Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Biofuel. The truth behind the spin that biofuels are the answer to energy security and dwindling oil reserves. Miles per Gallon or Meals per Gallon?

Industrial Biofuels are fuels produced from agricultural crops. The main agricultural crops used for biodiesel are oil seeds such as palm, soy, sunflower, rapeseed and jatropha, and for petrol, starches such as maize, (corn) wheat and sugars. In small quantities, they are easily blended with existing fuels.

In the UK two biofuel refineries will be converting about 1 million tons of wheat every year into biofuel. This could make around 15 million pitta breads a year (no, that number is not a typo!) and feed the whole population of Kenya for 25 days. Biofuels are then competing for wheat, just as are pitta breads and pitta breads are the losers, as those in poor countries cannot compete on the open market.

“While many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it’s getting more and more difficult every day.” Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, 2008

The food crisis, and skyrocketing demand for industrial biofuels, are exacerbating the situation for poor people and undermining their right to food. The World Bank estimated in 2008 that the crisis had already pushed a further 100 million people into poverty. ActionAid estimated at the time that 30 million more people were now hungry as a result of biofuels.

“It is a crime against humanity to divert arable land to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel.” Jean Zeigler, (speaking in 2007) United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food 2000-2008

By November 2009, maize prices in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique were still around 60% higher than at the start of 2007; in Tanzania it was 150%. Small wonder that the food crisis sparked riots across the globe from the Philippines, Bangladesh and India; to Egypt and Senegal; and to Mexico, Haiti and El Salvador.

“Filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV/4X4 with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn – which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year.” Professors Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer, 2007

Industrial biofuels do not offer a solution to fuel security. Rather, industrial biofuels are fuelling poverty and hunger because they are now competing with food crops, dramatically increasing the prices that poor people pay for food worldwide. At the same time, biofuels are having disastrous local impacts on food security and land rights for many of the communities where they are grown. Industrial biofuels are the main cause of the food crisis and recent rises in hunger. Despite this, political action on hunger and biofuels has been minimal. Industrial biofuels provide a false solution that allows rich nations to continue their love affair with the internal combustion engine, and industry to continue its business-as-usual approach. It has allowed developed countries to avoid the urgent and difficult realisation that our current levels of transport fuel consumption (and energy more generally) are unsustainable and need to be reduced.

Miles per Gallon should never win over Meals per Gallon.

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