Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Biodiesel. The dark side

It is safe to say that a concept has enough momentum when somebody you know says, "My dad is already doing something along those lines!" This was the reply I got when I was casually mentioning the Jatropha fever to a friend of mine.

D1 Oils a UK based biofuel company and its aggressive goal is one of the reasons why many people in India are familiar with Jatropha. The company plans to have Jatropha cultivated in 5 million hectares of land in India in the next five years. Mechanized and intensive, the vast majority of the bio diesel produced will be exported to the developed countries.

What ? Wait a second...

The original green dream was to have small and medium farmers in drought prone and degraded areas do organic bio diesel farming. The idea was to help the farmers, help the environment and lessen India's oil dependence. So when something like D1 Oils shows up , one can't help but wonder... Is that a good thing ?

GoodnewsIndia.com asks the question, "Will global carpet-baggers transform themselves into environmentalists, fan out into the developing world and make a tidy profit?"

Here is another sobering thought from Monbiot

"The market responds to money, not need.

People who own cars have more money than people at risk of starvation. In a contest between their demand for fuel and poor people'’s demand for food, the car-owners win every time. Something very much like this is happening already.

Though 800 million people are permanently malnourished, the global increase in crop production is being used to feed animals: the number of livestock on earth has quintupled since 1950.The reason is that those who buy meat and dairy products have more purchasing power than those who buy only subsistence crops."

Soy is another classic example of a good idea going over to the dark side. Soy cultivation today is responsible for large scale destruction of tropical forests and displacement of native tribes in South America.

I feel, we urgently need a sound and scientific national policy on biodiesel. It is a little reassuring to know that the Indian planning commission has put together a draft national bio-fuel policy. I haven't been able to find the entire policy document yet. I can only hope it is based on sound principles.

We need to make sure biodiesel stays biodiesel and not become a biohazard.



PS:
Prof Shrinivasa of Sustainable Transformations has used the seeds from the native tree Pongamia to make biodiesel and electricity in remote and poor villages. Pongamia unlike Jatropha, is a native species and is a tree with a greater life span (80 years).

Also, myths and facts about biodiesel can be found here

4 comments:

silverine said...

And I thought Biodiesel was the answer to our prayers!!!! Very informative post!

One More Reason said...

It is my personal opinion that biodiesel if deployed the right way has tremendous potential. My worry is that free market forces might take it in the wrong direction

Jennifer said...

I have also read some articles about the growth of crop production for livestock vs. people -- very sobering! I've been a vegan for 20 years, but I thought I was doing a good thing by eating soy products. I'm so upset to learn that they are contributing to environmental degradation and tribal displacement!

One More Reason said...

Not all soy products are bad. Like everything else, we as consumers need to be aware of the bad producers.