Last month we were warned that the rush for biofuels is causing enormous environmental and social damage. We now learn that not only will the rapidly growing and heavily subsidised corn ethanol industry in America cause significant environmental damage, it will not significantly reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels either!
A comprehensive new report by the environmental advocacy groups Food & Water Watch, the Network for New Energy Choices, and the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School analyses hundreds of previous studies and concludes that even if all corn grown in the US was used for fuel, it would only offset 15% of the country's petroleum use. Yet, the same reduction could be achieved simply by increasing fuel efficiency standards for all cars and light trucks by just 3.5-miles-per-gallon. Instead, 27% of the country's entire corn crop is earmarked for biofuels this year a level that is already beginning to put a squeeze on corn for food production. Worse news still, all recent attempts to assess the total carbon footprint of biofuels conclude that, once farm equipment and refineries are factored in, biofuel production can lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions than the so-called "dirty fuels" they are intended to replace.
Reds and oranges represent
low oxygen concentrations,
making it very difficult for
marine life to survive [NASA]
Somewhat scathingly, the report concludes: "What looks like an attractive solution — farmers gaining from higher corn prices, agribusiness and investors increasing profits, and politicians pleasing their constituents by going green — could be a political move to avoid the truly effective measures that will result in genuine public benefits." Constructively, having recognised that "the continuing reliance upon foreign oil is one of the greatest threats to U.S. national security and economic stability," it makes eighteen recommendations ranging from promoting local ownership and farmer-owned cooperatives, through increasing fuel efficiency, to promoting smart growth in urban planning.
If we in Britain are to ensure the future provision of reliable and affordable energy supplies, our politicians would also do well to explore such "truly effective measures that will result in genuine public benefits" rather than simply "pleasing their constituents by going green."