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Is Renewable Energy Sustainable: Case Study of Brazilian Ethanol and Social Values
1  University of Florida

Published: 12 November 2013 by MDPI in The 3rd World Sustainability Forum session Social Values for a Sustainable Economy
Abstract: This paper analyzes the product life cycle of the production of sugar cane for ethanol fuel in Brazil, to determine its sustainability in the long term. I have used a case study methodology and qualitative analysis to break down important elements involved in the production of sugar cane ethanol in Brazil. These elements include renewable energy aspects, agricultural practices, and the consequences of production on society involved in the process. Brazil currently derives 46 percent of its energy from renewable sources, but it is questionable whether they are sustainable in the long run. In order to create this renewable source of energy, the conversion process involves manually burning sugar cane, and creates harmful emissions. The industrialization process of planting and harvesting sugar cane has increased the use of chemical and technology, having a profoundly negative impact on the ecosystem due to the chemical contamination of the waterways, genetic impoverishment, and soil erosion. In addition, workers are exploited, poverty has been exacerbated, and food prices have increased. Although the production of ethanol has many advantages, including the substitution of petroleum, the social consequences remain a matter of grave concern. The process of obtaining renewable energy includes ecological destruction and negative social effects that are externalities of the economic calculations, and the requirements of capital accumulation dominate decision-making.
Keywords: Sustainability, Ethanol, Renewable Energy, Brazil PróÁlcool Program, Environmental Degradation, Sustainable Agriculture, Labor Exploitation, Pollution