Biodiesel: Worse than fossil fuels

Biodiesel: Worse than fossil fuels

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By George Monbiot

In the last two years I have made an uncomfortable discovery. Now I realize that I have harbored a certain belief in magic

In the last two years I have made an uncomfortable discovery. Now I realize that I have harbored a certain belief in magic.

In 2003, biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we burn in a year are made up of organic matter "which contains 44 x 10 of the 18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of today's biota. of the planet "[1]. Plainly speaking, this means that each year we use four centuries' worth of plants and animals.

The idea that we can simply replace this fossil legacy (and the extraordinary energy density it gives us) with green energy is science fiction. There is simply no substitute, but substitutes are being sought everywhere. Today they are being promoted at climate conferences in Montreal, by states (like ours) that try to avoid the tough decisions imposed by climate change. And at least one of them is worse than the fossil fuel it replaces.

The last time I paid attention to the dangers of making diesel fuel from vegetable oils, I was insulted even more than the supporters of the Iraq war had. I found that the biodiesel missionaries are just as forceful in their refusal as the Exxon executives. Now I can admit that I was wrong in my previous column. But they won't like it. I was wrong because I underestimated the destructive impact of said fuel.

Before going further, I would like to make it clear that using oil from potato chips to make fuel seems like a good thing to me. People who go around with jars of junk all day do a service to society. But there is only enough residual cooking oil in the UK to make up about three hundred and eighty 380th of our transport fuel demand [2]. From there the problem begins.

When I wrote about it last year, I thought that the biggest problem biodiesel caused was that it created a competition for land [3]. Arable land that would otherwise have been used to grow food would be used to grow fuel. But now I find that something even worse is happening. The biodiesel industry has accidentally invented the most carbon-intensive fuel in the world.

By promoting biodiesel (as the European Union, the British and American governments and thousands of environmental defenders do) you have to imagine that you are creating a market for used potato chip oil, or rapeseed oil, or algae oil. that grow in desert ponds. You're actually creating a market for the most destructive crop on earth.

Last week, the president of the Federal Authority for the Exploitation of the Land of Malaysia announced that he was going to build a new biodiesel factory [4]. It was the ninth such decision in four months. Four new refineries are being built on the Malaysian peninsula, one in Sarawak and two in Rotterdam [5]. Two foreign consortia (one German, the other American) are setting up rival factories in Singapore [6]. They will all make biodiesel from the same source: palm oil.

"Demand for biodiesel," reports the Malaysian Star, "will come from the European Community ... This recent demand ... will account for, at a minimum, the majority of Malaysian crude palm oil inventories" [7]. Why? Because it is cheaper than biodiesel made from any other crop.

In September, Friends of the Earth published a report on the impact of palm oil production. "Between 1985 and 2000," he found, "the exploitation of oil palm plantations was responsible for 87 percent of Malaysia's deforestation" [8]. In Sumatra and Borneo, some 4 million hectares of forest have been converted to palm growing land. An additional 6 million hectares are now scheduled to be cleared in Malaysia, and 16.5 million in Indonesia.

Most of the remaining forest is in danger. Oil planters are tearing apart even Kalimantan's famous Tanjung Puting national park. The orangutan is probably going extinct in the wild. Rhinos, tigers, gibbons, tapirs, proboscis monkeys, and thousands of other species could go the same way. Thousands of indigenous people have been evicted from their lands, and some 500 Indonesians who tried to resist were tortured [9]. The wildfires that so often blanket the region with smoke are mostly started by palm growers. The entire region is turning into a giant vegetable oil field.

Before oil palms, which are small as weeds, are planted, huge trees have to be cut down and burned in the forests, which contain much larger carbon stocks. When the driest lands are removed, the plantations move to boggy forests, which grow in mobs. After the trees are cut down, the planters dry out the soil. When tuba dries it rusts, releasing even more carbon dioxide than trees. In terms of the impact they have on the local and global environment, palm biodiesel is more destructive than Nigerian crude oil.

