“If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels”

George Monbiot, author of HEAT, has penned a new piece in the UK paper The Guardian, advocating a 5 year freeze on biofuel production:

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless. In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow – it is released again when the fuel is burned. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be “decarbonising” our transport networks.

First and foremost, Monibot warns, that biofuels will set up a “competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose.” Royal Dutch Shell agrees with such sentiments. An executive of theirs recently stated at a conference, “We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy, we use food and turn it into fuel. This is not what we would like to see.” Monbiot points to the recent events in Mexico as proof that such fears are indeed well founded:

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that “if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year”. According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol

Monbiot also rails against biodiesel, specifically from palm oil:

But it gets worse. As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

Monbiot fails, however, to address biodiesel from other feedstocks, which are far more sustainable, such as agricultural crops like soy and canola. By only speaking to what is widely known as the most unsustainable form of biodiesel production, one must wonder whether Monbiot is really trying to provide a balanced and objective assessment of biofuels. In fact, a recent study by the USDA and DOE shows that biodiesel production is quite better than fossil fuels, “Biodiesel yields around 3.2 units of fuel product for every unit of fossil energy consumed in the lifecycle. By contrast, petroleum diesel’s life cycle yields only 0.83 units of fuel product per unit of fossil energy consumed.” (DOE/USDA “Biodiesel Lifecycle Inventory Study”)

He goes on to address deforestation in Brazil. But again, he fails to state why policies cannot be enacted to ensure sustainable biofuels production, instead arguing for the most extreme option. Moreover, as carbon trading schemes continue to emerge, forests may be worth credits (as they consume CO2), creating economic incentives to combat deforestation.

Suffice it to say, we’re not convinced a moratorium is needed. Sorry George.
Read the article for yourself:


-BiofuelsWatch (UK)

One thought on ““If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels”

  1. Oil will never go below $85 again. In 2010 oil will be over $250 a barrel and gas will be $10 a gallon. Even though reserves are rising which should make oil prices drop the fact they don’t drop in price is because the political tensions are rising. With that you will either buy a hybrid which will still be expensive to operate or ride your bike or take the public transit. There are ways to reduce your fuel cost.

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