Biofuels Starve Humans

Many point to hemp’s potential as a fuel, despite it being an energy net-loss when made into diesel. I never understood the attraction to using a highly nutritious polyunsaturated oil costing as much as $60/gallon to put in peoples’ cars instead of their stomachs.

But in this age of food insecurity it makes even less sense to tie-up acres and the extremely limited availability of hempseed just to continue the failed economic model of subsidized biofuels. Every acre grown for fuel is an acre not grown for food, and to replace fossil fuels would take far more arable land than is available.

From reporter George Monbiot of The Guardian:

“Why are we feeding crops to our cars when people are starving?

Modern biofuels are touted as a boon for the climate. But, used on a large scale, they are no more sustainable than whale oil.”

“What can you say about governments that, in the midst of a global food crisis, choose instead to feed machines? You might say they were crazy, uncaring or cruel. But these words scarcely suffice when you seek to describe the burning of food while millions starve.

There’s nothing complicated about the effects of turning crops into biofuel. If food is used to power cars or generate electricity or heat homes, either it must be snatched from human mouths, or ecosystems must be snatched from the planet’s surface, as arable lands expand to accommodate the extra demand. But governments and the industries that they favour obscure this obvious truth. They distract and confuse us about an evidently false solution to climate breakdown.

From inception, the incentives and rules promoting biofuels on both sides of the Atlantic had little to do with saving the planet and everything to do with political expediency. Angela Merkel pushed for an EU biofuels mandate as a means of avoiding stronger fuel economy standards for German motor manufacturers. In the US, they have long been used to prop up the price of grain and provide farmers with a guaranteed market. That’s why the Biden administration, as the midterm elections loom, remains committed to this cruelty.

As the investigative group Transport & Environment shows, the land used to grow the biofuels consumed in Europe covers 14m hectares (35m acres): an area larger than Greece. Of the soy oil consumed in the European Union, 32% is eaten by cars and trucks. They devour 50% of all the palm oil used in the EU and 58% of the rapeseed oil. Altogether, 18% of the world’s vegetable oil is turned into biodiesel, and 10% of the world’s grains are transformed into ethanol, to mix with petrol.

A new report by Green Alliance, an independent thinktank, shows that the food used by the UK alone for biofuels could feed 3.5 million people. If biofuel production ceased worldwide, according to one estimate, the saved crops could feed 1.9 billion human beings. The only consistent and reliable outcome of this technology is hunger.

It’s not just a matter of the upward pressure on food prices, great as this is. Biofuel markets also provide a major incentive for land grabbing from small farmers and indigenous people. Since 2000, 10m hectares of Africa’s land, often the best land, has been bought or seized by sovereign wealth funds, corporations and private investors. They replace food production for local people with “flex crops”: commodities such as soya and maize that can be switched between markets for food, animal feed or biofuel, depending on which prices are strongest. Land grabbing is a major cause of destitution and hunger.

As biofuels raise demand for land, rainforests, marshes and savannahs in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and Africa are cleared. There’s a limit to how much we can eat. There’s no limit to how much we can burn.

All the major crop sources of biodiesel have a higher climate impact than the fossil fuels they replace. Rapeseed oil causes 1.2 times as much global heating, soy oil twice as much, palm oil three times. The same goes for ethanol made from wheat. …”

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