Two interconnected images of the global environmental crisis:
People crowd around an emergency food depot. The supply runs out — again. There are scuffles and then stones thrown. The crowd disperses only when UN forces fire over their heads. A camera pans across a scene of total devastation, focusing on a small reddish dot moving among the wrecks of trees, the mud and the burning piles of timber. The camera zooms in to reveal a young Orang-Utan crawling towards the horizon, its home smashed as far as the eye can see.
What’s the connection? Biofuels, the so-called “green” alternative to fossil fuels. The starving villagers actually have maize, soybean, sugar or palm oil crops. But they’re used to fuel the “clean” cars of Europe. The Orang-Utan’s habitat has not been razed for timber or woodchips, but to provide space for the palm oil plantations used to make “biodiesel” fuel for Indian trucks and taxis.
General Motors Holden has announced that it will use taxpayers’ funds to build cars that can run on a mix of 85% ethanol and 15% “conventional” fuel. It’s just another profit-driven, get-rich-quick scam from the oil and energy companies, aided by the automotive industry. Filling the tank of an average car with biofuel requires as much food as an African person consumes in an entire year. The question immediately arises: how much rainforest needs to be cleared for this project? How many hectares of arable land will be pre-empted for fuel?
According to a suppressed World Bank report, leaked in July 2008, biofuels are a direct cause of the global food shortage. They also threaten the extinction of many rainforest species. Already European governments are backing away from mandating their use in new cars. The cost to communities in the developed world is just too great; let alone the threat to ecosystems.
A small electric vehicle uses about 7 kilowatts of power to drive 40 km, the average daily commuting distance for Australian workers. On holiday in Western Australia, I visited a small wind farm at Albany. Its 12 turbines could, quite conservatively, power the yearly commute for 25,000 people, even assuming one person per car. No one starves, no species are endangered, and greenhouse gas emissions are cut by 100,000 tonnes.
Israel, Denmark and Hawaii are adopting a scheme that uses sustainable energy to charge vehicles at night, when demand is low. But there’s more — the residual energy in the car can be fed back into the grid when it’s not in use. So the power of the wind or the sun can still be used on a dark, still night. That’s a big step in the direction of decentralised power generation, where households become suppliers, rather than consumers of electricity.
In the battle against global warming, a democratised energy society would be a powerful weapon. It’s one dimension of what a planned, socialist economy would look like. It can be done now, but there are no profits to be made after the set-up phase. So, in a market economy, we see these isolated glimmers of a sustainable world order.
Climate change cannot be fought in one country alone. Still, the Rudd government must not fund polluters at the cost of clean, renewable technology. Holden’s corporate welfare must be immediately cut off. We need the money to fund community and worker-controlled projects that can lead the world in combating climate change.
Power to the people — in every way possible!