FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Biofuels Fever Still Grips EU Elite

by DAVID CRONIN

I am bemused when Ireland’s EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is hailed as a “progressive”. Twenty years have passed since – as a justice minister – she oversaw the decriminalisation of homosexuality in her country. Though she deserves some kudos for standing up to the Catholic hierarchy, she has behaved in an obsequious manner towards more powerful men in her current role as the Union’s science chief. I am referring here to the titans of the energy industry.

The World Food Programme, the World Bank and numerous anti-poverty groups have all documented how using agricultural crops for transport causes the price of basic groceries to rise, thereby exacerbating hunger. Yet Geoghegan-Quinn has decided to disregard these warnings and to continue promoting biofuels.

In July, Geoghegan-Quinn announced that 1 billion euros in EU funds was being allocated to a new initiative for supporting “bio-based industries”. Among the stated objectives of this seven-year project are to replace oil refineries with “biorefineries” and to hasten the production of alternatives to conventional petrol and diesel.9780745333335_p0_v1_s260x420

Because the bumph prepared for the initiative is peppered with “green” buzzwords like “sustainable” and “locally-sourced”, it is important to look at who its main beneficiaries will be. Far from being a bunch of organic farmers or tree-huggers, the corporate consortium behind the project brings together agri-food giants like Unilever and Cargill with the Dutch airline KLM and the Spanish oil and gas firm Repsol.

This means that the future of Europe’s energy is being shaped by unaccountable corporations whose primary motivation is maximising profits, not meeting the needs of society.

Geoghegan-Quinn is more gung-ho in supporting biofuels than many of her colleagues in the European Commission.

In October 2012, the EU’s executive belatedly conceded that a goal established in 2007 that biofuels should power 10% of all cars and truck journeys by 2020 was harming the hungry. Revising the target, it stipulated that the proportion of road trips undertaken with food crops should not exceed 5%.

Despite that admission, Geoghegan-Quinn used a conference in Dublin on Valentine’s Day this year to declare her undying love for biofuels. Branding the “food versus fuel” debate as “too simplistic”, she argued that “with a fully functioning bioeconomy” the need for both nutrition and energy can be satisfied.

Her reassurances jar with a recent study by ActionAid, which found that the biofuel industry is gobbling up Africa’s resources. According to the charity, less than 100 European companies took over 6 million hectares of land in sub-Saharan Africa between 2009 and 2013. The EU’s biofuels craze could push up the price of foods by 36% by 2020, ActionAid has estimated.

Certain of a generous pension when she finishes her current job, Geoghegan-Quinn will not endure much anguish over higher supermarket bills. Millions affected by her policies won’t have the same luxury.

Why is she being so callous? The most plausible explanation is that she has allowed her attitude to biofuels be determined by the army of corporate lobbyists who regularly badger her entourage. It has been reported that these lobbyists bombarded her office with three emails every hour ahead of a key decision in October 2012.

Despite the damage caused by the EU’s targets for biofuels, these lobbyists are pushing for fresh targets to be set, according to documents that I have seen. An alliance of large food and energy firms called ePure has been urging Geoghegan-Quinn to provide incentives for biofuel use beyond 2020. The Carlyle Group – a private equity firm with a history of business connections to both the Bush and Bin Laden families – has struck an alarmist tone in its dealings with the Commission. Last year, it predicted that a weakening of the EU’s biofuels goals would “leave the industry fighting for its survival”.

Geoghegan-Quinn has proven receptive to these arguments. A key recommendation of the “bio-based industries” initiative is that 25% of all transport be undertaken with biofuels by 2030.

Even before she agreed to fund this initiative, Geoghegan-Quinn oversaw a variety of schemes designed to boost the use of biofuels in aviation. Participants in an EU-financed research project called ALFA-BIRD (alternative fuels and biofuels for aircraft development) included Shell and the weapons manufacturers Dassault and Rolls-Royce.

The official rationale for such projects is to make transport more environmentally friendly. Asking a notorious polluter like Shell or firms whose bottom line depends on military aggression for help on protecting the environment is like asking Starbucks for advice on ending tax avoidance.

Of course, research is required into the future of transport. Data published by the European Environment Agency indicates that transport accounts for almost one-quarter of all the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Given the massive contribution of road and air travel to climate change, it is surely imperative that policy-makers focus on ways of reducing car and plane journeys.

If Geoghegan-Quinn was a genuine progressive, she would encourage research on such topics as how more cities can follow the fine examples set by Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where cycling is a popular way of getting around. She would prioritise public transport over congestion and seek to curb the growth of airports.

Championing biofuels is a convenient way of dodging necessary action. It allows powerful corporations to spout gibberish about “sustainability”, as they carry on causing hunger.

David Cronin is the author of the new book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War published by Pluto Press.

A version of this article  was first published by EUobserver.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail