It’s biofuel realities that matter, not airy scenarios
All due respect to the intrepid folks at ThinkProgress, but I think this defense of biofuels falls a bit short. There’s this:
First, developing a biofuel economy can actually help reduce hunger and poverty by diversifying agricultural and forestry activities, attracting new farmers, and investing in small and medium enterprises. Increased investment in agricultural production has the potential to boost incomes of the world’s poorest people.
In what world does "investment in agricultural production" benefit "the world’s poorest people"? The trend for the last half-century has been for agricultural investment — read, subsidies — to go to mega-agribusiness. If biofuel really catches on, if a robust global market develops, is there any reason at all to think that the same huge corporations won’t dominate it?
I was browsing through this month’s Atlantic Monthly; in the first 20 or so pages, I saw two advertisements touting the magic of ethanol. Guess who paid for the ads? Siemens and Archer Daniels Midland. Not exactly "small and medium enterprises."
Finally, biofuel refineries in the future will depend less on food crops and more on organic wastes and residues. The greatest potential from sustainable transportation fuels will come from emerging technologies that produce alcohol fuels from cellulose (PDF) ("cellulosic ethanol") which unlike corn ethanol, also uses the stalks, hulls and other woody, rigid material that makes up the plants.
This is, of course, the battle cry of virtually every biofuel proponent, much like pebble-bed reactors for nuclear-power proponents. But I’ve never seen any real argument or numbers to back it up, just promises. How big a bet do we want to make on biofuels while we’re waiting for promise of cellulosic ethanol to pay off? How much Brazilian rainforest are we willing to lose while waiting?
I am not dogmatically anti-biofuel, or even anti-biofuel at all. We should try everything. Let a thousand flowers blah blah.
But every biofuel proponent should remember this: It’s not what biofuel could be made of or where the raw material could be grown that matters. It’s what it will be made of and where it will be grown that matters — and that will be decided by the cold efficiencies of the globalized market, not by the edenic visions of progressives.