Gristmill reader KO has directed me to George Monbiot’s latest article in the Guardian. You folks out there with “biodiesel / no war for oil” stickers are accused of perpetuating a crime against humanity. The article is a (concise and articulate) compilation of my most recent rants against biofuels. Some money quotes:

… the superior purchasing power of drivers in the rich world means that they will snatch food from people’s mouths. Run your car on virgin biofuel, and other people will starve.

Even the International Monetary Fund, always ready to immolate the poor on the altar of business, now warns that using food to produce biofuels “might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further” …

If you count only the immediate carbon costs of planting and processing biofuels, they appear to reduce greenhouse gases. When you look at the total impacts, you find they cause more warming than petroleum …

You could, for example, ban palm oil from new plantations. This is the most destructive kind of biofuel, driving deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. But the ban would change nothing. As Carl Bek-Nielsen, vice chairman of Malaysia’s United Plantations Berhad, remarked: “Even if it is another oil that goes into biodiesel, that other oil then needs to be replaced. Either way, there’s going to be a vacuum and palm oil can fill that vacuum …

Yes, it can grow on poor land and be cultivated by smallholders. But it can also grow on fertile land and be cultivated by largeholders. If there is one blindingly obvious fact about biofuel, it’s that it is not a smallholder crop. It is an internationally traded commodity that travels well and can be stored indefinitely, with no premium for local or organic produce. Already the Indian government is planning 14m hectares of jatropha plantations. In August, the first riots took place among the peasant farmers being driven off the land to make way for them.