A sign of things to come?

From the Grauniad:

The European commission is backing away from its insistence on imposing a compulsory 10% quota of biofuels in all petrol and diesel by 2020, a central plank of its programme to lead the world in combating climate change.Amid a worsening global food crisis exacerbated, say experts and critics, by the race to divert food or feed crops into biomass for the manufacture of vehicle fuel, and inundated by a flood of expert advice criticising the shift to renewable fuel, the commission appears to be getting cold feet about its biofuels target.

…”This is all very sensitive and fast-moving,” said a third commission official. “There is now a lot of new evidence on biofuels and the commission has become a prisoner of this process.”

The target is being strongly criticised by the commission’s own scientific experts and environmental advisers to the EU.

“The policy may have negative impacts on soil, water, and biodiversity,” said Professor Laszlo Somlyody, who led a team of climate scientists analysing the policy for the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency, which advises the EU. “This can lead to serious problems,” he told the Guardian.

By way of contrast, Tyler Hamilton used his blog a while back to defend the concept of biofuels in general, which he distinguished from biofuels whose production competes with the food supply:

Yes, we’re seeing the hunt for palm oil sources devastating the rainforests of Indonesian. Bad. Bad. Bad. Makes for a great headline, eh? Does this suggest biofuels per se are bad or that we need to pay greater attention to how and where we get them? Is it not the government of Indonesia that’s responsible for strictly regulating this domestic market? It’s like saying we shouldn’t use solar power because factories in China are using child labour. Solar isn’t the problem — it’s the factory owners.

….A New York Times editorial at least sees the potential for biofuels, pointing out that it can be done if done responsibly.The same reasoning goes for the energy balance of biofuels. We’ve seen report after report saying that producing ethanol from corn takes more energy than what you get out of it, and that changing lands to biofuel crops releases carbon into the air. This might be the case in some circumstances, but there are some huge assumptions here about irrigation (water use), fertilizer use, transportation, and they are often analyzed out of context — that is, not compared apples-to-apples to the way we go about exploring, producing, refinining and transporting oil. Again, regulation can deal with these issues.

You think there isn’t an army of scientists out there not trying to catalogue the best raw materials for producing biofuels, the best enzymes and bacteria for breaking them down, the best methods of transporting them, ways of growing on depleted lands, etc…? These are early days in the middle of a dramatic transition, and there are going to be some mistakes — and much trial and error along the way. To suggest this isn’t going to happen, and never happened in the early days of oil and coal, is simply naive.

I can smell his keyboard burning, but he does have a point.

Update: Speaking of alternative energy, check out the rotating airships.