Biofuels: Energy, Food and People
Is it going to come down to a choice between eating or driving? Is that what are future holds? If it does, it looks like the driving contingent may win (or in other words many others will lose…or starve). That’s a distorted overview of last night’s EcoNow presentation that highlighted the current and future state of biofuel. Actually I like the term that one of the speakers Eric Holt-Giménez used – “agrofuels” rather than “biofuels” because “bio” means “life” which certainly doesn’t represent these alt fuels.
The event held in Berkeley (where else?) gave Tad Patzek, Professor of Geoengineering at UC Berkeley, Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at UC Berkeley, Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, and Judith Mayer, Project Coordinator of the Borneo Project a chance to educate or frighten the audience into what’s happening with agrofuels, whether it’s ethanol, B20, or something else that makes our cars go.
Although the four speakers came at the topic from various angles ranging from food for fuel which causes food prices to rise to the big corp. ethanol monopoly, the program offered an educating, yet frightening look at where the alt fuels will take us. The speakers showed off power points and sometimes confusing slides to get us to realize how serious the situation is in places like the Amazon or Borneo where vast hectares of soybeans or oil palms continue to replace rainforest. Patzek pointed out how the supposed fuel du jour crop (swatch grass) actually needs to be fertilized like conventionally grown corn.
A lot of government and media rhetoric surrounds the notion that we need to become less reliant on foreign sources of fuel. It appears that the southern hemisphere supplies about half our corn used for ethanol. And that number continues to rise. Oh, and so does the price of corn for eating. Last time I checked a map, the southern hemisphere didn’t include the USA.
Gimenez pointed out the win-win for ethanol. Yes, win-win if your name happens to be Monsanto or BP. With ethanol subsidies standing at $1.38 per gallon (one-half the wholesale market price, which doesn’t exactly scream fair market value) Monsanto, ADM and Cargill, and others are creating what he calls a “Green Desert” of poverty in Brazil, Argentina and other South American countries, while they clean up with big profits. But let’s not just blame the chemical, petroleum, and pharmaceutical companies. I loved Miguel Altieri’s “Green Fuel Mafia” slide which displayed many of the usual suspects (Monsanto, BP, etc) but also WWF and Conservation International who have been paid lots of money to promote biofuel and a green fuel.
With all the gloom and doom and 1984 biolfuel talk, I’m glad that I could sip on some Petite Syrah from Parducci winery, which represents the first winery in the US to achieve carbon neutrality and won the Governor’s Environmental & Economic Leadership Award from the State of California just to help me enjoy the evening.