Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The great biofuels con

Growing crops for oil was supposed to solve global warming. Now, as food prices soar, biofuels stand condemned as a crime against humanity. Christopher Booker and Richard North report.

Rarely in political history can there have been such a rapid and dramatic reversal of a received wisdom as we have seen in the past 18 months over biofuels - the cropping of living plants, such as soybeans, wheat and sugar cane, to generate energy.

Two years ago biofuels were still being hailed as a dream solution to what was seen as one of the most urgent problems confronting mankind - our dependence on fossil fuels, which are not only finite but seemed to be threatening the world with the catastrophe of global warming.

In March 2007 the leaders of the European Union, in a package of measures designed to lead the world in the "fight against climate change", committed us by 2020 to deriving 10% of all transport fuel from "renewables", above all biofuels, which theoretically gave off no more carbon dioxide than was absorbed in their growing.

Since then, however, the biofuels dream has been disintegrating with the speed of a collapsing card house. Environmentalists, formerly keen on this "green energy", expressed horror at the havoc it was inflicting on the world's ecosystems, not least the clearing of rainforests to grow fuel crops.

As the world suddenly faced its worst food shortage for decades, sending prices spiralling, experts pointed out that a major cause had been the diverting of millions of hectares of farmland from food production to fuel. The damage this was inflicting on the world's poor led a United Nations official to describe the rush for biofuels as "a crime against humanity".

As damaging as anything to the belief that biofuels could help save the planet from global warming have been various studies showing that producing biofuels can give off more carbon dioxide than they save.

So devastating has been this backlash that even the British Government, which prides itself on being the greenest of the green, commissioned a review, published last Monday, urging a slowdown in the move to biofuels.

When this recommendation was endorsed by senior ministers, this put Britain directly at odds with a European Union policy to which it had already signed up. But the EU is firmly holding its line, saying it has no intention of lowering its target.

How did we come to such a pass? The story of mankind's love affair with biofuels goes back much further than most people realise, and has unfolded through five stages...

Read the entire article here http://www.theage.com.au/environment/the-great-biofuels-con-20080714-3f0q.html

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