Agroenergy: Myths and Impacts in Latin America

Pacific Ecologist, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Agroenergy: Myths and Impacts in Latin America


Agrofuels are promoted as an answer to global warming and Latin America is considered to be a suitable region to provide the world with cheap, sustainable fossil fuel substitutes. Yet expanding agroenergy production in tropical regions to meet the rich world's needs will increase the agricultural frontier, accelerate global warming, and increase violations of people's basic access rights to land, food and water. Generating cheap energy for rich countries is a new phase of colonization, preventing land reform, increasing inequity, and hunger. Rich countries must reduce their consumption, car use and massively invest in public transport to reduce global warming emissions and stop growing inequity. Part one of two articles abridged from the report Agroenergy. Myths and Impacts in Latin America, published by the PASTORAL LANDS COMMISSION, and NETWORK FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Studies about fossil fuels negative impacts have contributed to agrofuels now being considered to be a most important issue. Currently, the global energy matrix consists of petroleum (35%), coal (23%), and natural gas (21%) with just ten of the wealthiest countries consuming nearly 80% of the world's energy and the United States (US), responsible for 25% of atmospheric pollution from fossil fuels.

Brazil is the fourth largest carbon dioxide producer in the world, its global warming contribution largely a consequence of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, accounting for 80% of the country's carbon emissions. Expanding monocultural agriculture tends to exacerbate deforestation increasing the agricultural frontier, placing ever larger pressures on the Amazon and the Cerrado (savannah).

Brazil is nearly self-sufficient in energy production, so the aim of expanding agroenergy production is to meet other countries energy needs. This will accelerate global warming instead of helping to preserve the planet Accelerating global warming, places all life on our planet at risk. Consequently its necessary to demystify the propaganda of corporations on the supposed benefits of agrofuels as a solution to climate change. 'Renewable' energy should be discussed from a broader perspective with its negative effects considered. Large agricultural corporations, biotechnology companies, oil companies and the automotive industry are taking advantage of legitimate international concern and are now pursuing agrofuels as a key source of profits.

As no alternative energy source is capable of meeting current energy demands, a shift in current consumption patterns, principally in rich industrial countries, is vital. Yet the potential to reduce consumption has been practically excluded from official debate as a means to reduce atmospheric pollution. A first step should be massive investment in public transport, far beyond rationalisation policies, waste containment, and energy efficiency. Developing a diversity of genuinely alternative renewable sources is imperative.

During the 1920s, after the First World War, a phase of capitalism known as 'Fordism' was created, based on the powerful automotive industry created by Henry Ford. The industry had strong ties to oil companies. "Humanity during the industrial era sacrificed time, space, natural resources and sometimes their own lives to machines, to which public relations campaigns attributed magical qualities," describes journalist Antonio Luiz Costa, in the magazine Carta Capital. In 1973, vehicles were responsible for 42% of carbon dioxide emissions. This increased to 58% in 2000, and the trend continues. Analysts estimate global demand for oil, natural gas, and coal will increase by 80% within 25 years.

In 2004, The World Health Organization reported 1.2 million people die, and 50 million people are injured yearly due to car accidents. An update from WHO in 2008 warns these figures will rise by around 65% over the next 20 years without preventative action. …

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