Biofuels, food, and population.

PositionFROM READERS - Letter to the editor

It is in my judgment a tragedy that the well-meaning and prestigious World-watch Institute endorses biofuels by publishing the book Biofuels for Transport [authored by Worldwatch and published by Earthscan Publications, London].


Any fuel derived from any plant requires the availability of fertile topsoil, water, increasingly complex and expensive fertilizers, pesticides, and an appropriate climate. The first, second, and last of these are presently threatened. The use of biofuels is therefore a shortterm solution with disastrous longterm consequences. Biofuels will directly compete with food. This will be most devastating to the poor, because the rich will be able to pay for increased food and fuel prices. This disparity will increase intra- and international tensions and consequently conflicts. The production of biofuels will increase deforestation and contribute to loss of biodiversity. Of course, farmers, particularly industrial agricultural enterprises, will derive shortterm profits and therefore like it.

Plants need some 30 different soil elements to grow. If any of them becomes depleted, growth will decrease and ultimately cease. Each soil element can be considered like a non-interest-bearing bank account. Like all other agricultural activities, biofuel production will accelerate the speed with which the finite amount of fertile global topsoil is degraded.

There is only one longterm rational solution to the problem of liquid fuels for transportation: photovoltaic hydrogen production in combination with reduction of the human population. Our planet is dangerously overpopulated by our species. This reality needs to be more frequently and convincingly articulated by the World-watch Institute (and everybody else!).


Pettnau, Austria

Worldwatch biofuels research associate Raya Widenoja replies: The Worldwatch Institute's biofuels program attempts to promote sustainable solutions for human development and does not "endorse" biofuels. Like any other product, biofuels can be produced in thousands of different ways that range from the totally environmentally benign and socially positive to the simply disastrous. What Worldwatch does endorse are smart and responsible solutions to global problems such as climate change--including the sustainable production of biofuels.

Likewise, Biofuels for Transport: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Energy and Agriculture does not make a...

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