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Friday, June 30, 2006


If you think biofuels are the answer to our carbon emissions and petroleum dependence, think again (especially if you happen not to live in the developed world).

The end of cheap oil and the impending fuel crisis have convinced the European Union and the United States to seriously tackle their long-standing and worsening "“addiction to oil", not by kicking the habit, but by guzzling biofuels instead. These "carbon neutral" fuels, biodiesel or bioethanol - make even committed environmentalists feel good about getting into their SUVs, as they do not contribute to carbon emissions. Burning biofuels simply sends back into the atmosphere carbon dioxide that the plants took out when they were growing in the field. The snag is that there simply isn'’t sufficient arable land on which to grow all the biofuel crops needed to satisfy the voracious appetites of the industrialised nations.

So, the next phase of colonisation has begun. The industrialised countries are looking to the Third World to feed their addiction: the land is there for the taking as is cheap labour, and the environmental damages of large plantations, biofuels extraction and refining can all be outsourced, exactly as they were in the extraction of crude oil. Brazil is already currently the main supplier of bioethanol to the United Kingdom...

Biodiesel is projected as a business in which everybody wins. The European emissions of CO2 decreases, and third world countries increase their exports and improve the quality of life of their rural populations.

The reality is something else. It is said that during the growth of the crop, the plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. This is true of what was growing before the plantation was established. As the industry has plans of expanding exponentially, it is likely that they will begin to occupy primary or secondary forested areas, as has already happened with the soya plantations. Soya plantations have displaced the forests of el Chaco in Argentina and the forests in Pantanal, Atlantic and Chaco areas in Paraguay. Even more dramatically the Amazon, Pantanal, and Atlantic forests in Brazil have all been cut down for soya. The net CO2 balance is therefore strongly negative.

Additionally, other greenhouse gases are generated as a product of the crop itself, the processing, refining, transport and distribution of the fuel. It looks increasingly likely that biofuels is a net contributor of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

As regards the benefits to the producers of the biofuel crops, these can be extremely negative.

First, the destruction of forest and other original vegetation has already happened; and if these crops were to expand as intended, they could threaten food security and food sovereignty of the local populations, because farmers would stop producing food crops for the population and instead concentrate on producing Â"clean fuels"” for Europe.

Read the whole article here.


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