Boston Herald: Fuel policy wreaks global havoc

August 5, 2013

Yaneer Bar-yam, August 3 – Last month, members of the European Parliament’s environment committee voted to limit the use of crop-based biofuels in the transportation sector in an effort to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of biofuels production. This came in the wake of a report by the United Nations, which reviews the mounting body of evidence showing the harmful effects of biofuels.

The new “Biofuels and Food Security” report elevates concerns about the harsh global consequences of the United States’ biofuels policy. When crops such as corn are used to produce biofuels — as is being done in the U.S. to meet the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — food and animal feed availability is reduced, food prices rise dramatically and hunger intensifies worldwide, as already impoverished people struggle to secure sustenance.

The U.N. report was released just a day after President Obama, in announcing his plan to address climate change, reiterated support for the RFS. Since its establishment by Congress in 2005 and aggressive expansion in 2007, the policy has been touted as a solution to rising greenhouse gas emissions and a cure-all for the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. It mandates the blending of increasing quantities of biofuels — the most common of which by far is corn-based ethanol — into the U.S. gasoline supply.

But in practice, the RFS is introducing new environmental woes and doing little to limit U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and it has become increasingly clear that the policy is causing a number of unintended consequences with devastating impacts. The requirement diverts more than 40 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. — the world’s largest corn producer and exporter — to fuel production, swelling prices for corn and other grains, increasing animal-feed costs and tightening supplies of food. For every gallon of ethanol required by the standards to be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply, 14 people could be fed for a day. – See more at: