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.