From Green Saviors to Bio-Fools

From Green Saviors to Bio-Fools April 20, 2008

It looks like I may have been on the cutting edge on this one:

Hailed until only months ago as a silver bullet in the fight against global warming, biofuels are now accused of snatching food out of the mouths of the poor.

Billions have been poured into developing sugar- and grain-based ethanol and biodiesel to help wean rich economies from their addiction to carbon-belching fossil fuels, the overwhelming source of man-made global warming.

But as soaring prices for staples bring more of the planet’s most vulnerable people face-to-face with starvation, the image of biofuels has suddenly changed from climate saviour to a horribly misguided experiment.

On Friday, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said biofuels “posed a real moral problem” and called for a moratorium on using food crops to power cars, trucks and buses.

The vital problem of global warming “has to be balanced with the fact that there are people who are going to starve to death,” said Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

“Producing biofuels is a crime against humanity,” the UN’s special rapporteur for the right to food, Jean Ziegler of Switzerland, said earlier.

More.


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  • Daniel H. Conway

    Such approaches were ways to enhance business and revenue in Red Leaning states. Instead of growing corn for barbecues, the price of the commodity will increase because now these farmers are growing oil.

    Government promotion of this is exclusively to enhance red state finances.

  • Matt K

    There have been few people in the environmental movement ever fully convinced that ethanol was a silver bullet. I don’t think this is really that new of news either. Consumer Reports had a story on the “ethanol myth” over a year ago. There has been some promise with Brazil’s work with sugar cane for producing it, but what I’ve read has not been conclusive.

    I would argue that BioDiesel doesn’t belong in the same category as corn-based ethanol. Biodiesel can be made with our waste food oil, and no current food crops need be converted to do produce it. The old grease from fast food restaurants is a favorite way for amatures to produce their own biodiesel at home. I imagine the problem is that for all the ways we burn oil, there would not be enough waste food-oil to significantly supplant our current fossil fuel usage. Still, I think at this point any cheap and efficient way to reduce carbon output and fossil fuel consumption can be helpful. Biodeisel might be just one of multiple strategies we’ll need to embrace to resolve our current energy crisis.

  • McCain was preaching this since 2000.
    This issue is very important to me.
    End Poverty: Vote McCain

  • TeutonicTim

    More knee jerk reactions for “change” that turn out to be a horrible idea, punishing those who can least afford to punished.

  • http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8754

    Interesting post about starvation and food prices with this link. Bio-fuels, ie growing fuel instead of food, is an idea that should be banned.

  • What bio-fuels represent to me is our civilization trying to continue running the suburban system on something other than gasoline. It isn’t going to work.

    Living on a quarter-acre lot in some ugly subdivision (that probably calls itself something like “The Estates at Hampton Commons”…) is going to become economically impossible in a world of rare, expensive motor fuel: I’m going to write more about this is a later post, but no combination of bio-diesel, ethanol, fuel-cells, or anything else [“technology”] is going to allow the continuation of our current, low-density-suburb, auto-dependent way of life to continue.

    Dick Cheney once famously described this way of life as non-negotiable – and it isn’t, though not in the sense that he meant. The laws of physics will be dictating the terms of our surrender, and that’s that.

  • Blackadder

    Matt,

    Suppose that you’re wrong, and we find some cheap energy source that allows us to continue our “current, low-density-suburb, auto-dependent way of life” indefinitely. Would you find this cause for relief, or for disappointment?

  • Katerina

    Not to mention that biofuels produce more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

  • Katerina

    Not to mention that biofuels produce more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

  • A little of both, I guess, BA – there’s going to be a lot of disruption, both social and economic, as the cheap oil era comes to a close, and this obviously both saddens and worries me.

    On the other hand, the suburban way of life is spiritually degrading and corrosive of community: there are virtually no public gathering places unconnected with commerce (the supermarket is, in many ways, a poor substitute for the village square); the fact that everything is so spread out that one must use a car to run virtually any errand means people don’t interact with one another during most of their day. This breeds loneliness (I read somewhere that an African visitor poignantly remarked of Americans, “You must be the loneliest people in the world.”)

    Suburbs are especially cruel to folks without cars – the very old, and kids under 16 years old. Car-less people are effectively stranded there.

    Suburbs often sell themselves using sin as an attraction – “Buy a house in the coveted Valley View section of Springfield’s most exclusive neighborhood…” [Just who or what is being “excluded”?]

    Anything that moves the US away from the suburban development template is, in the long run, a good thing.

  • A little of both, I guess, BA – there’s going to be a lot of disruption, both social and economic, as the cheap oil era comes to a close, and this obviously both saddens and worries me.

