15 Apr 2008

More on bio foolery

Biofuels article from the Morning Star.

Caroline Lucas and I are speaking at their conference on saturday, my first speaking engagement since 18th Feb when I collapsed and got carted off the the Chelsea and Westminster!

The battle against biofuels
(Monday 17 March 2008)
Burning crops in our cars is ecologically insane argues DEREK WALL.

WE all know about environmental destruction and, when Gordon Brown, pushed by the Daily Mail, calls for a war on plastic bags, something must be going right.

However, the danger is that, in a capitalist society, the solutions pushed make sense in terms of short-term profits rather than long-term ecological sustainability, let alone social justice.

As you will know from this column, if I am not urging socialists to read more Marx, I am urging greens to read more about ecology. To proclaim a love of the environment is a very different thing from developing solutions that work in the fields of complex science.

While Green Party members, myself included, could do more to become scientifically literate, I get the impression that ecology is not a word that the traditional political parties have engaged with very much at all.

Biofuels are one example. On April 15, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation will be introduced across Britain. This means that all forecourts will have to sell petrol and diesel with a 2.5 per cent minimum blend of biofuels unless they choose to opt out at a penalty cost of 15 pence per litre.

The Lib Dems at one time proclaimed their support for biofuels, although I guess that they have retracted this. Boris Johnson, a man seemingly briefed by Norman Wisdom, has still been calling for more biofuels in his attempt to replace Ken Livingstone as London mayor.

On the fact of it, biofuels look green - what could be more environmental than energy crops fattened by the sun? However, biofuels lead to more climate change, not less, are increasing global poverty and threaten human rights when land is seized to grow them.

Biofuels have their defenders but have been attacked for transferring land for food into land used to grow fuel.

Fidel Castro's last campaign as Cuban president was to call for a ban on biofuels, arguing that they would push up food prices and lead to starvation.

The Economist magazine has more recently recognised that global inflation has increased because of ethanol crops leading to food shortages. It would be nice if the Economist acknowledged that, in this area, Fidel was rather quicker in spotting an economic trend than the house magazine of global neoliberalism.

I am also angry about biofuels for another reason. The cheapest source of biofuel is palm oil and, if we turn to biofuels big time, we won't be running vehicles on used chip fat alone, laudable as this, but creating a huge demand for palm oil.

The demand for palm oil is the greatest threat to the rainforests of south-east Asia. Rainforests which are carbon sinks are being cut down, the people who live in them disposed and the wildlife, including the orang-utans, are being threatened with extinction.

The forests are under threat from the palm oil. Counting in the rainforest destruction, the energy put into growing the palms and transport charges, palm oil is a source of biofuel which generates more climate change, litre for litre, than petrol.

Typically, West Papua, which was invaded by the Indonesians in the 1970s, could see most of its forests destroyed for palm oil by 2012.
All energy crops are suspect, but palm oil, which is dominating the market, is simply ecocidal.

Spreading the word about indigenous people who live in the forests sustainably is vital. Benny Wenda, who heads the Free West Papua movement, should have gone to the Bali conference to tackle climate change last year, but, depressingly, forest peoples were banned. Benny, not Al Gore, deserved the Nobel Prize for Peace, given his work for ecological sustainability.

We need to get on the streets and protest. We need to punish firms that use palm oil and praise those that cut it out. Palm oil, as well as being a noxious biofuel, is in all kinds of supermarket goods. You will find it in margarine, in many processed foods and in cosmetics as well.

While I tend to cynically view the term "green business" as an oxymoron, I am impressed that the ethical cosmetics giant Lush has banned palm oil in its products. It has even produced an eco soap called Greenwash to poke fun at all the greenwash from biofuels to carbon offset.

The green business solution on its own is no solution. Palm oil is in a range of products and is almost never properly labelled, so it is difficult for consumers to be "green" and avoid it.

While I don't believe that socialism involves just state regulation, as opposed to workers' control of industry, this is one area where swift regulation would be of great value.

Palm oil should be phased out and, in the meantime, it should be clearly labelled so that we can begin to make a choice.

While green politics is about social justice - I am the kind of Green Party member who finds the term "socialism" clearer and more precise than any other formulation - opposing war and promoting real democracy, it is also about ecology. The task of serious political ecologists is to make the often invisible but environmentally crucial issues visible so that they can be tackled.

I have learnt a lot from those doughty campaigners at Biofuelwatch and, if you want to promote the politics of ecology, I recommend that you look at their website and spread the word.

The European Union is currently aiming for 10 per cent of energy to be provided by biofuels. You can almost hear the buzz of the chainsaws.

Such a policy, if it is not resisted, will accelerate rainforest destruction and, in turn, make climate change far, far worse. The most immediate task in the struggle against palm oil-fuelled destruction is to resist this ecologically insane policy.

On April 15, when mandatory biofuel blending comes in under the British government Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, there will be a demonstration outside Downing Street at 6pm organised by Biofuelwatch and Campaign Against Climate Change. Please come along and support it.

Derek Wall is male principal speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Derek, what about second and third generation bio fuels? They possibly do show some promise of reducing carbon consumption.

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