Another biofuels slam

The other day Marc posted a message to the BIG list with a link to an article that is quite critical of the biofuels industry, and a good example of some of the one-sided thinking of the critics of biofuels.

“Green Energy” Panacea or Just the Latest Hype?

by Brian Tokar, WW4 REPORT

You can hardly open up a major newspaper or national magazine these days without encountering the latest hype about biofuels, and how they’re going to save oil, reduce pollution and prevent climate change. Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems’ Vinod Khosla, and other major venture capitalists are investing millions in new biofuel production, whether in the form of ethanol, mainly derived from corn in the US today; or biodiesel, mainly from soybeans and canola seed. It’s virtually a “modern day gold rush,” as described by the New York Times, paraphrasing the chief executive of Cargill, one of the main benefactors of increased subsidies to agribusiness and tax credits to refiners for the purpose of encouraging biofuel production. (MORE)

For the most part, this article trots out the usual caveats of the biofuels industry and it is hard to argue against the argument that there is not significant hype and profiteering going on in this industry.

However, I find it odd that they choose to so unequivocally slam biofuels, as they tout the site as a resource for information about what they call World War 4 (clearly, the site is a hype-free zone!). A major factor of most major, current conflicts around the globe is access to fossil oil reserves or control of transit routes for oil and oil products (Iraq, Darfur, Chechnya, Afghanistan).

While the issues of competing food/fuel production, land use, agro-pollution and energy balances are real, and quite relevant, the article frames biofuels in the tired hype-or-panacea dichotomy. This is an overly simplistic view and intellectual laziness. No, biofuels are not a panacea. No, soy and corn will not take care of all of the world’s fuel needs. That does not mean biofuels are not worth pursueing! There is a lot of work to be done to make biofuels a a truly viable alternative for fossil fuels, especially in the big picture. But we have to start now, and we can. The power of this technology is that it is simple, and it is easily accessible.

What irks me most, though, is the point at the end of the article, that argues that conservation is the panacea for all the world’s energy needs, and that no one pushes for greater energy efficiency because there is no profit in conservation. First of all, there is a huge overlap between the alt. fuels folks and the conservation community. Most biodieselers I know also drive very fuel-efficient VWs, not Hummers. I find it offensive that the author of the article seems to suggest that the biofuels community just wants to switch to biofuels, and not make adjustments to achieve greater efficiency.

Second, I think as energy cost rises, thee are excellent commercial opportunities in conservation. The Toyota Prius is a great example. And gasoline-electric hybrid cars are certainly not a panacea to the world’s energy needs, but that does not mean conservation does not work, does it?

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