    On the other hand, the suburban way of life is spiritually degrading and corrosive of community: there are virtually no public gathering places unconnected with commerce (the supermarket is, in many ways, a poor substitute for the village square); the fact that everything is so spread out that one must use a car to run virtually any errand means people don’t interact with one another during most of their day. This breeds loneliness (I read somewhere that an African visitor poignantly remarked of Americans, “You must be the loneliest people in the world.”)

    Suburbs are especially cruel to folks without cars – the very old, and kids under 16 years old. Car-less people are effectively stranded there.

    Suburbs often sell themselves using sin as an attraction – “Buy a house in the coveted Valley View section of Springfield’s most exclusive neighborhood…” [Just who or what is being “excluded”?]

    Anything that moves the US away from the suburban development template is, in the long run, a good thing.

  • I grew up in the suburbs and miss the sense of community it provided. We’d all finish our homework as fast as we can so we can meet at the tree to play football or basketball or bike through the woods. Around dinner time the moms would all come out to grab us. Good times. True, leaving the neighbor was hard as a kid. I’d bike or rollerblade to the mall but that was quite a journey. Once I had a car, I had the opportunity to interact with more of my school friends after school. We’d have BBQ’s at each other’s homes. Go to bars and cafes and restaurants together.

    Moving to the city had its advantages. I could get as drunk as I want whenever I want. Parking is never a worry. But there’s no sense of community. I have to sign up for a YMCA league if I want to play basketball. Football requires e-mailing friends in advance to meet at a park miles away. There are no woods to bike through. No place to BBQ. Almost everything’s more expensive. Without a car, it’s impossible to shop around for the best deals. It’s surprising how much of a difference that makes. And if you happen to make a friend who lives outside the city or even on the other end of the same city and you don’t have a car, you might as well let them know that you won’t be seeing them again.

  • I grew up in the suburbs and miss the sense of community it provided. We’d all finish our homework as fast as we can so we can meet at the tree to play football or basketball or bike through the woods. Around dinner time the moms would all come out to grab us. Good times. True, leaving the neighbor was hard as a kid. I’d bike or rollerblade to the mall but that was quite a journey. Once I had a car, I had the opportunity to interact with more of my school friends after school. We’d have BBQ’s at each other’s homes. Go to bars and cafes and restaurants together.

    Moving to the city had its advantages. I could get as drunk as I want whenever I want. Parking is never a worry. But there’s no sense of community. I have to sign up for a YMCA league if I want to play basketball. Football requires e-mailing friends in advance to meet at a park miles away. There are no woods to bike through. No place to BBQ. Almost everything’s more expensive. Without a car, it’s impossible to shop around for the best deals. It’s surprising how much of a difference that makes. And if you happen to make a friend who lives outside the city or even on the other end of the same city and you don’t have a car, you might as well let them know that you won’t be seeing them again.

  • Blackadder

    I have to agree with with Third. I’ve lived in the suburbs, I’ve lived in small towns, and while I’ve never lived in a big city, I’ve stayed with enough friends who do that I think I have some sense of what life there is like. Compared to the alternatives, I fail to see anything particularly stultifying or isolated about suburban life. In fact I often wonder, when reading a particular critique of suburban life, whether the person making the critique has actually spent much time in the burbs, or if his or her knowledge of them comes mainly from novels and movies.

    Obviously different people are different. Some people prefer the advantages of city life. Some prefer the comforts of the small town. But if we look at how people vote with their feet, it would seem that most people prefer some form of suburban living, and I don’t think there is anything degraded or wrong with that preference.

  • Blackadder

    I have to agree with with Third. I’ve lived in the suburbs, I’ve lived in small towns, and while I’ve never lived in a big city, I’ve stayed with enough friends who do that I think I have some sense of what life there is like. Compared to the alternatives, I fail to see anything particularly stultifying or isolated about suburban life. In fact I often wonder, when reading a particular critique of suburban life, whether the person making the critique has actually spent much time in the burbs, or if his or her knowledge of them comes mainly from novels and movies.

    Obviously different people are different. Some people prefer the advantages of city life. Some prefer the comforts of the small town. But if we look at how people vote with their feet, it would seem that most people prefer some form of suburban living, and I don’t think there is anything degraded or wrong with that preference.

  • It’s not that biofuels are bad and wrong, it’s using food crops to make them that is the problem. There is promising research, using materials such as algae (see http://www.technologyreview.com/printer_friendly_article.aspx?id=18138). Other things on the horizon are thermal depolymerization, which utilizes organic waste to make petroleum-type products, not to mention more efficient use of wind and solar power. We need to think outside the box.

  • It’s not that biofuels are bad and wrong, it’s using food crops to make them that is the problem. There is promising research, using materials such as algae (see http://www.technologyreview.com/printer_friendly_article.aspx?id=18138). Other things on the horizon are thermal depolymerization, which utilizes organic waste to make petroleum-type products, not to mention more efficient use of wind and solar power. We need to think outside the box.

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