Jun 2007

Biofuels: Genocide with a greenwash

Today the Financial Times reports that BP has begun to significantly invest in biofuel technology, and this week alone has signed two deals to fund biofuel projects…

BP is to invest at least £32m in a joint venture with D1 Oils, the quoted UK based alternative fuels company, to develop the inedible oilseed Jatropha as a biodiesel.

The move is the latest escalation of BP’s move into alternative fuels, following its $400m investment in a joint bioethanol plant with Associated British Foods and DuPont announced earlier this week.

Meanwhile Grain, an organisation representing poor farmers in developing countries, has devoted the entirety of the latest issue of their journal, Seedling, to savagely lambasting the biofuel industry and exposing the extreme destruction it’s causing. The issue can be downloaded (3.4MB PDF) and I urge anyone with an interest in this subject to do so. The editorial opens as follows…

We are devoting almost all of this edition to a single topic — the rapid expansion of biofuels across much of the globe. In the process of gathering material from colleagues and social movements around the world, we have discovered that the stampede into biofuels is causing enormous environmental and social damage, much more than we realised earlier. Precious ecosystems are being destroyed and hundreds of thousands of indigenous and peasant communities are being thrown off their land. We believe that the prefix bio, which comes from the Greek word for “life”, is entirely inappropriate for such anti-life devastation. So, following the lead of non-governmental organisations and social movements in Latin America, we shall not be talking about biofuels and green energy. Agrofuels is a much better term, we believe, to express what is really happening: agribusiness producing fuel from plants to sustain a wasteful, destructive and unjust global economy.

We begin with an introductory article that, among other things, looks at the mind-boggling numbers that are being bandied around: the Indian government is talking of planting 14 million hectares of land with jatropha; the Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares that could be cultivated with agrofuel crops; and an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries. We are talking about expropriation on an unprecedented scale.

But you don’t need to take the word of Grain. After all, they’re an organisation with the radical agenda of “promot[ing] the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people’s control over genetic resources and local knowledge”. Instead ask the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. They report that “basic food prices for poor countries are being pushed up by competition for land from biofuels” (BBC article). And this is an industry that’s only just getting going! It is absolutely imperative that it doesn’t get much further. Because if the plan is to replace any liquid fossil-fuel shortfall created by a peak in oil production with agrofuels (and certainly that seems to be BP’s plan), then it will almost certainly result in one of the most devastating famines in history. Millions will die. Because wealthy car owners in the USA, UK, Ireland or Japan are able, and willing, to pay more for a tank of jatropha-seed-oil than a Malawian or Ethiopian can afford to pay for a loaf of bread.

And it’s not even as if a switch to agrofuels would help address that other looming crisis — climate change. It will just make that situation worse too.

UPDATE: For lots more info, check out Biofuelwatch (http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/)

Posted in: Opinion