Biofuels aren’t causing the food crisis – they’re part of the solution
By Gordon Quaiattini.
The most significant challenge that confronts the world is the need to grow beyond oil. Indeed, at a time when crude oil is trading at or above $115 per barrel and when experts predict gas prices could be as high as $1.40 per litre by the summer, the need for viable alternatives to petroleum has never been more vital or more urgent.
We must address the unhealthy dependency we have developed on fossil fuels while replacing a substantial part of our energy mix with renewable biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol. This will pay a variety of dividends: Biofuels are a cleaner, greener and more affordable source of energy that will strengthen economic prospects at home and in emerging economies alike.
That statement may come as something of a surprise given the headlines. In recent days and weeks, considerable attention has been dedicated to concerns about rising food prices. Warnings about food shortages in the developing world are coupled with concerns about more expensive groceries at home. Biofuels are often singled out as the reason.
But the fact is, demand for oil is outstripping the supply of oil. Record oil prices are what is inflating food prices worldwide, including those crops that have no relation to biofuels, such as fish and rice.
Indeed, many argue that the failure of the OPEC cartel to boost production is a strategy aimed at keeping prices high — a move that amounts to a $500-billion tax on North America this year alone, and which contributes directly to the impoverishment and economic fragility of many developing nations.
As we read about food shortages in the developing world, it is important to note that while Saudi Arabia reaps hundreds of billions in profit this year, Kenya will earn roughly $3 billion from exports. If the $1.3 trillion taxed from the world economy by OPEC countries in 2008 was instead re-distributed to those nations in need, it would lift the entire Third World out of poverty. Haiti for example, has a huge untapped biofuel source in its sugar cane crops.
The great benefit of biofuels — such as grain ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel — is that they can help fill the supply gap and create needed competition with OPEC. Indeed biofuels offer the only available, accessible and affordable alternative to fossil fuels.
In contrast to much of the recent discussion, let us review the facts on biofuels and sustainability.
Sustainable prices: crude oil that trades north of $100 per barrel may
be a boon to the ranks of big oil and OPEC countries, but it is no gift
to ordinary families who are facing some of the highest prices ever
seen at the pump. It is also the overwhelming contributor to higher
food prices because of the costs of shipping product to market, and
overall inflation is set to rise due to the passed-on costs of higher
fuel prices from businesses of all kind.
Biofuels offer the prospect of real competition and price moderation.
Indeed, according to one report in the Wall Street Journal, if not for
biofuels, crude oil would be trading 15 per cent higher and gasoline
would be as much as 25 per cent more expensive. A healthy supply of
alternative energy sources will give us the power to combat gasoline
A sustainable environment: Ethanol and biodiesel burn cleaner than
fossil fuels, resulting in the release of fewer pollutants and
emissions. The federal government has mandated that 5 per cent of our
fuel supply be comprised of ethanol and 2 per cent biodiesel — which
according to Natural Resources Canada, will result in the reduction of
greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) equal to removing one million cars from
Second-generation biofuels made from materials like switchgrass, straw,
algae, even yard and lumber waste will cut GHGs even more. Finally, all
biofuels are biodegradable. Unlike oil, they will not harm soil or
groundwater in the event of a spill or accident.
Sustainable economics: Biofuels offer new markets and better incomes
for farmers, many of whom have had to struggle for years with
production costs that outpace sale prices. This is true of Canada and
the United States, but excitingly, it is also true of the developing
world. In North America we are only utilizing 30 per cent of the
agriculture land available — and it’s 15 per cent in the developing
Far from creating food shortages, biofuels represent the best
opportunity for sustainable economic prospects in Africa, Latin America
and impoverished Asia if they are truly able to be part of and benefit
from a growing biofuels market.
When one examines all the facts, all the forces and all the potential,
the real picture of biofuels begins to emerge: they are the most
environmentally friendly and economically viable alternative to
Gordon Quaiattini is president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (www.greenfuels.org).
The Ottawa Citizen
Fri 25 Apr 2008
Byline: Gordon Quaiattini
Source: Citizen Special
- Two-thirds of biofuel fails green standard (guardian.co.uk)
- Shell Quits Last Algae Biofuel Commitment – Still Backing Ethanol & Cellulosic Biofuels (treehugger.com)