I was watching a clip of arch climate change contrarian, Christopher Monckton, recently. He was lambasting environmentalists for forcing up food prices by supporting biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. He was half right. But, as usual, he was also wrong.
He was right that biofuels can force up food prices. Biofuels are liquid fuels produced by processing crops such as corn, soya, palm oil and sugar cane. The demand for low-carbon fuels, especially in rich, developed countries, has been seen as a commercial opportunity for developing countries. The problem is that biofuel crops require land – land that is needed to grow food. As biofuel production expands the land available for food decreases and food prices go up. According to Oxfam and others biofuels are responsible for increasing food prices by around 30 per cent, and for forcing 30 million people into poverty.
Biofuels aren’t good for the environment either. Often other farmers are displaced into rainforests, wetlands and other fragile environments. And far from reducing greenhouse gas emissions biofuel production can actually increase them. The loss of habitats that absorb carbon, and intensive agricultural methods reliant on chemical fertilisers and herbicides make biofuels a net source of carbon.
Easy fixes that enable us to continue with our energy and resource intensive lifestyles are, naturally, very attractive. Unfortunately they are false solutions. The only long-term sustainable solutions are those environmentalists have long been advocating – energy efficiency, renewables, public transport, resilient local economies such as farmers markets, and low-input farming methods. Such solutions will create jobs, keep food prices to affordable levels while giving farmers a living wage, and reduce our carbon emissions.
Christopher Monckton is right to be critical of unfettered biofuel production. He’s wrong to blame environmentalists.