Biofuel to burn a planet

In June Oxfam this year launched a campaign to prevent more starvation. The problem that Oxfam’s campaign is highlighting is one that I have written about previously in these posts: growing food for fuel is making some food prices so high as to create more starvation because so much fuel is being sourced from grown food.

In one of those examples that are create to highlight the nature of the problem Oxfam point out that the corn required to fill a tank of a Sports Utility Vehicle could feed a human being for a year.

The original rationale for biofuel was that its use would lead to fewer emissions compared with fossil fuels but it is proving that the reverse is true.

It has been shown scientifically that the carbon footprint of a given quantity of biofuel made from American corn is greater than the carbon footprint made of the same quantity of traditionally fossil fuel sourced fuel. Nevertheless America keeps its SUVs going by using 15% of corn production for biofuel, usually ethanol.

It is more harmful to the environment to source vehicle fuel from corn (maize) than it is from oil drilled from the ground. Notwithstanding, the European Union has a target for transport biofuel of 10% by 2020.

The figures that I have indicated here do not take into account all the greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels. When you add secondary emissions, such as fossil fuel emissions used to produce fertilisers and the subsequent leaching of nitrous oxide from the fertilisers you really do see plainly that most biofuels are environmentally damaging in climate change terms.

In Germany the government is sponsoring trials for aircraft fuel grown from jatropha (jatropha curas), which can be grown on ground in the tropics fit for very little else. However, the price of jatropha oil is high now and this has led not to the plant being grown on soil where nothing else will grow, but on farmland previously used for food production where the yields will be higher. Lufthansa, the airline trialling the oil, is doing so to make a positive contribution to the environment, and that is why the switched from palm oil, which was grown on forest land. The switch will make no difference to the environmental outcome; more emissions will follow and the process of climate change hastened.

Oxfam’s prime concern is food not fuel and they will be using their powerful voice to try to persuade governments to avoid multinational farming in developing countries by re-create small scale farmer where people grow food for eating, not for transport.

It is a policy that would not only help alleviate starvation but would slow down climate change. Quickening climate change with biofuel use would turn fertile farmlands and forests into semi arid deserts and  thus render the land useless for growing anything, whether fuel or food.

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