Biofuels And Security: Shedding My Western-Centric Worldview (Opinion)

Editor’s Note: I was in Houston, TX, last week, celebrating the International Year of the Planet at the first ever joint meeting between the American societies of Soil Science, Geology, Crop Science and Agronomy. With a significant focus on biofuels, this conference was rife with interesting materials.

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In what could be my biggest personal revelation since diving into the world of alternative energy, it dawned on me last week that the “western” biofuel players are certainly the loudest kids on the block, but not really the most important.

I spent a large part of my time at the conference just trying to sort out which of the dozens of excellent forums on biofuels, energy, and environmental quality I should attend. The rest of my time was taken up with trying to keep my head together enough to make sense of it all so I could convey it in a way that’s meaningful to you, my readers.

But, while running around like a kid in a candy store, I became aware that my understanding of biofuels was decidedly myopic. Up until last week, I was squarely focused on U.S., E.U., and, to a smaller extent, Brazilian policies — quite naturally and unapologetically, I might add. After all, I am a U.S. citizen and I have a profound connection to my country and it’s cultural peers.

In the western world we focus on issues of energy independence, price stability, and national security when talking about biofuel policy. Those are really the main drivers of the change we’re witnessing now. As much as I wish it were the opposite, issues such as greenhouse gas reduction and making agriculture truly valuable again are just along for the ride — kind of an icing on the cake.

But in the rest of the world (I’m just gonna guess roughly 90% of the world population) biofuels are driving changes that are much more profound than energy independence. They’re causing a reinvigoration of the agricultural sector. They’re empowering impoverished nations to find cheap and plentiful sources of energy that they can produce themselves.

Whereas before, impoverished nations were told to attract western tourists to provide income, they’re now getting the idea that biofuels can provide a much larger income than tourism ever did and at the same time stabilize the political landscape.

You know what’s funny? A stable political climate will probably do more to increase tourism than building the tourism infrastructure itself ever did.

In the end, the world-changing outcome of the biofuel revolution will not be that the U.S. has a steady source of it’s own fuel (although that’s huge in-and-of-itself), but that previously impoverished countries worldwide can provide their own fuel and pump money into their agricultural sector at the same time.

As a western citizen, this is a very comforting thought, because the more stability and wealth the impoverished governments of this world have, the less the western world has to worry about security threats.

Other Posts From the Joint Meeting in Houston:

Image Credit: Picture of farmer and sweet sorghum crop from a talk by Dr. Mark Winslow

 

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.