One cannot predict what part these oils will play in the Colonies in the future. In any case, they make it certain that motor-power can still be produced from the heat of the sun, which is always available for agricultural purposes, even when all our natural stores of solid and liquid fuels are exhausted.
- Rudolph Diesel (1912)
Oddly enough, the first internal combustion driven cars were demonstrated to run on vegetable oils, which generated much discussion and interest in the late 19th and early 20th century. But as the petrochemical industry developed, by the 1930's they had virtually managed to eliminate the very idea of biofuels from the transport industry.
Now that governments around the world have begun to enforce mandatory distribution of biofuels, a massive global controversy has erupted, as evidence begins to emerge that first generation biofuel crops are responsible for increases in food prices and potentially contributing to raise levels of carbon emissions.
The big revelation has been that behind the scenes the EU's policy on "renewables" was not related to carbon emissions or global warming but to further an agenda of European self-sufficiency. There is some evidence to indicate that the EU commission knew that moving large areas of crops from food to fuel would drive up world food prices, but what has only later been revealed from several academic studies is that intensive cropping can actually unlock large amounts of soil bound CO2.
Naturally, this has led many commentators to condemn the use and mandatory distribution of biofuels outright. But it would be shortsighted and ignorant to blame biofuels on the whole for these problems. The reality that many media sources are ignoring, is that none of this evidence invalidates the increasing use of biofuels from second generation sources. The real problem is not the move to biofuels in general, but the hysterical tendencies of some environmentalists and regulators to treat biofuels as a silver bullet solution, to justify the instigation of massive economic changes, oblivious to the wider consequences of their dogmatic mentality. Not to mention the willing corruption of environmental policies by European states bent on disrupting the global economy to hedge their own bets.
Despite the supposed environmental origins of the shift towards increased biofuel production, the context of the food vs fuel debate has very little to do with environmental sustainability. The subsidization of biofuels grown from mass crop sources is an example of a massive failure of imagination - this does not do anything to change existing problems of deforestation and destructive land use. All it does is shift the balance of market forces in the direction of certain favored crops.
In many ways, the global environmental movement's singular focus on carbon emissions is a red herring. What's most important is to change our overall patterns of resource consumption, of which carbon emissions are an effect, not a primary duty. It's the overall patterns of human development and urbanization, consumption and lifestyle that need to be addressed, rather than one single chemical and climactic effect of this development. Regulatory enforcement is one thing, but if there's no architectural vision for a sustainable future, what hope do we have?
Sadly, integrative, holistic thinking and respect for future generations is clearly beyond the scope of most politicians - most especially the misanthropic leaders of the European Union.
My opinion is that New Zealand should continue to develop its policy of mandatory biofuel distribution, but ensure that the policy is balanced with a humane reflection on poor producer countries and emphasizes biofuels generated from waste and second generation sources. There are New Zealand companies such as Aquaflow doing great things with biofuels, and this is completely outside the scope of the recent controversy.