POLITICS: Europe’s Biofuel Rethink

Those pesky greener-than-thou Europeans are at it again. Not content with leading the way on carbon trading and greenhouse gas reductions, the European Union announced a plan this week to ban the import of a broad swathe of biofuels that scientists say may do more harm than good.

The new rules are primarily designed to protect vulnerable ecosystems in Asia and Latin America, which have borne the brunt of the biofuel revolution as unscrupulous producers cleared rainforests and grasslands to make way for palm-oil and soy plantations. Already, peatland clearances in Southeast Asia account for 8 percent of global carbon emissions; in Indonesia, meanwhile, some 44 million acres of rainforest have already been cleared by palm-oil producers.

While nixing the import of biofuels from recently cleared rainforests and grasslands is a start, Europeans are also raising questions about their entire biofuel strategy. The EU currently aims to source 10 percent of its transport fuel from ethanol and biodiesel by 2020; increasingly, though, its scientists are arguing that such quotas may be misguided.

A new study from the Royal Society - Britain’s most important scientific body - argues that rather than mandating the use of fixed quantities of biofuels, policymakers should set targets for fixed carbon savings from the use of biofuels. That would help ensure that the fuels sold to consumers are genuinely carbon negative, both sustainably farmed and produced without the excessive use of fossil fuels.

That’s a swipe not just at producers of Asian palm oil and Brazilian soy, but also at America’s corn ethanol industry: A study by Swiss scientists recently found that corn ethanol - which demands significant quantities of water and energy to produce - may actually be worse for the environment than regular fossil fuels. That’s a big problem: The US is looking to massively expand its biofuel sector, and corn ethanol remains at the center of its strategy.

The real message from Europe’s rethink is simple: not all biofuels are equal. With the right regulations, responsibly farmed and processed plant petrol can still play a key part in the battle to avert climate change; but an unregulated rush to embrace biofuels - particularly American corn ethanol - will only lead to disaster.

Given Iowa’s electoral importance, it’s been difficult until now for America’s policymakers to talk frankly about this problem: The corn-belt simply carries too much clout. Now, though, with the caucuses out of the way, it’s time for politicians to take a page out of the EU’s playbook, and give some serious thought to the way forward.


The rush to produce biofuels is a man made disaster, because making fuel from corn, soybeans, or rapeseed takes more energy to produce than it yields as fuel. Biofuel manufacture releases large amounts of greenhouse gases, including nitrous oxide from fertilizers, which is 296 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Farming contributes more to global warming than all forms of motorized land, sea, and air transportation combined, so growing vast amounts of crops for biofuel will heat up the earth's atmosphere faster than if we only used imported Saudi Arabian oil.

Most importantly, diverting agricultural resources to biofuel production skyrockets the prices of food world wide. The United Nations has officially stated that its charity programs can no longer afford to feed the starving peoples of the world because of high food costs created by biofuel production. Jean Ziegler, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, denounced biofuels as "a crime against humanity" and called for a five-year moratorium on their production.

The heartless message the US Congress has given the low income people of the world is quite clear; LET THEM EAT BIOFUELS! Is the unintentional starvation inflicted on the world by thoughtless politicians any more morally excusable than the intentional starvation of innocent civilians ordered by infamous dictators during times of war?

See "The biofuel hoax is causing a world food crisis!" at: