Thursday, January 29, 2009

Buses, Biofuels and Climate Change

I just finished reading Vandana Shiva’s book Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis. Shiva’s work has been an inspiration to me ever since I read her book about ecofeminism. Her writings talk about science, sustainability, economic theory, social justice, and feminism in an accessible and articulate way – for anyone interested in these topics, I highly recommend her work!

The issue of global warming has been on my mind for some time now. Pondering the immense changes that humanity now faces sometimes makes me feel paralyzed – there’s just so much to be done! For myself, I have found it productive to think of the climate crisis as an opportunity towards community transition to sustainability.

I am often dismayed by the popular solutions to this issue, like nuclear energy, carbon trading, and geo-engineering. Shiva’s book reaffirmed for me the need to break out of the limited choices put before us by the corporate establishment – we must continue to seek our own answers that are rooted in re-localization, self-reliance, and resiliency.

The whole point of this post was to actually talk about biofuels, since it directly relates to skoolies! When Erin and I first grasped upon the idea that we too could convert and live in a bus some three or so years ago, doing a WVO-conversion on our diesel engine was a key component. In fact, we decided early on that in making the choice to fully enjoy the benefits of living in a rolling home, it was essential to take the necessary steps to ensure that our choice impacted the environment as little as possible (especially since the automotive and construction industries are both notorious polluters).

Our plan has always been to do a full conversion so that we can run our bus on straight veggie oil. However, we've always wanted to leave the option open to use biodiesel too. It might be encouraging to read about how nations around the world are starting promote biofuels as a means to curb global warming. I am realizing, though, that it is becoming more important than ever to make a distinction between local, sustainably-produced biofuels and the growing global industrial biofuel industry. It turns out that industrial biofuel production actually continues to jeopardize people's food and water security and the planet's ecosystems and climate.

Industrial biofuel production requires deforestation and the conversion of lands used to produce food to fuel. It is heavily reliant on monoculture and genetically modified crops that in the end destroy biodiverstiy and serve to benefit large corporations, not small farmers. These crops require massive inputs of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, water, and fossil fuel itself. Industrial biofuels maintain a car-centered infrastructure, contributing little to fuel efficiency or more sustainably designed communities

When faced with such facts, it's hard to know which direction to take. I think we all desire to limit our contribution to pollution and global warming as we drive to work or visit our friends and relatives (or travel in our housebus!). But we also want to support real, long-term solutions to the converging crises humanity now faces.

Industrial biofuels are not a solution to global warming. They are a means for the automotive and agribusiness industries – those most responsible for the climate crisis – to continue to pollute and expand their profits.

I feel the key concepts here are decentralization, local community control, ecological biodiversity, and a resiliency rooted in diversity. I am excited to participate in ongoing conversations about how to foster this kind of energy program, especially with other bus-folks who may be thinking similar things! Obviously, addressing the question of energy and biofuels cannot be an isolated endeavor, but must be integrated in the full dynamics of sustainable community transition.

Onward to exciting vagabond DIY energy adventures!

1 Comment:

Jack said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I have like 50 books on my reading list but this is an important issue and will make room. You guys are awesome!