruction of the environment through vegetation clearing (Friedland, 2008).

Ethical Questions on Usage of Bio-Fuels

The continued rise in budgetary allocations and support by governments to enhance their countries’ capacities for biofuels’ production may negatively impact the nations’ food security. The advanced economies have been encouraging farmers in poor countries to take up large land expanses under the cultivation of crops for use in biofuels (Friedland, 2008). In this regard, the prosperous economies are seen as being poised to benefit from the profits accruing from the poor-farmers efforts, as the latter suffer from food insecurities. The benefits of biofuels are thus not equitably distributed to stakeholders in the biofuel business. The benefits are seen as mainly being affronts on food security in the low economies (Friedland, 2008).

The second ethical question that often colors debates on the appropriateness of bio-fuels’ appropriateness is the impact of the fuels’ show on the environment. The exhibition is associated with the loss of some biodiversity from the areas where land is cleared for the cultivation of vegetation used in fuel production. Other environmental concerns include diversifying water resources from other uses for use in the established farms and pollution through fertilizers and pesticides. The lands cleared for the cultivation of biofuel crops are left bare and prone to winds and floodwaters’ erosive actions (Friedland, 2008).

Lastly, there have been heated debates on whether bio-fuels lead to disregard of human and labor rights in areas where the biofuel crops are grown. There have been cases of the laborers in the farms being put through conditions that are akin to conditions surrounding slavery. The most common labor issue that has commonly come to the fore during such debates is that of the justness of the laborers’ rates at which the laborers are compensated for their services (Friedland, 2008).

Why the Answers Cannot Be Obtained Through Scientific Methods

Ethical considerations on which the above questions are based will involve examining the morality of the different actions as they relate to each other. They will also be hinged on seeking the most moral solution to the ethical dilemmas in question. Ethicists always aim at ascribing the terms wrong or, in other cases, right on any situations where there are competing interests, asserting on what should be done (Miller, 1988). On the other hand, science is concerned with the evaluation of the present circumstances, examining the various positions in the issues of interests using scientific methods (Miller, 1988).

It is evident that all the scientific methods are based on an observable phenomenon that is lacking in ethical dilemmas. Where scientific methods are applied to ethical dilemmas, there are aspects of the difficulties which are considered immeasurable as they are based on intuition. Observations have a degree of permanence, and that is why they can be measured when they are still. What makes intuitions which color ethical considerations are that they are ever transitory and changing with changes in circumstances (Miller, 1988).

In science, determinations are supposed to be replicable, provided that similar circumstances are provided. For example, the weight of the corn headed for the production of bio-ethanol can be determined as being identical in two countries by the use of scientific tools (Friedland, 2008). However, the extent of dissatisfaction or satisfaction of the farmers in the countries with regard to the amounts paid for the crops is not readily determinable using scientific means. The displeasure or pleasure is an intuitive phenomenon, which would be very specific to each of the farmers (Miller, 1988).


Whilst ethical considerations of issues involve looking at the morals of the various positions in the matters, science is highly amoral. Thus scientific methods would not suffice in determining moral dilemmas. Conversely, ethics cannot offer great solutions to purely scientific concerns. The ethical questions surrounding bio-fuels and food security, environmental conservations, and regard for human and labor rights can only be conclusively be determined through moral evaluations.

Reference List:

Friedland, W.H. (2008). Agency and the Agrifood System. In W. Wright & G. Middendorf (Eds.), The Fight over Food (pp.45–67). University Park: Pennsylvania State Press.

Miller, H. (1988). Science, Ethics, and Moral Status. Web.

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