George Monbiot: Worse Than Fossil FuelMinnesota is big on biodiesel, but it's really a side-show. Sigh. Not much has changed since the energy crisis of the early 1980s, when OPEC gave us a preview of "peak oil". One of the best books of that era was an analysis of the scope for conservation without impacting lifestyle. I wish I had a copy of that book, I suspect that, by and large, we've implemented many of the recommendations.
In 2003, the biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we burn in one year were made from organic matter “containing 44 *10 to the 18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet’s current biota.” In plain English, this means that every year we use four centuries’ worth of plants and animals.
The idea that we can simply replace this fossil legacy – and the extraordinary power densities it gives us – with ambient energy is the stuff of science fiction. There is simply no substitute for cutting back. But substitutes are being sought everywhere. They are being promoted today at the climate talks in Montreal, by states – such as ours – which seek to avoid the hard decisions climate change demands. And at least one of them is worse than the fossil fuel burning it replaces.
The last time I drew attention to the hazards of making diesel fuel from vegetable oils, I received as much abuse as I have ever been sent by the supporters of the Iraq war. The biodiesel missionaries, I discovered, are as vociferous in their denial as the executives of Exxon. I am now prepared to admit that my previous column was wrong. But they’re not going to like it. I was wrong because I underestimated the fuel’s destructive impact...
Even so, with some lifestyle changes (smaller homes, denser communities) that aren't all negative, we still have a lot of room to conserve. I suspect we could reduce our consumption 20% or more without new technology and without making our lives miserable; maybe we'd even lose some weight. It's sad that Bush has foreclosed this option for the US ...
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