Knowing I’d fill up for the long weekend and spit at the way we continue to get ripped off at the pumps, I pondered the logic in federal politicians’ about-face on biofuels.
Not long ago, Ottawa thought biofuels were good. Federal politicians embraced the hope that biofuels would provide competition for Big Oil, help the environment, and give farmers additional income.
But lately, headlines and polls have scared them into thinking biofuels are to blame for what they perceive as skyrocketing food prices, and a scared public.
Given the ever-present threat of a federal election, the politicians want to distance themselves as quickly and as far as possible from policies that could associate them with real or imagined rising food prices – real, because in some countries, prices have indeed risen. Imagined, because in Canada, we’re sheltered by grocery store wars that are keeping prices down.
Nonetheless, parties are scrambling for the liquid paper, anxious to change their manifestoes on renewable fuel immediately.
But what parts will they white out?
Their disdain for Big Oil?
Their concern about climate change?
Their interest in greater energy self-sufficiency?
Their stand against environmental degradation?
Their support of Canadian farmers’ ability to diversify and make a living with fewer subsidies?
They’ll have plenty of issues to choose from. Whichever ones they pick will mark a difference in their thinking, and beg the question why.
For example, Ottawa used to call Big Oil a bully. Politicians held special committee hearings on the price of gas when it was half as expensive as it is now, and vowed to do something. Watching the gas pump meter hit nearly $75 last week for the same fill-up that used to cost me under $50 makes me think they failed, although they will likely blame current woes on some previous government’s policy.
Federal politicians also used to think Canada’s energy needs shouldn’t be controlled by foreign countries, and that policies favouring domestic energy were important.
They were right. Canada has the science and technology to be much more self sufficient, and there’s significant research underway at institutions such as the University of Guelph to help get us to the point where non-renewable resources aren’t our main energy option.
And finally, they also thought if farmers could grow crops, trees and other biomass for energy, they’d have more choices. That would lessen farmers’ dependence on taxpayer-supported bail-outs which, in the end, simply mean that one way or another we have to pay the real cost of food.
It’s that cost that has politicians trembling. But blaming biofuel for rising food costs is like blaming it for jacked-up plane fares. One of the chief causes is the same: Big Oil.
In the past year, oil has doubled in price. Oil is used to produce and transport food. So when oil prices jump, the price of food goes up too. Rising oil prices were one of the reasons we as a country became so interested in biofuels in the first place. So now, as oil skyrockets, politicians want to turn away from it?
On the contrary, we should be investing in more research to figure out cheaper ways to make it, including using commodities other than corn.
The farm community is livid about talk that farmers are callously causing rice shortages and making poor people starve. "There’s no evidence to support theories that using grains like corn to produce ethanol is a conspiracy against humanity," says Geri Kamenz, president of the Guelph-based Ontario Federation of Agriculture. One of the main things rice shortages and grain prices have in common are Big Oil.
Ottawa, take note. And check the pumps. Big Oil is no alternative to biofuel.