Biofuel Madness

Biofuels are unfortunately an important part of European Union and United Kingdom policy. At the moment the United Kingdom sources about 3% of its vehicle fuel from plants, which have starchy or woody cellulose content, which is fermented to create ethanol. In the United States a great deal of ethanol is made from corn. Biofuels are used in transport and in heating.

Growing fuel instead of digging for it or drilling for it may sound sustainable and environmentally friendly, but things are not always as they appear. The theory behind biofuels is that they are renewable; instead of depleting a fossil fuel source humanity may grow as much fuel as it needs. The carbon dioxide emitted by burning biofuels will be taken from the atmosphere by more biofuel plants, which will photosynthesise it thus removing it from the air and create more biofuels with the carbon dioxide.

That is a simplistic view of biofuels, and it fails to look at the whole life cycle impact of biofuel production. The simplistic theory might be for practical purposes workable if we had unlimited land resources and a small world population. However, people are populous and land is finite – as Mark Twain remarked “they stopped making it”.

The growth of biofuels has led to some unintended consequences. Good land used for food is now used for energy; food prices have risen. Many forests particularly in the tropics have been cut down for biofuel plantations; much of the wood has been burnt, and the soil disturbed creating a large spike of emissions; biodiversity has been lost and rows of palm oil trees now replace what was an important alveoli and air conditioner for the planet.

There are biofuels that can be sustainably grown in places where the land is not fit for anything else, and which can be cropped with no significant adverse environmental impact. At the moment about a third of the United Kingdom’s biofuel falls into this category and unfortunately local law and EU regulations do not distinguish between good biofuel and bad biofuel. It is about time we did.

Papering over the cracks in banks

The financial crisis rumbles on. Despite the wars and earthquakes and tsunami we find that the sticking plaster, used to patch up the finances of some European banks, has failed and more drastic measures are need. Irish banks need Euros 24 billion (24,000,000,000) give or take a billion. The European Union has bailed out Ireland (short term loans of Euros 150 billion) and Greece, but there is still a rump of a problem – the Irish banks are insolvent on a “stress test” basis, which is serious news if you have savings in an Irish Bank. The news came out on Thursday this week, and at the time of writing, no news has been published about where the additional capital is to be found. Continue reading

A modern mask of anarchy

I like poetry, but I am not particularly fond of the Romantic Poets or of one of their most famous people Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelly lived for only thirty years, dying fashionably young. He wrote one poem called the Mask of Anarchy about the Peterloo Massacre, in Manchester. The poem speaks against those that Shelly thought were responsible for the deaths of people in a very fledging trade union movement, who were mistakenly and unnecessarily killed by soldiers.

These days we have progressed; we can kill far more people than we could two hundred years ago, more efficiently and with greater carelessness. That set me wondering whether I could adapt Shelley’s work for the modern era. Continue reading

The banks are returning to profit, but where did it all go wrong?

The news that the major United Kingdom Banks are returning to profit is welcome. In 2008 most of them were at risk, so it seemed and most of them needed taxpayers’ money directly as an injection or indirectly as a guarantee which gave people confidence to keep their money in the banks. After nearly two years the confusion surrounding what went wrong is beginning to unravel. Banks are inherently potentially insolvent businesses.  There are two definitions of insolvency and these apply as much to the large financial institutions as they do to individual people. Continue reading

BP and their environmental record

After the hurricane came the plague of oil. Accidents will happen, but they seem to happen far too frequently in the oil industry and in the coal industry. BP, proudly “beyond petroleum” has shown us just how far beyond petroleum BP now lies. World oil production is about sixty three million barrels a day but today it seems that 5,000 barrels a day are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico from a BP facility. An oil slick threatens the coast of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi and not just threatens wildlife and sea plants but will also almost certainly decimate the fishing industry at a time when fish should be spawning, rather than dying from unrefined oil seeping into their gills and suffocating them. Continue reading

Gordon Brown’s error – being directed by the bankers

It is refreshing and admirable when a politician admits to making a mistake, because politicians spend so much of their time professing their infallibility. Of course, as soon as one admits to a mistake his or her political enemies and commentators circle around like sharks smelling blood.  Gordon Brown has admitted what he regards as a single small error. I get the feeling that he admitted it to demonstrate that he is after all human. Continue reading

Why fuel prices are getting higher

If you live in the United Kingdom you will almost certainly be driving less in the near future because it will cost you more to drive than ever before. Petrol prices are rising and will soon be close to £1.20 a litre and there are several reasons for this. Continue reading