Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.11.07

Biofuel Quandary
Are we fueling war or peace?

The days are gone when most biodiesel was made by small collectives recycling used cooking oil. Even though SeQuential bio-diesel is from local sources and has used materials like leftover oil from Kettle chips, and bio-diesel is a good first step away from petroleum dependence, we need to be concerned and aware of the rapidly growing oligopoly, corporate consolidation over biofuels.

Before I go into that, I need to clarify the difference between ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is derived from corn sugars. Biodiesel is not. Until recently, biofuels supply came primarily from local and subregional markets. In the U.S. as well, most ethanol plants were small and farmer-owned. With the boom and peak oil, big industry started moving in centralized operations and creating astronomical economics.

Overlooked by most national anti-trust laws, giant oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming partnerships and consolidating research, production, processing and distribution chains of food and fuel systems under one industrial umbrella. Biofuel champions are trying to convince us that biofuel crops are renewable and environmentally friendly and can reduce global warming and foster rural development. But the tremendous market power of biofuel corporations combined with the poor political will of governments to regulate their activities make this unlikely.

Deforestation is taking place world wide to provide land to grow mono crops for biofuels. The claim that this is a green solution is greenwash. Forests, which provide oxygen and a filter for clean air and drinking water, cool the planet by storing vast amounts of carbon and help rainfall, are being cleared for ethanol production. Visit http://ran.orgfor more information on rainforest agribusiness. Farm machinery must be manufactured and repaired. Ethanol has to be fermented and distilled. It takes fuel to transport ethanol to other countries and raises greenhouse gas emissions to turn plant biomass into liquid fuels. Visit www.foodfirst.orgfor more information.

Around the world, paramilitary forces are pushing indigenous people and small-scale farmers off their land, which is then being deforested for mass cultivation of genetically engineered corn, sugarcane, soybean, palm oil and other crops. The agro-fuel transition is based on the 200-year relation between agriculture and industry beginning with the industrial revolution. Now, fuel will compete with food for land, water and resourses. Small holder farmers are being forced to move from subsistence farming to export farming. Plantation workers face abuse, harsh working conditions and exposure to toxic pesticides. In Brazil, soy farmers “employ” debt peonage workers (modern day slavery). Initially, cellulosic ethanol seemed like a reasonable possibility. With it we may not have to depend on liquid fuels; it requires no extra farmland to produce. It does not compete with food. What doesn’t seem reasonable is that fungi is genetically engineered to produce it by big business wanting to commercialize it.


The corporate Agro-Fuel Transition is not inevitable. Will we allow a handful of global corporations to determine the future of our food and fuel systems? Will enough of us form strategic alliances and coordinated action among social movements (farmers’ organizations, environmental and farm labor movements, consumer lobbies and boycotts, committed members of the academic sector, etc.)? Will we build solidarity with all countries to return their right to achieve food sovereignty? Will we see to it that the regulation of grain, cane and palm oil industries will be strongly enforced? Will the standards based on limiting land parted for biofuel as antitrust laws be powerful enough to prevent corporate concentration of power?

Will we put enough pressure on EWEB to ensure optimum use of wind, solar and hydroelectric power? In Europe, trains and cars are run solely on electricity. Why not here? Will more of us start using mass transit and lobby for needed changes in public transportation? Will we minimize the use of cars (dependence on liquid fuels), walk and use our bikes more? Will enough working class women and men start dreaming outside the box, awaken to who they truly are and refuse to be exploited and brainwashed into being cannon fodder?

What dream do we wish to empower and believe in? War or peace?

Ceila (Starshine) Levine of Eugene does hospice work and is an artist and composer.