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Going Green: The Human-Friendly Way
by Robert Regan

Going green does not have to mean starving people on the other side of the planet. We're all familiar with the recent wave of political cartoons of someone pumping a biofuel into their car while a starving third-world child stands, in rags, begging for food. How much truth lies in such cartoons? By using food-fuels, are we literally taking food from the mouths of starving children? More importantly--and this question underlies all others--does being green mean having the intention of lowering the earth's population, or at least being a misanthrope?

Policymakers, farmers, and fuel companies do not exactly say, "Let's take this food, used to feed people, and make it into a biofuel." The route is a bit more circuitous, though the effect is the same. One way the decision is made is as follows. It is decided that the surplus food supply in a given region is more than required. Would it not be a more lucrative choice to use the land which grows the surplus crop to grow food for fuel? Now, the land in question does not necessarily have to be a corn farm. It could be an area apportioned for wheat, beans, rice and so forth. The point is, that the area is deemed to be growing "excess" food, and therefore fit for growing biofuels. And it is not just corn that is made into biofuels. Sugar cane, palm oil, and jatropha are others.

To encourage and facilitate the decision to use food for fuel, investment groups, such as Al Gore's Generation Investment Management, enter the scene and ensure that there are enough funds for the process of converting the use of the land. Of course, the markets provide a very generous return on such investments. Once success is realized, these investment firms push other food cartels and governments to increase their portion of crops allotted for conversion to biofuels. Though the actual physical return of energy from biofuels, when compared to the total energy required for production, is a net loss, there will still be a continuing increase in financial returns for investors as long as the amount of land converted continues to increase. Typically, such a situation is called a financial bubble. The bubble stops growing when investors run out of land to appropriate.

It should be evident, to most readers, that the investors are not concerned with how their decisions affect food prices, food supply and other matters that do not directly relate to their financial return. Lately, however, there has been pressure to make the biofuel industry "less deadly" (to quote the June 26 Economist) to the more developed countries. This pressure has been especially felt since the recent flooding in the U.S. corn belt. To circumvent the negative effects of allotting too much land in the U.S. to biofuel production, economists and investors are suggesting the increase of cane-for-biofuel production in Brazil! Brazil, already the world's second-largest producer of biofuels, is being asked to commit more of its arable land to the biofuel chopping block.

When will this stop? The truly green individual will realize that the biofuel craze has been conveniently marketed as green, while in reality the whole process uses more carbon (due to crop production and fuel conversion) than traditional fuels, misappropriates essential arable land required to feed the population, and drives up food prices. Not only is the use of biofuels not green, it is also anti-human. Why is it okay to devote great amounts of moral energy to ensure the polar bears are fed (in the name of environmentalism), and yet humans, worldwide, are being either undernourished or overcharged due to the "environmental" biofuel movement?

It is time to reorganize our priorities so that all life-forms benefit: polar bears, plants, and humans (sans the investors).

Published: Jul 29,2008 12:20
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