China shuns food as fuel

China cops a lot of flak regarding environmental issues and as I so often point out; we shouldn’t be so critical of the Chinese. We’re the ones who have effectively outsourced our own environmental woes to them by our demands for cheap products from their country. It’s a little hypocritical. China’s economy is on a rocket ride that has taken them somewhat by surprise and unfortunately that rocket will be slamming into a very thick wall very soon in terms of their environment.

They aren’t totally blind to this and their government is making moves to try and pull out of the tailspin. To their credit, China realized this a lot faster than other countries as they industrialized.

The increasing use of food crops as biofuels poses some very big issues and the Chinese have recognized this. There’s not only the concerns of the impact on food prices, but general environmental concerns.

As an example, in Iowa USA in recent times, the biofuel industry has been responsible for over 270 cases of water contamination, dozens of cases of air pollution, 3 violations of illegal dumping and 1 major fish kill. Biofuels aren’t as green as we might think.

China has recently announced it would not grant approval to new projects that convert food crops into ethanol. China is concerned that biofuel industries dependent on grain would take up too much fertile land and cause damage to the environment. Current corn based biofuel producers will be required to switch to non-food materials gradually. What I find a little confusing are the alternatives that will be used. This report names cassava, sweet potato and sorgo; plus cellulose materials as likely candidates. The first 3 are food crops; but I guess they aren’t food crops in China and perhaps can be grown in poorer soils.

I’m in no way against the biofuel industry per se, it’s exciting to finally see real alternatives to crude oil; but surely there’s a better way to use our fertile land than for fuel crops. I’d like to see land we’ve already destroyed used for this purpose using hardier plants as fuel stock; and in the process perhaps rehabilitate that land.

I also strongly believe that biofuels are only a partial answer and I fear a landscape of the future looking like a massive wheat field with cities in between. Take a look at South Australia on Google Earth to see the results of the grain industry over here. Much of what was bushland is like a moonscape thanks to our wheat industry. 

We seem hell bent on pillaging the earth, which has finite resources – why not make better use of an energy coming into the earth – the sun; solar power and electric cars; there’s no reason we need to use the plant world as proxies; especially with some of the recent advancements in solar technology.

Wind power can be used in the same way – not directly powering the vehicles, but our houses and massive solar/wind farms capturing these energies, converting them to electricity and then we simply plug our vehicles in overnight for recharging. For most commuters, this would work well and thankfully there’s a lot of R&D happening now in this area, plus some electric cars on the market already.

It’s time we all got as far away as possible from combustion engines. For most of us, they really aren’t necessary. It’s also time we learned that jumping into a vehicle to travel a few hundred yards and making other unnecessary trips in our cars isn’t just lazy; it’s killing us and the planet. Aside from air pollution and other forms of environmental degradation, people in nations such as Iraq are dying in wars so that we can nip down to the store to get that packet of gum we have a hankering for.