Monday, March 8, 2010

BIOFUELS: False Solution to Climate Change

(Second of four parts)

In light of the growing alarm on Climate Change, the public was encouraged to be “environment-smart” and “eco-friendly”. Solutions, like going green, buying green, going organic, recycling, waste segregation, have been put forward. Some of these solutions, like recycling and waste segregation, are valid but not enough. Some are false solutions and mere marketing ploys, like going green or buying green. “Who needs the Kyoto Protocol when you can shop against Climate Change?” a line in Greensumption said. Greensumption is a tongue-in cheek commentary on some false solutions that are marketing ploys in reality.

One false solution that the public has fallen for is Biofuels. Approximately five years ago, we were led tp believe that biofuels is the road away from coal and oil dependence. Instead of carbon and oil dpeosits for fuel which is bad for the ozone layer and contributes heavily to global warming, we can utiliize crops such as sugarcane, tuba-tuba, maize etc., for fuel. Even in the Philippines, the Biofuels Act has been signed into law years ago.

Caroline Boin of the International Policy Network, London has written an article, The Biofuels Scam that makes the public rethink this supposed eco-friendly solution. According to Boin, biofuels, inspite of heavy subsidies in 2008 from the USA and EU governments amounting to $4 billion and $5.2 billion respectively, have not been a substantial souce of fuel.

Worse, biofuels make “little-environment sense.” Biofuel production makes more waste than it avoids, considering that ethanol plants are coal-fired themselves. Paul J. Crutzen, a Nobel-prize winnong chemist, said that: “For rapeseed biodiesel, which accounts for about 80 percent of the biofuel production in Europe, the relative warming due to N2O [nitrous oxide] emissions is estimated at 1 to 1.7 times larger than the quasi-cooling effect due to saved fossil CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions. For corn bioethanol, dominant in the US, the figure is 0.9 to 1.5.”

Biofuel and Food Crisis

Then again, there is another major backlash, food shortage. A leaked paper on a recent food crisis (2007 to 2008) by the World Bank Development Prospect Group, that the biofuel production of the United States and the European Union was the cause of 70 percent to 75 percent of rising prices. Last World Food Day, the United Nations admitted that around a billion people have no food at all.

Locally, of recent memory was the “sugar shortage” which hiked up the prices of sugar to P45 to P54 per kilo. In Batanes, prices were as high as P105, including the air fare of the sugar. The truth of the matter is there was no actual shortage, only man-made shortage.

In line with biofuel production, sugarcane prices have jacked up intenationally. Our local prices are dependent on the global price of sugar, which is why prices went up even if there is not reason to. With more acres of sugarcane being alloted for biofuel production, there is less for the country’s refined sugar consumption. The Philippines is bound by an agreement to export a certain amount of raw sugarcane to the US. For sugarcane traders, this is an excellent oppurtunity to exploit. For ordinary consumers like us, this is taste of a different kind of bondage.

In addition to these food crises entirely brought about by man, biofuel encourages environmental destruction through rainforests being converted into farmlands.

This makes me think, if biofuel is not as “clean” as we thought, does not save the rainforests and even makes the hungry hungrier, why then is it receiving billions of dollars in government subsidies? Something is not right here. For all its suspicious indications, the biofuel solution is just another capitalist money-making scheme to squeeze all it can from the crisis that is climate change.

To be continued….

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