The Great Biofuel Hoax
By Eric Holt-Gimenez, Indypendent. Posted June 25, 2007.
For an alternative viewpoint on corn-based ethanol, read “David Morris’s Give Ethanol a Chance: The Case for Corn-Based Fuel.”
Biofuels invoke an image of renewable abundance that allows industry, politicians, the World Bank, the United Nations and even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to present fuel from corn, sugarcane, soy and other crops as a replacement for oil that will bring about a smooth transition to a renewablefuel economy.
Myths of abundance divert attention from powerful economic interests that benefit from this biofuels transition, avoiding discussion of the growing price that citizens of the global South are beginning to pay to maintain the consumptive oil-based lifestyle of the North. Biofuel mania obscures the profound consequences of the industrial transformation of our food and fuel systems — the agro-fuels transition.
The Agro-fuels Boom
Industrialized countries have unleashed an “agro-fuels boom” by mandating ambitious renewable fuel targets. Renewable fuels are to provide 5.75 percent of Europe’s transport fuel by 2010, and 10 percent by 2020. The U.S. goal is 35 billion gallons a year. These targets far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to use 70 percent of its farmland for fuel.
The United States’ entire corn and soy harvest would need to be processed as ethanol and biodiesel. Northern countries expect the global South to meet their fuel needs, and southern governments appear eager to oblige. Indonesia and Malaysia are rapidly cutting down forests to expand oil-palm plantations targeted to supply up to 20 percent of the European Union biodiesel market. In Brazil — where fuel crops already occupy an area the size of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and Great Britain combined — the government is planning a fivefold increase in sugar cane acreage with a goal of replacing 10 percent of the world’s gasoline by 2025.
The rapid capitalization and concentration of power within the agro-fuels industry is breathtaking. From 2004 to 2007, venture capital investment in agro-fuels increased eightfold. Private investment is swamping public research institutions, as evidenced by BP’s recent award of half a billion dollars to the University of California. In open defiance of national anti-trust laws, giant oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming powerful partnerships: ADM with Monsanto, Chevron and Volkswagen, BP with DuPont and Toyota. These corporations are consolidating research, production, processing and distribution chains of our food and fuel system under one colossal, industrial roof.
Agro-fuel champions assure us that because fuel crops are renewable, they are environmentally friendly and can reduce global warming, fostering rural development. But the tremendous market power of agro-fuel corporations, coupled with weak political will of governments to regulate their activities, is a recipe for environmental disaster and increasing hunger in the global South. It’s time to examine the myths fueling this biofuel boom — before it’s too late.
Read the rest here: