Life is a big learning curve, isn't it? From the moment we're born, till the day we die, we're constantly faced with decisions and predicaments - of varying degrees of importance - the choices we make normally determined by the information we've previously assimilated, and that have shaped our perspective.
Amongst ourselves, as families, societies, and nations, we have different perspectives, and therefore make conflicting decisions. But, we learn to live, or try to live, with these decision-making conflicts. We all grow and learn. With patience, a touch of objectivity and a little humility, we come to examine various controversies from previously unseen angles, and our choices improve. We share information, and counsel, we discuss - and, hopefully, we listen.
Sometimes, however, we can be tempted to make decisions that go contrary to the contextual framework the choice is centred in - in other words, contrary to what we know is right, contrary to the evidence. We get caught up in a tide of interests that go beyond what is 'wise', or 'expedient', or 'practical'. This is the point where the tools of patience, objectivity and humility become useless - because the decision is no longer based on a shortage of information, or a willingness to do the right thing. This is the point where counsel and discussion gives way to bitter controversy, and ultimately, war. This latter scenario, I'm tempted to say, seems to be the case in regards to the obstinate pushing of ethanol from corn, sugar, soy, and palm oils in the face of their overwhelming detrimental effect on people's lives, and on the environment. It is where big industry, desperate to retain consumer dollars, is influencing government - who are in turn pandering to very destructive whims.
Accordingly, I'm determined to place resources on this particular post, which will grow over time, as you contribute, drawing a clear line between the effects of biofuels on people and planet, and what government and industry are doing regardless. You are welcome to contact me to suggest additional information for the list below.
As George Monbiot just wrote:
"It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless." - Monbiot
It's getting annoying now. We'd like to make politicians painfully aware that we're not fooled by the greenwash. We are onto you. And before people pipe up with the 'cellulosic ethanol', and 'algae' arguments - fantastic, yes, keep the research flowing. But, in the meantime, in the interim, let's not spend the next ten or more years flattening our forests, hastening habitat destruction, the demise of soil fertility, and increasing the pressure on the world's poor just so that rich consumers in the North can continue their lifestyles of excess (without any discernible change in comfort levels), and so that an oppressive minority in the South - a 'lucky few' - can endeavour to attain the same. A potential future breakthrough in alternate technologies is no excuse to continue present destruction and systematically apply misery to the lives of untold millions who have no voice.
I wholeheartedly endorse George Monbiot's suggested freeze of all governmental subsidies and legislation that are encouraging destructive biofuel production:
We need a moratorium on all targets and incentives for biofuels, until a second generation of fuels can be produced for less than it costs to make fuel from palm oil or sugarcane. - Monbiot
Again, this should only speed the development of truly sustainable fuels.
A moratorium on the European Biofuel Directive and similar policies does not mean that all support for biofuels should be suspended. There is a strong case for government and business investment into lingo-cellulosic technology, biodiesel gasification [update: see Elmuth Ernsting's comment] and algae research, all of which could vastly increase the amount of truly sustainable biofuels available to us. This should include funding of life-cycle studies which look at greenhouse gas emissions, land-use changes, impacts on biodiversity and on food supplies linked to those new technologies. Those studies should then be used as a basis to determine research priorities. - From the 'Biofuel Paper' (900kb PDF) produced by Biofuel Watch.
What can you do? Get involved in Biofuel Watch's campaign here, send a link to this Celsias page to your local political representative, pump your tyres up, drive less, and sensibly - and, if possible, get rid of your vehicle entirely.