Rethinking Biofuels: The case against Bill C-33
Pressure is growing for the federal government to drop Bill C-33. The proposed law would mandate minimum amounts of renewable fuels in gasoline (five percent ethanol for regular gas and two percent biodiesel for diesel gasoline). The bill would earmark up to $2.2 billion for the ethanol industry. While the C-33 originally had all-party support in the House of Commons, its future is now uncertain because the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois have renounced their support, and for good reason.
As the Coalition QuébecKyoto pointed out in a press release over the weekend, and the Toronto Star in an editorial yesterday, while biofuels once appeared to be a panacea for reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and therefore a solution for global climate change — the rise of the ongoing food crisis has put this theory in serious doubt.
Last fall, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, decried using food for fuel as a “crime against humanity.” His words went pretty much unnoticed until January, when food shortages and subsequent protests (some violent) began breaking out throughout the Global South. Indeed, 2007 was a record year for the production of grains. The current crisis has nothing to do with a shortage of food, but rather a significant shift in how we use foodstuffs. As George Monbiot points out:
There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13bn tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01bn, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, will feed people.
I am sorely tempted to write another column about biofuels. From this morning all sellers of transport fuel in the United Kingdom will be obliged to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops. The World Bank points out that “the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol … could feed one person for a year”. This year global stockpiles of cereals will decline by around 53m tonnes; this gives you a rough idea of the size of the hunger gap. The production of biofuels will consume almost 100m tonnes, which suggests that they are directly responsible for the current crisis.
In the same release, Coalition QuébecKyoto point out to what degree Canada’s farming landscape would need to shift to accommodate a five percent ethanol quota: According to the Agriculture Canada, farming for ethanol would take up 50 percent of our corn fields, 12 percent of wheat fields and 8 percent of canola fields.
While the move to ethanol may be a boon for farmers who would be able to reap the benefits, one has to wonder whether the proceeds will really end up going to small farmers who are hurting the most, or to large agri-business who are able to pump out acres and acres of genetically modified corn.
The vote on Bill C-33 is expected to happen this week. The Conservatives will surely hold their ground, meaning that if the bill is to be defeated, the Liberals will need to vote against it. In an attempt at an upset, RightOn Canada has spearheaded a campaign to pressure elected officials to vote against the bill
And while it is no surprise that the Conservatives will hold onto a bill they sponsored (just as other parties tend to do) you have to wonder what the point was in increasing food aide money by $50 million last month if they’re not actually willing to take the steps needed to stem the rise of the crisis itself?