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Bio-Fuels and Sequestering Are Not Solutions

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Last month Prime Minister Harper confirmed government support for carbon capture technology and tossed $240 million into a generating plant in Saskatchewan to convert it to a carbon capture and storage unit. The plan is to generate power with coal, trap the emissions, then pipe it underground. Whether it will work or not is yet to be determined, and if it does there is the question of whether it could happen fast enough to significantly slow down our ballooning carbon emission problem.

Preventing carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere is certainly a good thing, but technical fixes like carbon sequestering alone do not address the critical issue that we face with the environment, and alone are little more than an expensive public relations stunt.

Another environmental scam is the current craze focused on so called bio-fuel. Faced with a dwindling petroleum supply, vast tracts of land are now being dedicated to growing crops like corn and other sugar-rich plants to be converted into ethanol. Royal Dutch Shell is even claiming that they have a process to convert plant sugars directly into gasoline.

So, ethanol may burn cleaner than fossil fuels, and it may be a renewable resource if produced within reasonable limits, but again, by itself it does not address the issue that needs dealing with if any attempt at saving our environment is to succeed. Even worse, the switch to bio-fuel has an ominous downside,;hungry people become collateral damage in its production.

Bio-fuels like ethanol use up crops and crop land that could be providing food, and that is a problem. Food reserves in the world are dropping while the number of people looking for something to eat is increasing. The shift of crop land from food production to fuel production not only reduces food supply, it raises the cost of food. Last year alone, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, dairy prices have risen about 80 percent, and grain prices about 40 percent.

The problem with programs like carbon sequestering and bio-fuel production is that they are treatments for symptoms, not treatments for the disease that caused the symptoms. When we go looking for alternative energy sources, and cleaner energy, without understanding why we need them, we will someday find out that even with clean, alternative energy we still have the problem.

Cleaner and more renewable forms of energy are a good thing, as far as they go, but the question must be asked, - why do we need so much energy to start with? The real problem is that we are already using too much energy and making too many demands on an eco-system that can not support us indefinitely at our current rate of consumption.

We have used our energy to overfish our oceans, over-cut our forests, over-dam our rivers and commit other excesses, as well as filling the atmosphere with carbon gasses at such a high rate for the past 200 years that our climate is changing and compounding our ability to cope with the crisis that we have created.

Our excesses have given us briefly the ability to overpopulate, which has put us on a treadmill of needing more consumption to support additional people, who will then increase consumption and population even more and so on. The problem is that the resources of the planet are finite, as is its ability to sustainably renew itself in the state which supports humans. That brief period of excess will sooner or later be ending.

The question for us is how do we solve the core problem that lies at the heart of all of our environmental woes. Merely pumping carbon into the ground while expanding the production of energy that will enable us to tax the system even more is not a solution. Creating a replacement source of fuel for fossil fuel so that we can continue to consume great amounts of energy and expand society is not a solution.

We can only solve the problem of over-consumption by reducing consumption. More important than sequestering carbon gases, and more important than producing cleaner fuel, is to relieve the whole system by producing less fuel and less energy.

Producing less, even though it is the only sane thing to do, of course runs into some heavy opposition in a world controlled by people who want more. Nobody wants to be told that they should expect less, and politicians wax effusively about growing economies and get elected for promising more. If our species is to survive, however, at least in a recognizable form, less must become the goal, not more, until the planet's system has the ability once again to produce more than we can demand of it.

 

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Jerry West grew up on a farm in California and is currently Editor and Publisher of THE RECORD newspaper in Gold River, BC. Graduate with Honors and graduate school, UC Berkeley. Member, Phi Beta Kappa. Vietnam veteran and Former Sgt. USMC
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