Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Last Straw

The Last Straw. Commentary by George Monbiot, London Guardian, February 12, 2008. "Now they might start sitting up. They wouldn't listen to the environmentalists or even the geologists. Can governments ignore the capitalists? A report published last week by Citibank, and so far unremarked by the media, proposes 'genuine difficulties' in increasing the production of crude oil, 'particularly after 2012'... The issue is complicated, as ever, by the refusal of the OPEC cartel to raise production. What has changed, Citi says, is that the non-OPEC countries can no longer answer the price signal. Does this mean that oil production in these nations has already peaked?... What contingency plans has the [UK] government made?... None. The European Commission, by contrast, does have a plan... It has ordered the member states to ensure that by 2020 10% of the petroleum our cars burn must be replaced with biofuels... Its draft directive rules that they shouldn't be produced by destroying primary forests, ancient grasslands or wetlands, as this could cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Nor should any biodiverse ecosystem be damaged in order to grow them... It sounds good, but there are three problems. If biofuels can't be produced in virgin habitats, they must be confined to existing agricultural land, which means that every time we fill up the car we snatch food from people's mouths. This, in turn, raises the price of food, which encourages farmers to destroy pristine habitats -- primary forests, ancient grasslands, wetlands and the rest -- in order to grow it. We can congratulate ourselves on remaining morally pure, but the impacts are the same. There is no way out of this: on a finite planet with tight food supplies you either compete with the hungry or clear new land... All these convoluted solutions are designed to avoid a simpler one: reducing the consumption of transport fuel. But that requires the use of a different commodity. Global supplies of political courage appear, unfortunately, to have peaked some time ago."

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