Greener Times

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Seattle to Quit Biofuels

Posted by Trey Smith on June 15, 2009

by Duff Badgley

Duff driving his message home

Duff driving his message home

The City of Seattle has decided to “completely discontinue crop-based biofuels”, according to a well-placed source in city government. This historic decision comes after King County — Washington’s most populous county — quit all biofuels in 2008.

Now, both of the Northwest’s largest government biofuel consumers have quit. Seattle’s decision also marks the end of a period when Seattle and King County considered crop-based biofuels to be environmentally better than petrol.

Studies have shown crop-based biofuels trigger rainforest destruction greatly worsening climate change. By robbing land from food production, these same biofuels also cause hunger and starvation affecting millions. For this reason, crop-based biofuels have been called a “Crime Against Humanity” by a high-ranking U.N. official.

One Earth Climate Action Group and Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin were instrumental in Seattle’s momentous decision to quit biofuels.

Since 2007, One Earth Climate Action Group has been staging street protests against crop-based biofuels use by Seattle and King County. One Earth testified twice before city council that use of crop-based biofuels meant Seattle was “knowingly participating in a Crime Against Humanity”. One Earth’s protests and testimony lead to direct negotiations with Conlin.

Conlin’s Chief Legislative aide, Rob Gala, said, “We presented the argument that it (crop-based biofuel) was both worse in terms of climate changing emissions and more expensive for the City. OSE (Office of Sustainability and Environment) and the Mayor’s office … indicated that they agreed and are planning to comply with our request.”

This decision by Seattle will make the governments of the Northwest’s biggest city and its county with highest population essentially biofuel-free. Washington State still stubbornly requires all gasoline sales be 2% ethanol and all diesel sales to be 2% biodiesel.

All crop-based biofuels, the only biofuels available for mass consumption, do two things:

(1) Cause hunger and starvation affecting hundreds of millions of humans. This why the U.N has called these biofuels a “Crime Against Humanity”.

(2) Cause rainforest destruction releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and greatly worsening our Climate Crisis.

“We’re changing Seattle’s culture and infra-structure, the hardest and most essential things in climate activism”, said One Earth founder, Duff Badgley. “If we are to have a Livable Planet, our success in causing structural change in Seattle and King County need to be widely repeated.”

Seattle currently has been burning 700,000 gallons per year of American soy biodiesel. It previously burned palm and canola biodiesel.

Prior to June, 2008, King County Metro buses had been burning two million gallons per year of biodiesel made from Canadian canola or Malaysian palm oil. King County Metro operates the country’s 9th largest public transport system.

In the past decade, diesel-powered government vehicles from Seattle and King County have burned crop-based biodiesel made by either Imperium Renewables or Cargill. In 2007, Imperium built a 100-million-gallon-per-year biodiesel refinery in rural Grays Harbor, WA. It stopped production in early 2009. Cargill is the world’s largest private corporation with vast holdings in the rainforests of Brazil and Southeast Asia.

A public announcement from Seattle about its decision to quit crop-based biofuels is expected before the end of this month. Seattle will likely continue to research the feasibility of using waste-based biodiesel in its fleet vehicles.

Duff Badgley is the founder of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was the 2008 gubernatorial candidate for the Green Party of Washington State.


3 Responses to “Seattle to Quit Biofuels”

  1. elymarc said

    All biofuels are not created equal. They are not all “crimes against humanity”. Waste fryer oil will either be discarded in landfills, turned into pet food or recycled into biodiesel to replace petroleum. No human will starve because waste fryer oil is recycled into biodiesel.

    We should not be converting rainforest into soy fields for biodiesel. And… we aren’t. Instead, rainforest is converted into soy bean fields to raise meat. 98% of the soy crop is crushed into animal feed. The soy oil is a by-product of this. Only 20% of the soy bean is oil. There are much higher yielding oil seed crops if all we wanted was oil for biodiesel. No one would plant soy beans just to get the oil. Duff has confused the “Why” here.

