Biofuels are bad. (Image by flickr user sethschoen)
Biofuels are bad. (Image by flickr user sethschoen)

The UN drew attention last week to the looming world water shortage, which they anticipate will develop in the next decade.

One of the fascinating things in that article is the information about the inefficient use of water in producing biofuels.  It takes about 2500 litres of water to produce a single litre of biofuel.

I have a 40 litre tank on my car (which I rarely drive these days- I have filled it once in the last 6 weeks).  If I fill it with standard fuel- 10% ethanol- I’d use 4 litres of biofuel.  That’s 10,000 litres of water every single time I fill my car, unless I choose more expensive fuel.  Which I do now, but still.

And this is the problem: when making environmental decisions, there’s a big problem with just considering carbon footprints.  Understanding broader environmental impact of various things is far more important.  We run the real risk of making changes that slow climate change only to trigger a greater environmental or humanitarian disaster.

Being especially aware of the problems with water is important.  We can’t have water-based solutions to climate change unless we’re seriously willing to reform our water use.  We need to rethink what crops we grow and where.  For example, growing rice in Australia?  That’s just stupid.  We don’t have the necessary water, simple as that.  With the Murray Darling being drained every year, the very fact that people on the river grow rice does much to explain the problem.

Ok, so yes, this has been a very haphazard post…probably because I’m just starting to learn about this stuff.  It just seems risky to me that, in trying to solve a problem, we may cause another of equal or greater magnitude.

2 Responses

  1. Welcome to the world of assessing cost-benefit where the monetary cost or benefit of production can be calculated, but not the social and environmental … it is horrifying the decisions which are made which ‘value’ the environment as a whole lower than the cost of ONE HUMAN LIFE.

    Oh but it gets better. Don’t forget that everything is considered in isolation. Sure this one chemical won’t kill you on its own, you’d have to ingest a lot of it etc. But we don’t want to combine it with all the other chemicals that might be released together with it, a more realistic situation. BUT ITS OKAY, THE CHEMICAL IS FINE!

    Sorry I am rambling but I have major angst about this whole thing …

  2. Oh, I hear you. And it’s not just that, it’s decisions to prevent inconvenience now that likely lead to death and destruction later: the long-term is sacrificed to the immediate over and over again. I’m doing an essay about foreign policy at the moment, and it’s SCARY. All anyone talks about is acting in their own best interest. Why is it more important to act in one’s nation’s best interest rather than the global best interest? Aren’t we, before anything else, citizens of the world?

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