Biofuel use ‘increasing poverty’

The replacement of traditional fuels with biofuels has dragged more than 30 million people worldwide into poverty, an aid agency report says.

Oxfam says so-called green policies in developed countries are contributing to the world’s soaring food prices, which hit the poor hardest.

The group also says biofuels will do nothing to combat climate change.

Its report urges the EU to scrap a target of making 10% of all transport run on renewable resources by 2020.

Oxfam estimates the EU’s target could multiply carbon emissions 70-fold by 2020 by changing the use of land.

The report’s author, Oxfam’s biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey, criticised rich countries for using subsidies and tax breaks to encourage the use of food crops for alternative sources of energy like ethanol.

“If the fuel value for a crop exceeds its food value, then it will be used for fuel instead,” he said.

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2 Responses to “Biofuel use ‘increasing poverty’”

  1. Citizen K says:

    All biofuels are not created equal.

    The concept of “renewable” or “solar” fuels is inevitable — we’re going to have them, so the key is to find a way to create biofuels that is consistent with the other things we need to do as a society.

    We must choose a biofuel production approach that is sustainable, and sustainability is a broad criteria.

    Brazilian sugar cane ethanol is in a class by itself — high Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI), more than four times the energy level of corn ethanol; minimal ecological impact (it does not threaten the Amazon, because cane cannot grow in the Amazonian environment — too humid); it’s energy dense in terms of fuel produced per acre; it nitrogen-fixes itself, so the fertilizer requirements are almost nil; since it is a perennial it doesn’t have to be replanted/tilled every year, like corn or soy; it does not compete with foodstock per se (most diets in the developed world could do with less sugar, not more). To make it more sustainable we should switch over to organic production (which has an EROEI approximate 10% higher than conventional sugar cane) and continue mechanizing production (moving cane cutters to less brutal livelihoods). It is still a monoculture, and I’m not sure if any work is being done on creating cane polycultures, but: one problem at a time…

    That said, not to be overly brutal, but some populations need to slim down — we need to do some “demand destruction” on food as well as energy. We can reduce beef consumption, yes, but we also need to do population control. Ethiopia is on the verge of another epic famine on par with 1984’s, and why? Yes, the drought — but also because their population has more than doubled in 25 years. That seems a tad… imprudent, doesn’t it? BBC had an interview of an ’84 famine survivor (Oxfam emergency food and medical supplies literally saved him from his death bed) and he grew up to have… 5 children. Well, overpopulation has its own complex etiology, but at a 30,000 ft. ethical level, the future we are facing is going to result in a lot of death. Famine is currently mostly a problem in economic/political distribution, but we are entering an era where it will become all too biological (extreme weather events and large populations). The bottom line is, this is going to become an even more brutal world for the poor…

  2. Dennis says:

    I agree that not all biofuels are created equal. This point doesn’t seem to have made it into the typical discussions one sees on-line pro and con about biofuels.

    So, to advance, we need rational discussions and analysis of the various types of biofuels and what their various trade-offs are.

    Citizen K mentioned the mono culture issue with respect to Brazilian sugar cane and that is a concern that needs to be looked at. He also cited a number of factors that make it more benign than some other approaches to growing biofuels. But, the very land we grow things on is a limited resource and the land that sugar cane grows on, while it may not compete with the rain forest, it is likely to compete with other foods that might be grown there for human consumption.

    With a limited amount of land to grow food on, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that growing biofuels reduces the land available for food crops. The one possible exception I’ve seen to this was in discussions of growing Switch Grass in the American Midwest. Apparently, this stuff grows well in marginal areas that do not support other crops so that might be reasonable.

    But, the bottom line here is that so many of our proposed solutions to the world’s problems are really just reshuffling our problems from one place to the other and, perhaps, delaying them a bit. Long term, we’re going to have to deal with the core problems, of face ever harsher consequences.

    See http://samadhisoft.com/2008/07/20/letter-to-a-young-idealist/ for what I think are the core problems.