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On the uncanny capabilities of consequential LCA


Purpose: Plevin et al. (2014) reviewed relevant life cycle assessment (LCA) studies for biofuels and argued that the use of attributional LCA (ALCA) for estimating the benefits of biofuel policy is misleading. While we agree with the authors on many points, we found that some of the arguments by the authors were not presented fairly and that a number of specific points warrant additional comment. The main objective of this commentary is to examine the authors' comparative statements between consequential LCA (CLCA) and ALCA. Methods: We examined the notion that the LCA world is divided into CLCA and ALCA. In addition, we evaluated the authors' notion of "wrong" models. Results: We found that the authors were comparing an idealized, hypothetical CLCA with average (or less than average), real-life ALCAs. Therefore, we found that the comparison alone cannot serve as the basis for endorsing real-life CLCAs for biofuel policy. We also showed that there are many LCA studies that do not belong to either of the two approaches distinguished by the authors. Furthermore, we found that the authors' notion of "wrong" models misses the essence of modeling and reveals the authors' unwarranted confidence in certain modeling approaches. Conclusions: Dividing the LCA world into CLCAs and ALCAs overlooks the studies in between and hampers a constructive dialog about the creative use of modeling frameworks. Unreasonable confidence in certain modeling approaches based on their "conceptual" superiority does not help support "robust decision making" that should ultimately land itself on the ground. © 2014 Springer-Verlag.

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