"Next Generation Biofuels": Bursting The New "Green" Bubble

Jan 15, 2009

Letter challenges unrealistic promises from an unsustainable industry United States – A diverse alliance of organizations published an open letter today in the U.S. and internationally warning of the dangers of industrially produced biofuels (called agrofuels by critics). The letter explains why large-scale industrial production of transport fuels and other energy from plants such as corn, sugar cane, oilseeds, trees, grasses, or so-called agricultural and woodland waste threatens forests, biodiversity, food sovereignty, community-based land rights and will worsen climate change.

With the new Obama Administration slated to take office Tuesday, the letter's originators warn that if Obama's "New Green Economy" runs on agrofuels it may trap the U.S. in a dangerous "Green Bubble" of unrealistic promises from an unsustainable industry.

Indications that the incoming Obama Administration may be ideologically wedded to continuing the agrofuel disaster are clear. President Obama's "New Green Deal" includes support for notoriously destructive agrofuel corporations, the creation of a pro-agribusiness cabinet that includes Tom Vilsack, Ken Salazar and Steven Chu, promotion of cellulosic fuel technologies, and references to increasing the Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel target. Additionally, Obama, a former Senator from a corn-growing state, has indicated that the already troubled U.S. ethanol industry will receive a financial boost soon, despite mounting evidence that the industry simply cannot meet the demand for fuel in any just or sustainable way.

"This no longer about corn ethanol-turning any plants into fuel is simply not renewable," stated Dr. Rachel Smolker, co-author of the letter and Global Justice Ecology Project agrofuels specialist. "All plants, edible or not, require soils, water, fertilizers and land, all of which are in shortening supply. Yet these unsustainable technologies are commanding the vast majority of renewable energy tax incentives, at the expense of genuine cleaner energy solutions like conservation, efficiency, wind, solar, and ocean power. Additionally, because agrofuel crops rely on fertilizers, 44% of which are imported, they cannot even satisfy the calls for U.S. energy independence."

Corn and sugar based agrofuels have already come under extreme scrutiny due to their documented contribution to the food crisis, with venture capital investment in these so-called 'first generation biofuels' dropping to zero. The open letter exposes the further problems that will result from the so-called 'second generation' of agrofuels. These problems range from wholesale destruction of the world's rainforests and other sensitive forests, to the forced displacement of entire communities to make way for agrofuel expansion, and the biosafety risks of gambling on novel technologies like Synthetic Biology and genetically engineered trees. The letter also makes clear that agrofuels made from inedible plant feedstocks (cellulosic fuels) will continue to exacerbate the food crisis by monopolizing additional agricultural lands for the growing of agrofuel crops such as grasses and trees, instead of food crops. The groups originating the letter have called on others to join them in preventing another ill-conceived push into agrofuels similar to that which last year raised food prices and hunger levels to crisis proportions. "The last administration's enthusiastic foray into biofuels exacerbated global environmental destruction, land theft and hunger in just a very short space of time," explains Kathy Jo Wetter of the ETC Group. "Redoubling that biofuels push is a continuation of disastrous policies rather than the change we need." The groups originating the letter include some of the same U.S. groups that issued a prescient call in early 2007 for an immediate moratorium on further U.S. incentives for agrofuel development: Global Justice Ecology Project, Rainforest Action Network, Food First, Family Farm Defenders, and Grassroots International. Additional groups making this call include: ETC Group, Institute for Social Ecology, Heartwood, Dogwood Alliance, Energy Justice Network, and Native Forest Council.

Dr. Rachel Smolker, Agrofuels Specialist, Global Justice Ecology Project, Email to: rsmolker@globaljusticeecology.org, Office: +1 802 482 2689, Mobile: +1 802 735 7794
Dr. John Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders, jepeck@wisc.edu +1 608 260 0900 Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group, kjo@etcgroup.org, tel: +1 919 688 7302

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