Castro on biofuels

Transforming food into fuels is a monstrosity.

Regardless of numerous official statements assuring that this is not a choice between food and fuel, reality shows that this, and no other, is exactly the alternative: either the land is used to produce food or to produce biofuels.

Read the whole thing. His basic point is that the more land used to grow biofuel stock, the less land is available to grow food. Worse, most of such growing will be done in third world countries, making the lives of the desperately poor and hungry even worse.


It is not true that biofuels are a renewable and constant energy source, given that the crucial factor in plant growth is not sunlight but the availability of water and suitable soil conditions. If this were not the case, we would be able to grow corn or sugarcane in the Sahara Desert. The effects of large-scale production of biofuels will be devastating.

It is not true that they do not pollute. Even if ethanol produces less carbon emissions, the process to obtain it pollutes the surface and the water with nitrates, herbicides, pesticides and waste, and the air is polluted with aldehydes and alcohols that are carcinogens. The presumption of a “green and clean” fuel is a fallacy.

That some may go hungry so others more wealthy can drive their cars using ethanol is an abomination. Yes, we need renewable energy, but as Castro points out, ethanol from foodstocks is not renewable. Nor is it equitable or fair.

6 Responses to Castro on biofuels

  1. DJ Sat, May 12, 2007 at 10:59 pm #

    Castro is right, of course. If you’re going to grow crops for fuel, you can’t use the same crops for food. Unless, as they do in India, they eat it first and then use it for fuel. (Cow dung is the common source of fuel for cooking– a specific caste of people makes in into patties, dries it, and sells it.) I don’t know why we haven’t tried something similar. There’s plenty of energy in human and animal waste.

    The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone, but it does not do so in the right places. Feeding people requires transportation as well as agriculture. Relying on cropland for all our energy needs as well as food will certainly exeed its capacity.

    What it comes down to, really, is that there are not enough resources on the planet to support the human population in what we would consider a reasonable state. And to raise them up to a standard of living we would find acceptable in the U.S…. well, it’s impossible using the energy available now, much less in an economy of shrinking energy resources. (What we consider poverty here in the United States looks an awful lot like middle class in some other parts of the world.) Ultimately the answer is that we need fewer people. And, though Malthus’s math was wrong, his principle was correct: if humanity does not regulate itself, Nature will do it for us– and odds are we won’t like her solution very much.

    I’m reminded of something Mohandas Gandhi said, when a reporter asked him if he expected to bring India’s population up tio the living standard of the U.K. He replied that Britain had achieved its standard of living by using the resources of half the world. For India to reach that standard, it would need several planets like this one.

  2. Fanie Brink Sun, May 13, 2007 at 5:28 am #

    This argument is total rubbish. It is only a mental
    block in the minds op people who don’t know what they
    are talking about. How many people less will die of
    hunger if no biofuels are produced? Not one less!!!

    Famine is just a total political failure!!!!!!!!!

    Fanie Brink
    Managing Director
    Biofuels Industry Development (Pty) Ltd.
    South Africa.
    +27 82 573 5661

  3. DJ Sun, May 13, 2007 at 12:11 pm #

    One would think that a rebuttal from inside the industry like that might include some statistics to back it up…

  4. Mark Mon, May 14, 2007 at 1:35 pm #

    I drive a Mercedes up here in the Pacific Northwest that runs on B99 bio-fuel that is produced from a combination of sources – grown canola oil and reclaimed veggie oil. I’ve been following the bio-fuel posts for some time now and it occurs to me that a benefit of growing fuel might mean less chances of an oil war like we’re in now. Also, the turnaround on producing a bio-fuel (an annual crop’s yield) versus the turnaround in depleted fossil fuel (centuries? millenniums?) seems to be something to look at. I’m not saying bio-fuel is the end-all solution to the energy crisis and I agree there are no silver bullets here. Maybe we can see some hope in a plant-based agricultural technology as opposed to a fossil technology that has passed it’s peak.

  5. Bob Morris Mon, May 14, 2007 at 7:56 pm #

    It’s not so much the corn being grown in the States for biofuel that Castro say as wrong, but the huge acreages that will undoubtably be used in the Third World to grow corn for fuel for the First World, thus depriving them of food.

  6. DJ Tue, May 15, 2007 at 12:09 am #

    Hopefully not corn, because the return would not justify the energy expended to ship it across the globe. But other sources like oil crops for bio-diesel or wood for ethanol might be a possibility. However the goal should be locally-produced energy, otherwise you waste energy moving the fuel from place to place. And it will need to be a mix of things. Because otherwise if we expect bio to do it all, there’ll be a cropland shortage.

    One interesting option that is currently being used in Asia is dendro power– typically fast-growing trees grown on the site of a small generator, which converts the wood to methanol and uses that as a fuel to generate power. The fast-growing trees create a self-sustaining system, but it’s still somewhat costly (so far). However, one article says a Sri Lankan sugar company has applied to make 25 MW of electricity out of sugar cane waste.