    One of his links is about how the price of rice has gone up. He completely ignores how global climate change has resulted in a 6 year drought in Australia thus destoying the rice crop for millions of people. Solving these issues will requires us all to understand our world deeply. Life is never as simple as we might like.

  2. Trey Smith said

    This is Duff’s response — He asked me to post it for him.

    Hi, “eleymarc”,

    Thanks for your considered comments.

    Crop-based biofuels are the only biofuels available for mass consumption. Recycled veggie oil biodiesel maxes out at 2-3% of demand. It can never be a fuel used by masses of vehicles. Standard Biodiesel in Arlington, WA used to make biodiesel from 100% recycled vegetable oil. I tried to lure both King County Metro and the City of Seattle to Standard. Both potential customers looked at Standard and said they could not meet their demand.

    If you’re driving a car fueled by biodiesel made from recycled veggie oil, then you’re burning the only biofuel less bad than petrol. And you are the exception that proves the rule.

    Hoping and waiting for so-called “2nd generation” biofuels is denying the global devastation biofuels are wreaking now.

    Overwhelming peer-reviewed, published science shows crop-based biofuels do two things:

    1. Cause hunger and starvation affecting hundreds of millions of humans. This why the U.N has called these biofuels a “Crime Against Humanity”.
    2. Cause rainforest destruction releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and greatly worsening our Climate Crisis.

    The federal Environmental Protection Agency has accepted these studies. King County has accepted these studies. And, now, the City of Seattle has accepted these studies.

    It doesn’t matter if the crop used for biofuel feedstock is grown in Washington or Canada or Malaysia. The devastation caused is equivalent. The idea of creating a homegrown Washington State biofuels industry is fatally flawed.

    “If you use farmland in North America to grow biofuels, you’re forcing a farmer somewhere else to clear-cut forest to grow food crops. You’ve effectively cut down a rain forest.”

    “We looked at all of the current biofuels that are being made around the world and asked if they were causing native ecosystems to be turned into land that would be used to grow the crop. Essentially, all of them are doing that.”

    — David Tilman, lead author of the “Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt” study published in SCIENCE, February, 2008.

    >From this study:

    “Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a ‘biofuel carbon debt’ by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.”

    Tilman’s study, and many others, establish land use change as the mechanism by which crop-based biofuels greatly worsen climate change. The E.P.A, King County, the City of Seattle and climate scientists worldwide have accepted crop-based biofuels force land use change.

    Link to the abstract of Tilman’s full study:

    The second major biofuels study published in February, 2008 came from Princeton and is titled “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change”.

    Here’s a direct quote from this study detailing the two methods by which biofuels force rainforest destruction: direct and indirect. The result is the same destruction of rainforests and release of massive amounts of carbon.

    “To produce biofuels, farmers can directly plow up more forests or grassland which releases to the atmosphere much of the carbon previously stored in plants and soil through decomposition or fire… Alternatively, farmers can divert existing crops or croplands into biofuels, which causes similar emissions indirectly. The diversion triggers higher crop prices, and farmers around the world respond by clearing more forest and grassland to replace crops for feed or food.” (bold by me.)

    Link to this full study:

    Thanks, again, for writing.

    Duff Badgley

  3. elymarc said

    Duff, thanks for the reply. As you know, you can find quotes in studies that can support almost any point; not unlike trying to prove a moral point with passages from the Bible.

    Bottom line?

    98% of the soy crop is crushed for protein cake for animal feed. If more soy bean acres are planted anywhere in the world, it is to produce more feed for animals for meat; not just to produce the fairly low amount of oil (20% of the bean) that then might be used to make biodiesel. I’m not surprised to see you simply restate the study links from your web site. I am asking you to take a fresh, practical look at this issue. This is not unlike leather clothing products like belts and shoes. Do leather belts require the raising of more animals? I don’t think so. There is sooooo much meat being raised by human society that leather belts are simply a by-product of meat centered diets. Confusing the cause and effect causes us to use more of the petroleum that is heating our planet into thermal overload.

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