With food prices increasing at a breakneck rate, many experts on energy and the environment are turning away from what was once considered to be a green alternative to fossil fuels.
Ben Wikler of Avaaz.org tells The Real News Network that rainforests, the “lungs of the planet,” are being cut down to grow crops for biofuels. The result, he says, is that biofuels are having a net negative impact on global warming. On top of that, the transfer of land from food production to energy production is causing food prices to skyrocket.
Katarina Wahlberg of the Global Policy Forum tells The Real News Network that biofuels are a “very dangerous trend,” and calls for an outright moratorium on their production.
ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: In the last few years, biofuels have been viewed as a way to meet rising energy demands as well as climate change goals to reduce harmful emissions. At the same time, many forms of biofuels are being questioned as effective tools in the fight against global warming, while more recently they’re being blamed for the rising global food crisis. Climate change activists such as Ben Wikler of Avaaz.org are skeptical of the benefits of most biofuels in use today.
BEN WIKLER, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, AVAAZ.ORG: Biofuels were heralded as this fantastic way to move away from fossil fuels, because unlike fossil fuels, when you use ethanol, for example, in a car, it burns less carbon when you’re actually driving the vehicle, and it’s also a renewable resource. But it turns out that if you just look at what comes out of the tailpipe of the car, you’re missing almost all of the story, because the amount of carbon it takes to get a gallon of biofuels into your vehicle actually has to include the amount of carbon it takes to plant and grow the fuels. And also, if you convert a huge area of land to growing biofuels, then whatever you were doing with that land before you have to do somewhere else. So what we’re seeing now is rain forests being clearcut to grow biofuels, and as everyone knows, rain forests are the Earth’s lungs. So the idea of chopping down forests to grow biofuels in order to reduce the amount of carbon we’re throwing into the atmosphere is just completely backwards. And studies are finding that even biofuels that seemed relatively promising, because of this land-displacement effect [and] all the different things that go into creating the biofuels, most of those in use today have a net negative impact on global warming. One of the impacts of biofuels that a lot of folks didn’t see coming is that because we’re essentially burning food now for fuel, the price of food has shot up. And the way that this is happening is that lots of crops that were being grown to feed people and animals now are being grown to feed cars, and the supply is reduced. And also people are switching from growing food crops to growing biofuel crops. There are many kinds of biofuels that are just a terrible, awful idea. But the fact is that if you look a little bit more closely, some are much better than others. The promise is what they call second-generation biofuels, for example, food wastes. The kitchen grease that comes out of restaurants can actually be used to power cars and buses. Those conceivably could be an enormous boon to help fight global warming, but we need a really strong set of standards so that only stuff that actually emits less carbon and doesn’t cause a food crisis can get through. If you do set up a system of standards that can divide the good from the bad, literally divide the wheat from the chaff, and say, “Burn the chaff; don’t burn the wheat,” then you can create a marketplace, essentially, for the good kind of biofuels.
NKWETA: While Avaaz.org is campaigning for new global biofuel standards, Katarina Wahlberg from the Global Policy Forum is calling for an outright moratorium.
KATARINA WAHLBERG, SOCIAL ECONOMIC POLICY COORDINATOR: Stopping biofuel production is absolutely essential. It’s one of the most urgent things we have to do now. Scientists in the EU have called on the EU Commission to scrap the 10 percent target on biofuels. I think as of now we can’t push biofuel production further. It’s a very dangerous trend. It’s putting pressure on food resources and on the environment, and I think we should focus now on ending biofuel production, at least until there is such a thing as biofuels that would not put this kind of strain on agrifood nor the environment. But I think most scientists agree that we are very far from such a scenario.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.