Bill Clinton tells Brazil “Biofuels produced at the expense of tropical forests are no victory”

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I guess when you are a former US president with a well-respected humanitarian foundation that is named after you then you can really lay into a touchy subject without much mincing of words.

Bill Clinton said at the Ethanol Summit 2009 with reference to Brazil that being a world leader in ethanol production is no victory if it is coupled with escalating carbon emissions from deforestation

President Clinton was quoted at saying: “What people are worried about Brazil is not whether you have the most efficient biofuel in the world...everybody knows that is true. But the world would say if we let Brazil help us solve our problem at the price of more rainforest destruction, have we really gained anything? That's what you have to answer.”

This is indeed a most valuable point that President Clinton raised there and one that all nations that look at biofuels must consider, now just those that produce the stuff. Does the same not also apply as regards to palm oil and the destruction, for growing the palms for this purpose, of the rainforests in countries of South-East Asia, for example.

Clinton also pointed out that though Brazil has made great strides in renewable energy, 75% of its greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and agriculture. When these are included in the country's total, Brazil rises to being the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

It may indeed be true that so far most of that deforestation in Brazil is being caused presently not by biofuel production, or at least not directly, but by expansion of cattle ranches for the global beef and leather trade, but Clinton's point is entirely valid in the broad stroke. In addition to this Brazil has just granted land rights to the squatters that have been breaking out farms out of the Amazonian rainforest for years. This is all bad news considering that we need the trees as carbon sequesters.

In many places deforestation is a much larger issue than the use of fossil fuels. The message would have been even more poignant had President Clinton been speaking about production of palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia, where due to greenhouse gas emissions associated with land conversion from rainforest to plantations, the emissions from the fuel made from these crops can be nearly 10 times as much as from conventional fossil fuels.

Including these in the national total for Indonesia brings them into the top five of global greenhouse gas emitters, even though without them they're not even in the top 15.

And that is just the emissions calculated in that way. The fuel itself, the biodiesel, is said to have, in itself much higher emissions than diesel made from crude oil, and, so it has been said, the particle emissions from biodiesel also is higher. The gods help us!

Our problem in the world is the love affair with the ICE, whether run on petroleum-based fuels or others, and this is being pushed by both the oil industry, which now is also making heavy inroads into the biofuel business – surprise NOT – and the manufacturers of combustion engines.

It also makes absolutely no sense, to me at least, to convert acres upon acres of farmland to growing food crfops which are used to make biofuel, such as corn (maize) for ethanol production, for instance, or rape seed oil and others. That land we should use to produce food for people to eat and not fuel for cars and truck.

We really have our priorities screwed up back to front. Time we all woke up, everyone.

© 2009