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Political Economy of Biofuels

In his article, Fred Magdoff (2008) evaluates the positive and (mostly) negative sides of producing and using bio- and agrofuels. The article seems a relevant response to the growing oil crisis in the U. S. However, Magdoff’s (2008) article is different from the majority of contemporary “biofuel” articles, which view the production and use of biological fuel as the sign of technological evolution and scientific advancement. In reality, few have ever thought of the way biological fuel impacts our economy, politics, business, and ecology.

Despite the growing popularity of biological fuels as such, we seem reluctant to recognize a simple fact: in the current state of economy, politics, and ecology, biological fuels can hardly improve the situation in the oil market. On the contrary, the development and implementation of new biological schemes is likely to break the energy balance, causing irreversible changes in the economy and ecology of the United States. Political Economy of Biofuels Introduction

In his article, Fred Magdoff (2008) evaluates the positive and (mostly) negative sides of producing and using bio- and agrofuels. The article seems a relevant response to the growing oil crisis in the U. S. However, Magdoff’s (2008) article is different from the majority of contemporary “biofuel” articles, which view the production and use of biological fuel as the sign of technological evolution and scientific advancement. In reality, few have ever thought of the way biological fuel impacts our economy, politics, business, and ecology.

Despite the growing popularity of biological fuels as such, we seem reluctant to recognize a simple fact: in the current state of economy, politics, and ecology, biological fuels can hardly improve the situation in the oil market. On the contrary, the development and implementation of new biological schemes is likely to break the energy balance, causing irreversible changes in the economy and ecology of the United States. Bio- and agrofuels: a panacea?

The choice of ethanol as the basis for evaluating the hidden facets of agrofuel production in the U. S. is not accidental: Magdoff (2008) is confident that the growing intensity of ethanol production will become the source of the major economic and ecological controversy in the United States, and in the world. From the viewpoint of ergonomics, “there is considerable controversy about the amount of energy gained when producing agrofuels in general and especially for ethanol made using corn grain as the feedstock” (Magdoff, 2008).

Magdoff (2008) points out that ethanol production is a resource-intensive process, and with all energy required to produce quality ethanol, the net energy gains will almost be zeroed. “If the entire U. S. corn and soybean crops in 2005 had been used to produce agrofuels, the optimistically estimated net energy gain would have been equivalent to only about 2 percent of diesel consumption” (Magdoff, 2008). The ecological consequences of ethanol production are expected to be even more serious, leading to water and air pollution, and distorting the balance of nutrients in all major ecosystems in the U.

S. “Growing corn [for ethanol production] leads almost inevitably to elevated levels of nitrate entering the ground and surface waters as fields drain into streams and rivers” (Magdoff, 2008). As a result, Magdoff’s (2008) arguments shed the light onto the major inconsistencies that currently exist in the area of biofuel production. The article is revolutionary in the way it refutes the widely accepted idea of “positive ecological future with agrofuels”.

We are used to the thought that biological fuels will save us from the deepening energy and ecological crisis, and will provide us with cheap alternatives to traditional gasoline. Unfortunately, the reality if different, and we find ourselves in the middle of the road, where traditional oil is losing its relevance, and the benefits of biofuel production are still too far to be achievable. The problem is that “the desire to find a magic bullet to solve the expensive fuel problem […] has led to a rush to embrace and promote agrofuels” (Magdoff, 2008).

We were hurrying to declare the discovery of the completely new type of fuels, and readily embraced the new vision of our ecological future; but now as our crops are increasingly used for the production of agrofuels, and our forests, airs, and waters suffer the consequences of our misbalanced approaches to fuel consumption, we gradually realize that biological fuels will hardly save us from the oil crisis. On the contrary, bio- and agro-fuels are likely to signify the dead end in our strivings to find a cheap and inexhaustible alternative to oil and gasoline in the nearest future.

Conclusion For many years, ethanol was considered as a promising alternative to traditional types of fuels. With time, we have come to realize the negative potential of ethanol production: beyond minor energy gains, ethanol production is likely to change the balance of ecological forces, pushing us into the dead end of our persistent search for the cheap and inexhaustible source of energy. References Magdoff, F. (2008). The political economy and ecology of biofuels. Monthly Review. Retrieved December 23, 2008 from http://www. monthlyreview. org/080714magdoff. php

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