The British government understands all this. In the report he published last month, when he announced that he will comply with the European Union and ensure that 5.75% of our fuel for transportation will come from plants by 2020, he admitted that "the main risks to the environment are probably those that concern an enormous expansion in the production of raw material for biofuels, and particularly in Brazil (for sugar cane) and Southeast Asia (for oil palm plantations) "[10]. It is suggested that the best way to tackle the problem is to prevent environmentally destructive fuels from being imported. The government asked its specialists whether a ban would violate global trade rules. The answer was affirmative: "mandatory environmental criteria ... would greatly increase the risk of an international legal challenge to the policy as a whole" [11]. So he dropped the idea of ​​banning imports and called instead for "some kind of voluntary scheme" [12]. Knowing how it is known that the creation of this market will lead to a huge surge in imports of oil palms, that there is nothing significant that can be done to prevent them and that they will accelerate climate change rather than alleviate it, the government has decided to move forward from all ways.

Happily in the past, this was a challenge for the European Union. But what the EU wants and what the government wants are the same. "It is essential that we take stock of the growing demand for travel," says the government report, "with our goal of protecting the environment" [13]. Until recently, we had a policy of reducing travel demand. Now, although it has not been announced in any way, that policy no longer exists. As the Conservatives did in the early 1990s, the Socialist Labor administration tries to accommodate such demand, no matter how far it goes. Statistics obtained by the Road Block group last week show that just for the widening of the M1 the government will pay 3.6 billion pounds, more than it spends on its entire climate change program. Instead of trying to reduce demand, try to fix supplies. He's prepared to sacrifice the rainforests of Southeast Asia to make himself known to do something, and to allow motorists to feel better about themselves.

All this illustrates the futility of the technological solutions now being pursued in Montreal. It's crazy trying to meet an ever-increasing demand for fuel, no matter where the fuel comes from. Hard decisions have been avoided, and another part of the biosphere is burning.

* Monbiot

[one]. Jeffrey S. Dukes, 2003. 1. Burning Buried Sunshine: Human Consumption Of Ancient Solar Energy. Climatic Change 61: 31-44.
[2]. The British Association for Biofuels and Oils estimates the volume at 100,000 tonnes per year. BABFO, undated. Memorandum of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.
[4]. Tamimi Omar, December 1, 2005. Felda to set up largest biodiesel plant. The Edge Daily.
[5]. See eg. Zaidi Isham Ismail, November 7, 2005. IOI to go it alone on first biodiesel plant. ; Anonymous, November 25, 2005. GHope nine-month profit hits RM841mil. ; Anonymous, November 26, 2005. GHope to invest RM40mil for biodiesel plant in Netherlands. ; Anonymous, November 23, 2005. Malaysia IOI Eyes Green Energy Expansion in Europe.
[6]. Loh Kim Chin, October 26, 2005. Singapore will host two biodiesel plants, a total investment of S $ 80 million. NewsAsia Channel.
[7]. C.S. Tan, October 6, 2005. All Plantation Stocks Rally.
[8]. Friends of the Earth et al, September 2005. The Oil for Ape Scandal: how palm oil is threatening orang-utan survival. Investigation report.
[9]. Ibid.
[10]. Department for Transportation, November 2005. Report on the feasibility of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) (Commitment to renewable fuel for transportation).
[eleven]. E4Tech, ECCM and Imperial College, London, June 2005. Study on the feasibility of certification for a commitment to renewable fuel for transport. Final report.
[12]. Department for Transportation, ibid.
[13]. Ibid.

* Note: Original title: Worse Than Fossil Fuel Origin: Znet Science; Wednesday December 07, 2005 - Published at
Translated by Genoveva Santiago and revised by Esther Carrera

Video: Fossil Fuels: The Greenest Energy (June 2022).


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