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Action Alert: Call on U.S. Government to Halt Ecologically Misguided Support for Large Scale Biofuel

Fuel from food and already overstressed terrestrial ecosystems is immoral and unsustainable. The Obama administration must start by rejecting the proposal to increase the corn ethanol fuel blend limit from 10-15%.

By, a project of EcoInternet - March 23, 2009

In partnership with Ecological Internet

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Additional Background

Update April 2nd, 2009

This alert has already led to partial success, as the decision on whether to increase the corn ethanol blend from 10% to 15% has been delayed for a year. It is highly likely this protest was instrumental in delaying what had appeared to be certain approval for the proposal. Let's use this reprieve to continue organizing to resist agrofuels at the expense of food, people, ecosystems and climate.

Please support US environmental and social justice groups calling upon the new Obama administration to halt financial and policy support for large scale biofuel production. In particular, the Obama government's potential support for agrofuel expansion -- making of transportation fuels from food -- runs counter to their aim to urgently address climate change and threatens to cause more deforestation, hunger, human rights abuses, and degradation of soil and water.

The Obama administration promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support renewable energy. Unfortunately, a large part of their solution involves further boosting agrofuel production, both in the US and abroad. The new administration must heed the overwhelming evidence that agrofuels worsen climate change through further deforestation and the destruction of other ecosystems; drive food prices up, forcing more and more people worldwide into hunger and malnutrition; and decimates biodiversity and ecosystems.

Corn-based ethanol fuel is ranked at the bottom of alternative energy sources "with respect to climate, air pollution, land use, wildlife damage and chemical waste." And it is morally abhorrent that in a hungry, impoverished world, it diverts food from people to cars. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is aggressively seeking to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent. Corn ethanol receives billions in subsidies despite conclusive science indicating its inefficient production provides little or no additional energy other than what is used for its production, and its ecological destructiveness in terms of land, water and climate.

So called "next generation" advanced fuels from non-food plants and plant parts, including forest biomass, will not resolve these problems. All industrially produced biofuel crops, edible or not, still require land, soil, water, fertilizer and other finite inputs. Biofuels based upon further expansion of unsustainable, industrial agriculture policies will intensify deforestation, toxic pollution and dependence upon fossil fuel based fertilizers worldwide. It is clear that industrial biofuels are not "renewable energy" given that soils, water, land and fertilizers are all in limited supply.

This is the first instance of the Obama administration violating their pledge to base policy upon science. Obama and farm-belt Democrats are serving the political agendas of agribusiness, rather than honouring commitments to address climate change and bring science based change to Washington. Science based biofuel policy will be further weakened if the Renewable Fuel Standard grants waivers to emissions from indirect land use change. If Obama's "New Green Economy" runs on agrofuels it will further lead to a dangerous "Ecological Bubble" of unrealistic promises from unsustainable industries.

Rainforest Rescue and Ecological Internet are concerned with America's growing ethanol industry, and the implications it has in setting a precedent for massive agricultural industrialisation of the world's remaining rainforests and other natural wildlands. We concur with the growing ecological consensus that large-scale industrial production of transport fuels and other energy from plants such as corn, sugar cane, oil palm, soya, trees, grasses, or so-called agricultural and woodland waste; threatens forests, biodiversity, food sovereignty, community-based land rights and will worsen climate change.

Environmental and social justice groups in the US have written an Open Letter to Barack Obama and his government, calling for policy makers to repeal rather than expand US biofuel targets. Instead of supporting biofuel industries, they propose alternative policies such as investing in genuinely clean decentralised wind and solar energy, dramatically reducing consumption, and protecting forests, biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples as just and effective solutions to climate change.

This email alert supports the call made by those groups and also calls on the US government to drop pursuit of further agrofuel expansion in collaboration with Brazil and throughout Latin America as envisioned by a “Western Hemisphere Energy Pact” and an “Energy Partnership of the Americas”.  Social movements and organisations throughout Latin America, including MST and Via Campesina in Brazil, have condemned the export-oriented sugar-cane ethanol model for their impacts on Brazilian land reform and agriculture.

Indeed, US agrofuel policies are already a major cause of Amazon deforestation, as US farmers switching from soya to corn is boosting soya expansion in Brazil and other South American countries. And increasingly the scourge of oil palm is poised to decimate the Amazon as well. In spite of these impacts, Obama, in a recent visit with Presiduent Lula provided assurances that cooperation to expand ethanol markets would be forthcoming.

Please respectfully request that expansion of biofuel industries be halted, policies and incentives driving this expansion be eliminated, beginning immediately with rejection of the proposed increase of the ethanol blend.

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