The Biodiesel Cop-Out

As our market totalitarian society careens between serial boondoggles and disasters on its way to imperial collapse, the signs of how well-propagandized and hence ill-informed we Americans are are becoming even more flamboyant and egregious.

Consider this smug car-back I spied this morning while waiting to pick my son up from an appointment.

Beneath the “Got Hope?”/Obama sticker (good luck with that!), this tail-end sneers “Yes, it’s a diesel.” Still lower, it touts the biodiesel industry’s bogus claims that their snake-oil is “clean,” “renewable,” and “domestic.”

The truth is that biodiesel, like all other biofuels, is none of the above. More energy goes into making it than comes out as biodiesel. Making biodiesel produces huge amounts of agricultural waste products. Making biodiesel eats up valuable water and farmland.

The “domestic” claim is particularly ignorant and galling. Like hydrocarbons, food is bought and sold on world markets, so even if it were true (which it isn’t) that all biofuels used in the USA were going to be produced within the USA, that would still have immense effects on the price of food around the world, hurting the 1/2 of the human race that exists in scandalous, abject poverty today, 500+ years after the launch of the supposedly history-ending capitalist system. In fact, even at this early date in the unfolding overclass drive to keep cars-first transport alive by running scams like biofuels on the comfortably numb and under-informed, there is already a major problem in this area.

So what we see in the above photo is not a brave soul educating others, but merely somebody who’s feeling high and mighty and clean while being used as a vector of serious evil and disinformation.

The simple truth is that the corporate capitalist project of selling automobiles in perpetuity was and is a huge pipe-dream. Earth simply cannot accommodate it for much longer, whatever the fuel source. Using finite energy to move two tons of highly-processed metal and plastic for almost every mundane trip around town is like slicing bread with a chainsaw. Technology is not going to change that. Neither is pipe-dreaming.

9 Replies to “The Biodiesel Cop-Out”

  1. Sorry to say, you are seriously misinformed. Most of us who run biodiesel in our vehicles use WASTE veggie oil (already been used for food once) in the reaction. Only SVO (that’s Straight Veggie Oil) systems and, I suppose, some commercially produced biodiesel, are using oil from crops that could otherwise be used as food. The oil I use comes from the fry vats at a local burger joint…now, tell me, just how am I adding to the global hunger problem by using that?

    I am not suggesting that biodiesel is a magic bullet (it isn’t), but as far as renewable fuels go, it is better than many alternatives currently being hailed as petro-saving godsends (i.e. ethanol, hybrid technology, etc.).

    Those of us who invest considerable time, money and effort into doing our part to burn something a little cleaner and reduce our dependence on foreign oil just a little more, we may deserve to be a little smug. And I’ll tell you what, we’re no where near as bad as cyclists! 🙂

  2. I’m not seriously misinformed. Producing vegetable matter to power automobiles is a disastrous idea. You yourself admit that if biodiesel ever gets beyond what it is now — a tiny liberal pseudo-green gesture — it will not work.

    You don’t get to congratulate yourself for meaningless gestures. This isn’t a game.

    In fact, by continuing to tell yourself that you can be both ecologically aware and also happy with cars-first transportation, you are abandoning your responsibility to help teach your feloow citizens about our actual problems. Every day greens spend feeling good about biofuels is one more day we squander, and we don’t have a huge number left before it’s going to be too late to save ourselves.

  3. I see several problems occuring with this vat of fat that people put into thier cars. One is that with the increase in obesity in our nation there is going to be less and less ( perhaps)of the fat from the vat at the local burger joint. Another is that with people eating less and less fat it will be just like the corn fuel( ethanol) we will be paying higher prices to buy corn just to feed ourselves. the cause of this new source of fuel is passed onto the consumer as in higher prices at that supermarket for food. And less crops that are a sustainabil for our human consumption. People are willing to pay this price for a short term high in order to keep driving. With ethanol a portion of of crops are designated just for this purpose as will be the increase of biodesel fuels to produce a by product from another source. the reality is that our food sources and our environment cannot take what is happening at this point. Maybe with less food sources this will help the conserve the fuel shortage, global warming…people. Biodesel is a start but it is not the answer. Native Americans did have it right before being relagated to the Badlands(aka every reservation) ” you dont use up your resources” Please let the King know!

  4. Okay, them’s fightin’ words, Amy Seigel! What the heck do you mean when you say that “we’re no where near as bad as cyclists”?

