Advanced biofuels will still take food out of the mouths of the world’s poor

Environmentalists don’t seem to understand that life involves unavoidable trade-offs.  Nathanael Greene, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently wrote a post titled, “Europe catches up to the US on biofuels policy” in which he approves of the EU’s decision to “stick to its 10 percent goal for biofuels but require an increase percentage to be advanced biofuels that don’t compete with food production.”

The problem is that you cannot avoid competition between biofuels and food. The EU may state that new alternatives won’t compete with food production, but wishing something doesn’t make it so.

The first place new biofuel crops will be grown is on land that is already in cultivation. Instead of growing corn, for example, farmers will grow switchgrass. Instead of taking corn and turning it into fuel, these policies are just taking land that would have produced corn and re-purposing it to produce fuel.

There only difference is that advanced biofuel crops should be more efficient. But advanced biofuel conversion technology needs to first make it out of the lab out of the lab and into commercial-scale production. If biofuels could be made from organic waste, then advanced biofuel wouldn’t compete with food, but that’s the only scenario.

The point remains–our biofuel policies are taking food out of the mouths of the world’s poor. That is the unavoidable outcome our mandating the use of food for fuel. As the UN special rapporteur has stated, biofuels are “a crime against humanity.”

If the human toll of increasing food prices wasn’t enough, the environmental costs are significant. Today’s biofuel production releases more greenhouse gases than petroleum production and we are turning miles and miles of jungle into biofuel plantations.