The reason for this re-think are that the envronmental and social consequences of converting arable land for biofuel production - or clearing Indonesian rainforest for palm plantations - are becoming apparent:
Supporters argue that biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because the plants they are made from absorb carbon dioxide from the air. But a number of studies have raised doubts about the green credentials of many of the leading candidates, such as palm oil and ethanol made from corn. Critics say biofuels compete for land with staple food crops, and vast areas of rainforest are cleared to grow them. (2)Why is this a surprise to anyone? There are two sorts of people in the world - those who accept human responsibility for global warming and want to do something about it, and those who accept human resposnisbility for global warming and want to make money out of it. Yes, it appears there is a third group, made up of those who don't accept that the globe is warming, but on examination it transpires that most of these people are just very cynical members of the accept-global-warming-and-make-money-off-it camp.
The problem with biofuels is that they offer a great way to make money. People who have latched onto this idea are all for them. Huge swathes of crops that could be used to alleviate world hunger are instead intended for use in biofuels, so that western consumers can feel virtuous and ethically alert as they continue to use their car - perhaps even more often than before, because its on biofuel, right?
It's almost something you'd find in a film by Jean Luc Godard in his Weekend phase, or by Louis Brunel. People who already have far too much of everything burning food while others starve. People who already have far too much of everything congratulating themselves on doing their bit for the environment while Indonesians rainforests are destroyed to fuel their cars. And in the background, of course, are the people profiting from this latest middle classs green-lite silliness - the same people (or at least, indistingushable substitutes) who made profit from our infantile obssession with cars before we decided to try to do a bit - but not too much - for the environment.
The one thing these people don't want, of course, is for us to have to start asking ourselves hard questions about our lifestyles. The one thing we should never have to think is "Do we need a car?" or, since society is now so geared to wards the automobile that it would be difficult for a lot of people to cope without one - "Do we need to use one all the time?" Because these sorts of questions will hurt profits, and that is the unspeakable, obscene idea - more obscene, apparently, than screwing up the planet through, negligence, greed and deliberate blindness.
Fidel Castro spoke out against biofuels in March, 2007, warning of the inefficiences in the process, and the consquences converting food crops into biofuel would have on food prices, food supply and the environment:
Today we know with accurate precision that one ton of corn can only render as an average 413 liters of ethanol (109 gallons), a figure that may vary according to the latter's density.
The average price of corn in US ports has reached 167 dollars per ton. The production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol requires 320 million tons of corn. According to FAO, US corn production in 2005 reached 280.2 million tons.
Even if the President is speaking about producing fuel out of switchgrass or wood chips, any person could understand that these phrases are far from realistic. Listen well: 35 billion gallons, 35 followed by nine zeros!
Beautiful examples of the productivity of men per hectare achieved by the experienced and well organized US farmers will come next: corn will be turned into ethanol; corn wastes will be turned into animal fodder, with a 26 percent of proteins; cattle manure will be used as raw material for the production of gas. Of course, all of this will happen after a great number of investments, which could only be afforded by the most powerful companies whose operations are based on the consumption of electricity and fuel. Let this formula be applied to the Third World countries, and the world will see how many hungry people on this planet will cease to consume corn. What is worse, let the poor countries receive some financing to produce ethanol from corn or any other foodstuff and very soon not a single tree will be left standing to protect humanity from climate change. (3)
I can't vouch for Castro's figures. That he is at least broadly right is bourne out by the E.U.'s decision to review its biofuel commitment, however.
This is a measure of the world we live in. A world so distroted by greed, graft and cronyism that sometimes even Fidel Castro can be right, and prescient.
1 - 'EU reviews biofuel target as environmental doubts grow,' by David Adam and Alok Jha in The Guardian, 15th of January, 2008. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jan/15/biofuels.carbonemissions)
2 - ibid.
3 - 'Foodstuff as Imperial Weapon: Biofuels and Global Hunger,' by Fidel Castro Ruiz, originally published in Gramna, reproduced on Counterpunch, 30th March, 2007. (http://www.counterpunch.org/castro03302007.html)