    I’ve never owned a car; don’t even know how to drive one. If the distance is too great to travel by walking, then I bicycle there. If I biking is inconvenient, then I take public transportation. And the last time I got in an airplane was about four years ago! So tell me how are you, in your biodiesel car, better than I, a walker/bicycliste/public transportation ser/non-car owning/non-car owning, non-driver?

  5. I meant in terms of smugness, redcatbiker. And darn if you didn’t prove me right! 🙂 No, I totally respect your dedication to car-free transport. I too use my bike far more than I drive in the summer and shoulder seasons (the winter here in Madison sometimes makes winter biking a tad tough).

    Now, just another quick comment…I never suggested that biodiesel is the answer to our problems, but it is available right now and will serve–for some of us–as a good stepping stone until other, better, viable alternatives become more widely avaiable and affordable.

    I do not believe that the answer to all our problems is to stop traveling anywhere our legs cannot take us. That may be some people’s ideal, but it will never work for the general public as a whole.

  6. I totally sympathize with that sentiment, Amy, but how is serving as a stepping stone in this area a good thing? What you’re saying is that you assume/hope that we’ll find an ecologically sustainable way to keep cars-first transport alive. But we simply won’t. The expense of cars is inherent in their mass, which is far too large to ever be sustainable by any fuel source. We live in a universe with unalterable physical laws, so it’s always going to be hella expensive in energy terms to manufacture, maintain, and move several hundred pounds of metal and plastic for each individual trip around town. It’s a hopeless arrangement.

    So, no offense, but biodiesel is a stepping stone to to extending the pipedream, nothing more. Cars are bad technology, and need to be replaced, not refueled. The longer we hope for the latter, the smaller our chances will be of ever being able to build a rail system to provide the non-muscular transport you and I both want to keep.

  7. After reading these comments I started to think of how will a rail system help our over society. What are the rail systems ran on? I know it will help with commuting and getting from point A- B but these seem to really only be benificial to the masses of people that live and have available a transportation system in place like Portland, Seattle. How are the smaller cities and rural areas going to adapt if at all?
    i do see why people look to the other alternative to keep driving their cars.
    I also think that cars for the time was a good technology not sure now if it was better than the horse and buggy but it was also a time with less people and fuel was readily available and people were not dependent upon cars for sustainability. Now we are so into the sunk loss principle of living keep investing in something that is doing nothing for us.

  8. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one, Michael. I think that individual as opposed to purely mass transit is here to stay, though the exact details of what it will look like in the future is still up for debate.

    I do not believe for one second that rail systems–no matter how expansive–have any hope of meeting the transportation needs of an American populace spread out over such enormous geographic distances. For many years, I worked on a cattle ranch in a small town in Northern Colorado. I had to drive 30 minutes to the closest town (Walden, CO, pop. 740) just to get the most basic supplies. The closest real town was Steamboat, a good hour or so away.

    Please tell me how railroads, buses, or any other mass-transportation is a viable option for the hundreds of thousands or more Americans living in rural places whose only lifelines (in many cases) are their vehicles?

    Does mass transit in Portland, NYC, Boston, Chicago and Any-Big-City make better sense than cars? Absolutely. Does riding your bike everywhere in the Spring, Summer and Fall in a uber-bike friendly town like Madison, WI make better sense than driving? You betcha. But I still believe you are kidding yourself if you think that there will be a one-size-fits all solution to this problem.

    Once someone tells me I can buy (affordably) a means to get myself all the places I need to go without contributing to global warming or world hunger or whatever else…I will be all over it. But right now, there’s nothing doing. So instead of doing nothing (clearly the choice of the majority of Americans) I make and use biodiesel from waste veggie oil.

    Now, make me a good argument against recycling our WASTE stream for fuel as a short-term solution (look, I am not an engineer, so I can’t come up with the Next Best Thing, I have to wait for someone smarter than me to invent it!), and we might have something more to talk about.

  9. You are quite right, Amy, that the sprawling construction of our cities is a huge part of the problem we face. Suburbs are now home to more than half the US population, as you probably know. If we ever face our transportation problems, radical urban reconstruction in favor of rail, bikes, and buses is absolutely urgent.

    As to small towns and rural folks — that is hardly at the heart of the problem as you know.

    And nobody says there should be zero cars in operation. Clearly, we want to use automobiles for some things like emergency medicine, deliveries, and rural mobility.

    As to making biodiesel, that’s your call, as you say. Personally, I prefer driving a gas Corolla that gets 30s and 40s mpg while trying to politicize transportation. There’s only so much time and energy in one’s life, and we all should do what we think is best with it. And no path to change is easy or obvious.


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