I write today in hopes of being mistaken. I want to be mistaken, I YEARN to be mistaken, so please if someone out there can honestly prove me wrong - I don't know how - do it!
Sometime ago I received an e-mail denouncing that the German airline Lufthansa was planning on incorporating into their lot planes that operate with biofuel. The idea on one side is quite ludicrous sounding, as most people know that plane fuel (I'm under the understanding that some types are called "jet fuel") is different from what you pump into your car, namely because it has a much higher octane level. In other words - as I understand it - it's much purer. So, the idea of being able to make a fuel of such a quality from crops does seem to defy the logic of simple, pedestrian minds such as mine. When I first read this, I took it with a grain of salt, as, well, I always thought I would see a Gundam, than a plane flying on cooking oil. Perhaps it was also my hoping that I would never see the day when such a thing happens. After all, if you have been following this blog long enough, you probably remember my rants against biofuel for cars.
Things with the news about Lufthansa were cooling down in my head, I was happily chalking it up to yet another "X-Files Type" conspiracy theory thing, when I actually heard in the news how a Mexican airline, Mexicana has started operating flights with biofuel. I checked today on my favorite airline, and they too, Air France, have been "cooperating" in this so-called ecological and "sustainable solution". Yes, it doesn't use brent derivates, and the petroil is running low in the planet, and we have all these machines that work on fossil fuels, and "we can't live without them", and yes, you are welcome to point your finger at me and ask me how do I pretend to travel to Hungary from Costa Rica 'Columbus style' or I'll just go very Christian, pray to God and walk on water. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I'm quite positive there are other methods, for instance - and this is my Sci-Fi proposal of the day - why don't you invent the electronic planes? Can't? Okay, it was just a suggestion. But before you rant on why biofuel and all the technical stuff that I don't really care about, I'll point out AGAIN a thing or two that might be worth keeping in mind.
First of all, let's look at a few things that are happening while the biofuel erupts around the globe. While our cars and planes go lean, slim and vegetarian, FAMINE strikes the poorest regions of the planet. I still remember a picture of a directive from the FAO holding up a red mug, much like the one any of us use for the morning coffee or tea, and telling people that that's the size of the DAILY ration of food a child got from them. There was a serious shortage of food, and on many places there was no fuel to get tractors and farming equipment moving. You would say, "see how good would biofuel be then? Then you can get the farming equipment moving and you could grow crops to feed people again". If you do consider that answer, let me smile fondly at your candor. That's so sweet, really. In those days the biofuel was sounding quite strong, if I recall correctly.
Now, let's not dwell there much, and let's skip ahead to the present. Planes on biofuel and what else do we suddenly find? Famine emergency in Somalia. You can consult the report of the FAO on the matter here. Does one thing have to do with the other? Some will say that no way, that's just humbug and someone is "playing the local conspiracy theorist". Indeed, I would say that you can't take to separate facts and link them together just because they happen almost at the same time. I agree with that. Correlation doesn't mean causality, and we are yet to find out if there's a correlation here. So at this point I would like to point out a few very important questions we should be making.
What kind of crops and how much it is needed to fuel a plane? How much land is used for it? How much is the whole productive chain (farmers, intermediaries, etc) paid for the crops dedicated to fuel compared to those dedicated to produce food for people? There's talk about using forestry waste. What's exactly that and who is taking care that nothing that could be used to feed people is turned to fuel planes?
You see, it can be said that the biofuel comes only from the organic waste or the forestry waste, and none of the parts of the crop that are used by the food industry are engaged, or that there's no need to use parts ot the forest that are protected. Personally I would like to see numbers about that. How much is needed to make my car run 100 miles? How much is needed to fly me from Houston to New York? Then, when this "waste" is mentioned, that's because the rest is useless - can't be used - for biofuel, or because there's a decision not to use it? I'll tell you why I ask. Thing is that we all know that fuel is usually much more expensive than food. So, if I'm a farmer and I produce 2 tons of something - let's say corn - and I get paid $1000 a ton if I sell it to those who would make food out of it - the best offer, but I get paid $2000 a ton if I sell it to those who would make fuel out of it, who do you think I'll sell my two tons to? Just think about it. You are a farmer, you have a family to keep, a farm to get running, debts to pay, children to send to a college to get a better life than the one you have... will you go for the $4000 or the $2000? Sure, you can sell one part to one side and another to the other, and say, you get $3000... but you still could have made $4000.
You, as farmer, could ease your soul saying "well, I'll sell it all to fuel, and someone will sell it all to food, Besides we also need fuel. If there's no fuel, our farming machines won't move, and then there would be nothing to sow or harvest because we won't have how to do it". Yes, only how can you make sure all farmers won't take the same decision?
If the biofuel yields a bigger profit - and it probably will - then farmers will seek to grow the crops that can be used to produce biofuel. That will reduce the crops used for food, even if only a part of the crop can be used to fuel, as then instead of separating food from fuel, many farmers will seek to grow crops that yield more to fuel and less to food. It is a rational move, it's not ilegal, but it does make the food more scarce and thus more expensive. With this move a lot of people who live in poverty will slip down to extreme poverty because they won't have that extra cent, that extra dollar, that extra euro to pay for the bread, for the veggies, for the chicken, for the eggs. Sure, if you are a comfy middle class, middle-high class or high class the only thing you'll notice is that things wen't up and now you can't down seven tequilas with your friends on Friday, only five, but that's okay. But if you are not so lucky, if you have much lean resources to survive, you'll find out that now it's bread or milk, but not both of them, and there's no more McDonald's once a month, but if you want to smell french fries you have to stand on the street and inhale the fumes of all the "smart", "eco-cars" that rush past you.
If we go with the general mindset of all those "happy little liberalists", and the neoliberals that love to talk about the market, they will say that the market will regulate itself and there's nothing to worry about, what's needed by the market will be provided and everybody will be happy, and a perfect balance will be established. Yes, that above is the market's "perfect balance". Smarty-pants neoliberals, and their cousins, the happy little libertarians seem to forget that in the market your voice is the money you have. The more money you have, the louder your voice, and the market listens only to the louder voices. What's the biggest part of the money saying? That's how the "perfect market" regulates itself. If you have no money you have no voice, and honestly nobody would be interested in attening your needs or selling you anything if you can't pay. Just imagine you have a store. Two people come in: one want you to go fetch apples and sell them to him/her. That person is loaded and puts on your counter a briefcase full of money. All that for apples. The other one ask you to go fetch pears. That one has no money. Not a dime. You have a store, you must keep that store running. You have a family to mantain, kids to send to school, bills to pay... what will you go to fetch? Exactly.
If you have no money, you can't ask for anything. If things go so expensive you can't pay them, you might as well consider yourself with no money. There are entire regions that have ran out of money. There are countries struggling to get on their feet, control debts that have gone rampant. Decades of irresponsible spending, financially irresponsible behavior are passing the bill and we find out that we fucked the planet, smoked up the fuel like it was eternal, depleted the resources of food, contaminated land, air and water, and what's the solution? Well, basically it seems to be "let's hurry, wolf on what remains and let the richer survive, let the poor die".
So, is the biofuel a nice and gree ecological solution meeting the economical needs, or it is an eco-moron and eco-mocking half assed move to keep on the irresponsible attitude? You know my answer, now ponder yours.