Sunday, April 27, 2008

Biofuels represent lip service from the left

We in the civilized west like to feel that we care about the state of the world, the environment and the plight of nations less well-off then ourselves. Lip service is paid in the form of charity and aid, and while these are of course often worthy pursuits, I can’t help but feel that they are sometimes more about self congratulation than actual altruism. We like to help, but more than anything we like to feel good about ourselves.

The liberal left has always sought to align itself with various noble causes, seemingly promoting a less myopic and selfish world-view where the good of others besides ourselves is considered.
Their latest and most topical worthy cause is surely their crusade to end global warming.

One of the ways being championed as a measure to halt rising global temperatures - and one which is already a reality - is the use of biofuels.
However, as my reading on the subject becomes more substantial, I become more and more convinced that biofuel makes little sense, and is a perfect example of the platitudes liberals dish out to policy makers and the public in general.
Now, I should make it clear that I am not relishing the thought of taking up an aquatic lifestyle courtesy of melting ice caps, nor do I want to have to buy scuba gear for the daily trek to the corner shop.
I am as worried about the threat that global warming appears to present as anyone, and I am not so naive or arrogant as to suggest that we can ignore the issue and carry on living the way we do without facing repercussions.
But bio-fuel seems to promise a lot more than it can deliver and major questions abound regarding its feasibility, efficiency and the consequences of its production.

The charity Concern recently highlighted the issue of the global rise in food prices due to the production of bio-fuels derived from food crops such as maize, corn and wheat.
This diversion of staple crops away from food production, and the setting aside of arable land for bio fuel cultivation, holds potentially disastrous consequences for the vast numbers of people living in the third world on subsistence diets.
As well as this dubious effect, the promotion of biofuel has led to further destruction of the rainforests - a resource already in a perilous position - in order to accommodate these new crops.
Considering that rainforests produce one fifth of the earth’s oxygen, and help counter-act global warming, this seems very counter productive, not to mention idiotic.

More and more indications of the inadequacies of biofuel continue to present themselves; and yet still both the E.U and U.S. are determined to significantly increase their use of biofuels, while our own government has abolished the VAT on biofuel crops.

Only last year, a UN consortium expressed concern about the social and environmental repercussions of biofuel production, while in October, Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen suggested that rapeseed oil and corn produce as much Nitrous Oxide as to greater contribute to global warming than the fossil fuels they replace.

Despite these damning findings, the Western world continues to invest heavily in what looks to be a pointless exercise; already it is estimated that a quarter of the maize grown in the U.S. is used for biofuel production.

And why are the people in power and the general public so keen on something so worthless?

Because offering subsidies and tax cuts to placate the problem is a lot easier than accepting the fact that our current lifestyles simply aren’t sustainable; and these measures are a lot less politically risky. No government is going to say that we need stop living our comfortable first world lifestyle, and I for one wouldn’t want them to.

So instead of real action, we are content to make insignificant - and even potentially harmful - gestures that convince us that we are doing something about the problem.
I’m not saying that we all need to give up all our western comforts; maybe greater frugality is enough or maybe there’s another way, but the promotion of biofuel is more about self satisfaction than anything else. It is a hollow gesture that offers a comforting, but false, reassurance.

If this is its goal, it succeeds; for in the west we like to feel good about ourselves.

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