Corn’s Not Better Than Oil
Illustration by: Matt Mahurin
It’s not exactly news to most scientists or environmentalists, but two studies by the journal Science say that the production of biofuels can lead to more CO2 emissions than created by fossil fuel. Last week, NASA climatologist Dr. Mark Chandler, one of my sources on airlines and greenhouse gases, had this to say:
Most people have found that biofuels have pretty close to a neutral effect on emissions, because it takes so much energy to produce an acre of corn or something like that. For the most part, biofuels [is] one of those issues where they’re sort of marketing it as a green issue, but it’s really not-it’s a dependence-on-foreign-oil issue. In other markets, it’s an excuse to continue those agricultural subsidies as well…One of the problems with biofuels, they’ve already found out that there’s only so much biofuel that can be produced, and when you produce it, you tend to take away from another supply, like food supply, and that tends to drive prices up. Unlike with something like wind or solar power-which are essentially free-the price tends to drop as more people use it. If more people use biofuels, prices can actually rise because it’s a limited resource. That’s already happened with corn, for example.
In Indonesia, Friends of the Earth and indigenous rights groups Sawit Watch and Life Mosaic have released a report, entitled "Losing Ground," saying that demand for the biofuel palm oil is resulting in human rights abuses and environmental degradation.
The clearing of forests for plantations leaves 60-90 million indigenous people without land, and pesticides and fertilizers are polluting some villages’ water supply, the report says. The palm oil industry is infringing heavily upon local economy, converting what was once a self-sufficient community into a struggling one.
"Losing Ground"also brings to light 513 conflicts over land between the local communities and the palm oil companies, monitored by Sawit Watch last month. A community leader interviewed for the report talks about the seizure of land in Sumatra:
This all used to be the community’s land! It was all seized [by the company]. It was defending this land that two of our men got killed. They were kidnapped and killed. Just because they wanted to defend this land, close to that [palm oil] factory over there. We do not know who killed them and it has never been investigated.