Biofuels are often touted by the batty greenies as the saviour of our planet. The reality is far worse than their wooly headed thinking:
As Lester Brown – president of Washington’s Earth Policy Institute – has long pointed out, biofuels pit the hungry against relatively affluent motorists in competition for crops. Unsurprisingly, the drivers are winning. Forty per cent of the US corn crop now goes for fuel, not food, while the land used to grow biofuels for Europe alone could instead be used to feed 127 million people.
The competition drives up food prices – it has been partly responsible for recent abrupt increases that have driven scores of millions into hunger – and has helped stimulate a spate of land-grabbing in the Third World. Oxfam reported this week that an area of land eight times the size of the UK had been sold off over the past decade – and that two thirds of the deals appear to have been struck for the growing of biofuels. Often small farmers are thrown off the land, to join the destitute and hungry.
And all this may actually accelerate climate change. Studies show that most – if not all – biofuels cause lower emissions of greenhouse gases than the petrol and diesel they replace. But these do not take into account the indirect effects of displacing food production: as farmland is given over to producing fuel, cultivators move elsewhere to fell forests or plough up peatlands, emitting carbon dioxide as they do so. By some estimates, these emissions could, by 2020, be equivalent to putting over 25 million more cars on the road.