Sunday, January 20, 2008

Biofuel dilemma

Biofuels - ethanol in particular - have been trumpeted for a while now as a potential panacea for problems with fossil fuel, particularly because it is a renewable resource. I myself have been a strong supporter of them in the past.* And to the extent that something not presently used for another crop can be used - sawgrass, for example, or other weeds - I'm not against the use of biofuels. But we are finding that using corn (or other food crops) tends to drive up food prices. For us in America or Britain, that's not too big a deal; but the fact is it drives up prices across the board, including especially the third world, introducing the possibility of starvation not through literal scarcity, such as blight or crop failure, but a famine because the food is simply too expensive, and the process of globalisation/urbanisation in third world countries has changed their economies into (increasingly, but not universally) subcontractor manufacturing and agriculture for first world nations rather than agriculture for the nation's own consumption. The bottom line ends up being that our unnecessary driving ends up having a direct relationship with nutrional well being in other countries, giving the phrase dying to drive an SUV a rather new and horrific meaning.**

In addition, as today's Observer notices, biofuels also may have rather untowards environmental effects, not least through producing more greenhouse gases that the equivalent fossil fuels.

Or, to get down to brass tacks, it means that biofuel in itself is not the magic bullet that will solve our energy problems. The fact is, in all likelihood, barring the discovery of safe cold fusion, there is no magic bullet, and this is the equivalent of spending to get ourselves out of debt. The only surefire response to the energy problem is to reduce our consumption - full stop.

* Not that that means much: I don't determine national policies, and have virtually no say over energy policy on anything but a micro-scale.

** Add to that the increased vulnerability of such countries' crops which is foreseen through the process of global climate change and you have a sobering situation indeed.

The cereal image above is public domain. Thanks to Petr Kratochvil for the image. Traffic image also public domain, available here.

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Blogger Sam Norton said...

You might find this of interest.

BTW please could you adjust your blogger settings so that your posts (or the first paragraph) get sent out with your RSS feed? Makes it much easier to follow your conversation. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 7:40:00 PM  

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