Jul 29, 2014

The Biofuel Controversy

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Weighing the factors of the biofuel controversyThere is an ongoing debate over the impact of manufacturing biofuels. Skeptics argue that using crops for biofuels divert resources away from human consumption, therefore causing a choice in whether the crops are used for food or fuel. This reasoning connects biofuels to global hunger issues. This is based on the claims of some food industry groups that more than a quarter of corn crops are being diverted from food to ethanol production and yet the U.S. corn supply has outpaced demand since 1989. Most people with any amount of human compassion would easily say that food is definitely a higher priority than fuel. Before we oversimplify the situation, let us take a look at the factors.


Increased Food Prices


First of all, it is important to note that the problem is not about food shortage. The central issue of the food vs. fuel debate is focused on increased food prices. It centers on business, money and power. Instead of allowing the entire weight of the crisis to fall on biofuel shoulders, high commodity prices are likely caused by a combination of elements. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) identified approximately 14 factors from 1996 to 2008 that were responsible for driving food commodity prices. These factors include growth in demand caused by increasing population, strong economic growth and rising per capita meat consumption (1996 to 2008), escalating crude oil prices (2002 to 2008), dollar devaluation (2002 to 2008), and severe weather (2006 to 2007). Even with all of these contributors, biofuels has become a target of critics, faulted for increased food prices and worldwide hunger.


Food vs. Fuel Solutions


One solution to aid the situation would be to focus specific biodiesel products. Algae, for example, grows in even hostile climates. Therefore, it would not need to take away from already existing agricultural sources. Improving our environmental situation even further, algae takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere utilizing it through photosynthesis. The only downfall is the water consumption that it requires. Another biodiesel product to consider is soybeans which yield both a fuel source and a food source, like soybeans. Unlike the corn, soybean plants make both a solid and liquid product. This means that the liquid, or soybean oil, can be used for biodiesel production while the solid, or soybean meal, can still be used for animal feed and human consumption. Soybeans are not only a complete protein, but also contain all eight of the essential amino acids that aid in human nutrition.


Another, possible but unlikely, solution to help both issues with climate change and hunger is to eliminate meat from the human diet. There will be more land to use to grow grain and the grain designated for livestock can be reassigned for human consumption. Newly industrialized nations would no longer create a demand for more livestock grain since they would not be increasing their meat consumption as is currently the case. If all people became vegetarians, we would essentially increase the amount of grain available for direct human consumption and fuel, as well as the added benefit of reducing the environmental pollutants created from livestock.


As English novelist, John Berger, stated, “The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other.  It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.” It is regrettable that this imposed set of priorities has given permission to crimes against humanity. The lives of billions of people are threatened while others are forced to contemplate strengthening the U.S. economy and increasing national security or feeding the hungry.

 

Sustainable Solutions

  

Biofuels alone will not eliminate our dependence on oil. And merely drilling our way out of the energy crisis isn’t the answer either. It will take a number of efforts including increasing energy efficiency of buildings and fuel efficiency of vehicles. We need a diverse energy portfolio comprised of clean energy technologies such as renewables like solar and wind, natural gas, and clean coal. As worldwide population increases along with oil demand especially in growing countries like China and India, the question of fuel will only become more daunting. Rising gas prices affect everyone and it impacts the bottom line of businesses. It hits families every time they visit the pump. For those already struggling to get by, it simply makes life that much harder.


Finding realistic and sustainable solutions is imperative. As more and more countries become industrialized, other countries will endure the consequences. Increased industrialization leads to increased oil prices which lead to increased demand for biofuels which leads to increased food prices which lead to increased starvation. And transforming our worldwide population to a vegetarian one isn’t a likely solution any time soon.


USB Food & Fuel 2009; EPA website: EPA Finalizes Regulations for the National Renewable Fuel Standard Program for 2010 and Beyond; White House website: The Obama Administration’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future; FuturePundit website: Will Biofuels Demand Cause Mass Starvation? Image: dream designs



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