On August 2nd, 2022, the International Council on Clean Transportation — the same research group that busted VW for emissions fraud in 2015 — released a paper calling on California to cap lipid-based biofuels. They’re referring to biofuels made from fats and vegetable oils. ICCT makes a direct tie between California’s skyrocketing use of biofuel and escalating food prices here in the U.S., global food shortages, deforestation and international biofuel fraud.
Earlier this summer in his NY Times newsletter, David Wallace-Wells wrote about the findings of Sara Menker, founder of Gro Intelligence and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. The focus of Wallace-Wells’ article is the dramatic increase in global food shortages — exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Digging into the underlying shift in global food production, he points to Menker’s startling findings on the proliferation of biofuel. The article caught my attention, not just because I’m a fan of Wallace-Wells, but because here in California we’re fighting against greenwashed legislation that gives $billions to oil refineries to produce biofuel.
Currently, the California Senate is addressing a bill that calls for the production of 1.5 billion gallons of aviation biofuel per year by 2030. AB 1322 is a well-intended, yet misguided attempt to address the tough problem of airlines emissions. Though they are called ‘Safe Aviation Fuels’ (SAF), these biofuels will ultimately do more harm than good.
The SF Climate Action Coalition, the Sierra Club, 350.org, 350 Bay Area Action, Stand.Earth, California Justice Alliance, BiofuelWatch along with hundreds of community environmental groups have been challenging the California Air Resource Board (CARB), the CalEPA, and the California Energy Commissions about their exaggerated claims of biofuel reducing carbon intensity.
Dr. Stephanie Searle, a leading biofuel researcher at ICCT stated it clearly: “Land-based biofuels cause land-use-change emissions and, when you add emissions from transporting and processing the feedstock and fuel, the total lifecycle emissions from these biofuels in most cases start to look a lot more like the level of emissions generated by burning petroleum.”
In addition to the unsupported claims of clean energy, biofuel feedstocks such as soy, canola and corn have negative impacts on global food markets, which can further destabilize food-insecure communities. Called ‘indirect land use change,’ it is quite simply land being used to grow fuel instead of food.
Per Wallace-Wells’ report, Sara Menker insists that we must ‘end, or at least cap the use of agriculture to produce biofuels.’ The data she presents is cataclysmic. She estimates that ‘the crops we’re using for biofuel could feed 1.9 billion people annually.’
According the the UN World Food Program (WPF), 323 million people in the world today are facing “acute food insecurity.” Instead of eliminating fossil fuel by moving rapidly to solar-and-wind powered electric vehicles, we’re feeding our engines with food that we’re stealing from other people’s mouths.
Princeton climate researcher Tim Searchinger estimated that at the current rate of biofuel proliferation, we could see up to 30% of global croplands shift to biofuel crops by 2040. With desertification taking over huge swaths of land, we’re already losing farmlands. We cannot afford to lose arable land to growing fuel.