Feb 2007

Green Party support for BioFuels [updated]

This is a copy of a letter I’ve just emailed to one of my parliamentary representatives, Mr. Paul Gogarty TD. He’s a member of the Irish Green Party and my email was in response to a mail-shot on the subject of energy. Much of the leaflet was sound information on energy efficiency, renewables, grants for installing solar panels and heat pumps, a denunciation of nuclear energy… all good stuff. But the very first item is an article under the headline, “Biofuels can create new Irish jobs”. This piece heralds the worrying news that the EU has apparently set a target of almost 6% of transportation fuel to be sourced from biofuelstock by 2010.

I have a lot of time for The Greens, but am simultaneously irritated by their apparent desire not to rock the boat too much. If society decides to take the issue of Climate Change seriously, and in the face of a peak in oil and gas supply, then it will mean that individuals consume significantly less energy than they currently do. And although this may well provide long-term health and fulfillment benefits, it will be extremely uncomfortable, unpopular and maybe even unpleasant in the short to midterm.

Anyways… the letter…

Dear Paul,

I received your latest mail-out today (entitled €NERGY). With the exception of The Green Party, there is nobody in the political mainstream that comes even close to representing my views. Yet you seem to be doing your level-best to alienate even me, and turn my Green vote into a protest spoilt-ballot.

Your leaflet made some interesting points about energy efficiency, offered a rational dismissal of nuclear power and provided some useful information about renewable energy grants. But it also contained an extremely worrying recommendation of biofuels. You may as well have lauded China’s expansion of coal-power on the front page.

In fact, both your website and this latest mail-out trumpet “Biofuels” as a responsible alternative to fossil fuels. This is itself a wildly irresponsible position. The Chief economist at the UK’s Department for International Development recently estimated that “the grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year”. He may have been ’rounding-up’ the numbers for effect, but it still makes a mockery of biofuels as ‘ethical’ in a world where millions starve.

Even worse, George Monbiot’s excellent article, ‘Worse Than Fossil Fuel’, explains exactly why large scale biofuel projects have traditionally worked out as being even more carbon intensive than burning oil or gas!

We live at a time when global climate change is perhaps the largest issue faced by our civilisation, and at a time when oil and gas supply could well be peaking. Organisations like The Green Party need to be loudly and frequently emphasising the need to dramatically scale back our energy usage as a society.

Yet such calls, where they are made in your literature, are greatly outnumbered and overshadowed by the glowing promise of more jobs (“Biofuels can create new Irish jobs”) and shiny new technology. One of the physical definitions of energy is ‘the ability to do work’. Our economy (the sum total of the work carried out by society) is no less than a giant engine to convert energy into material wealth. By promising more jobs, you are merely promising to accelerate that process.

Anyone who genuinely seeks to reduce carbon emissions needs to accept that the primary method of doing so must be a scaling back of economic activity. To promise such a thing may well seem like political suicide, but it would be honest. And I’ll always vote for the honest man above the good politician.

Yours sincerely,

Jim… (name and address provided)

[UPDATE] A Reasonable Response

Rather to my shock, Paul Gogarty TD responded to my email within a couple of hours of my sending it. More than that, he responded in a reasonable and measured manner which made my initial letter seem a wee bit shouty. I should probably make it a rule in the future not to write letters to politicians immediately having written a blog entry. It’s one thing being a bit strident and righteous when proclaiming to an unseen audience of billions; it’s quite another in a letter to another person.

Paul comes across very well in his response. I was just about to email him and ask if it was OK to post it here, when he posted it himself in the comments below (hi Paul!) which is where I’ll add a few further comments when I’ve worked out exactly what they are.

Posted in: Opinion