"Biodiesel: No War Required," reads a bumper sticker I see more often than you might expect in North Carolina.

Yet every time you harvest a plant, a fruit, or a seed, you're taking nutrients from the soil — nutrients that need to be replaced to maintain soil fertility. And in modern industrial agriculture, that means using fertilizers from sources that, like crude oil, are finite and concentrated in foreign nations.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, for example, derives from natural gas. The U.S. owns just 3 percent of global proven natural gas reserves [PDF]. The largest store (40 percent) lies right where most of the globe's crude is stashed: in the Middle East. (Iran, G.W. Bush's bête noire, holds the region's largest natural-gas deposit.) If all of that weren't enough, nitrogen fertilizers annually unleash titanic quantities of nitrous oxide — a greenhouse gas the EPA reckons is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Then there's phosphorus, another key fertilizer. To isolate phosphorus, you have to mine and refine phosphate rock — a process that creates vast piles of radioactive waste. Again, the U.S. holds a relatively tiny store of phosphate rock — dwarfed by those in China and Morocco.

Seen from this viewpoint, biofuels hardly seem environmentally benign — and relying on them could conceivably require, well, war. Indeed, Shell Oil has been embroiled in hostilities with indigenous groups in Nigeria for years — often regarding its exploitation of natural gas.

Recently, a spate of studies has exposed the severe ecological and social implications of vegetable-oil crop production in Southeast Asia and Brazil, where palm-oil and soy plantations have ramped up dramatically, in part to satisfy rising European biodiesel demand.

According to a University of Minnesota study, 27 percent of new concessions for palm-oil plantations in Indonesia lie on peatlands — representing a rich store of carbon built up over eons. As a result, the study found, "converting peatlands in Indonesia into palm oil plantations ran up a carbon debt that would take 423 years to pay off." Already, conversions of peatlands and rainforest into plantations have made Indonesia the third-largest greenhouse-gas emitter in the world, behind the U.S. and China.

And a consortium of NGOs led by Friends of the Earth has painstakingly documented [PDF] the social costs of Indonesian palm production. The report states that the Indonesian government plans to expand palm production from 17.3 million acres to 66.7 million acres over the next several years — swallowing up forestland that "60 to 90 million people depend on for their livelihoods." Ahead of this anticipated land grab, the group is already monitoring more than 500 active conflicts between palm-oil companies and local communities over land rights.

Predictably, U.S. agribusiness giants have lumbered into the Indonesian palm mess. Archer Daniels Midland — the U.S. ethanol king, and also Europe's leading biodiesel producer — owns a 16 percent stake in Wilmar International, the largest palm-oil trader and producer in the world. According to another Friends of the Earth study [PDF], Wilmar has not exactly been a model corporate citizen in Indonesia, where it's the largest single holder of palm-plantation land.

Since 2005, Wilmar has evidently engaged in "illegal burning with the intention to clear land, illegal plantation development without approved Environmental Impact Assessments, land rights conflicts resulting from encroachment outside areas allocated and the absence of due consultation with relevant local communities, illegal encroachment in river buffer zones, (facilitating) illegal removal of forest products and deforestation without a proper assessment of High Conservation Values which may result in the further destruction of the habitat of, among other endangered species, the orangutan." Ouch. Biodiesel may entail war after all.

Here in the U.S., biofuel remains king. Not only does our own biofuel mandate contain nothing in the way of sustainability requirements, but we continue to lavish tax credits on biofuel use at the rate of $0.51 per gallon. The Global Subsidies Initiative reckons that if current policies hold, U.S. taxpayers will dole out $91 billion propping up biofuel production between 2006 and 2012 — $13 billion per year. No remaining viable presidential candidate challenges these policies — and the public doesn't seem to care. [It doesn't know!]

Here, national agriculture policy has explicitly thrown small farmers to the wolves. Perhaps our best hope for a wise fuel policy lies with the recent revival in farmers' markets, CSAs, and other ventures that put consumers in direct contact with farmers actually growing food for people to eat. Rather than subsidize biofuels, perhaps we should be reinvesting in small, local-oriented food systems. And pursuing policies that directly cut carbon emissions — like conservation.

Originally from Grist Magazine on February 21, 2008, 8:02am


The following should appear at the end of every post:

According to the IRS, "Know the law: Avoid political campaign intervention":

Tax-exempt section 501(c)(3) organizations like churches, universities, and hospitals must follow the law regarding political campaigns. Unfortunately, some don't know the law.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to campaigns at the federal, state and local level.

Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. Section 501(c)(3) private foundations are subject to additional restrictions.

Political Campaign Intervention

Political campaign intervention includes any activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. The prohibition extends beyond candidate endorsements.

Contributions to political campaign funds, public statements of support or opposition (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization, and the distribution of materials prepared by others that support or oppose any candidate for public office all violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention.

Factors in determining whether a communication results in political campaign intervention include the following:

  • Whether the statement identifies one or more candidates for a given public office
  • Whether the statement expresses approval or disapproval of one or more candidates' positions and/or actions
  • Whether the statement is delivered close in time to the election
  • Whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election
  • Whether the issue addressed distinguishes candidates for a given office

Many religious organizations believe, as we do, that the above constitutes a violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That said, we make the following absolutely clear here:

  • The Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project not only do not endorse any candidate for any secular office, we say that Christianity forbids voting in such elections.
  • Furthermore, when we discuss any public-office holder's position, policy, action or inaction, we definitely are not encouraging anyone to vote for that office holder's position.
  • We are not trying to influence secular elections but rather want people to come out from that entire fallen system.
  • When we analyze or discuss what is termed "public policy," we do it entirely from a theological standpoint with an eye to educating professing Christians and those to whom we are openly always proselytizing to convert to authentic Christianity.
  • It is impossible for us to fully evangelize and proselytize without directly discussing the pros and cons of public policy and the positions of secular-office holders, hence the unconstitutionality of the IRS code on the matter.
  • We are not rich and wouldn't be looking for a fight regardless. What we cannot do is compromise our faith (which seeks to harm nobody, quite the contrary).
  • We render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. We render unto God what is God's.
  • When Caesar says to us that unless we shut up about the unrighteousness of Caesar's policies and practices, we will lose the ability of people who donate to us to declare their donations as deductions on their federal and state income-tax returns, we say to Caesar that we cannot shut up while exercising our religion in a very reasonable way.
  • We consider the IRS code on this matter as deliberate economic duress (a form of coercion) and a direct attempt by the federal government to censor dissenting, free political and religious speech.
  • It's not freedom of religion if they tax it.

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. (Matthew 17:24-26)

  • Subscribe

  • Tom Usher

    About Tom Usher

    Employment: 2008 - present, website developer and writer. 2015 - present, insurance broker. Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration. Volunteerism: 2007 - present, president of the Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project.
    This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.