Please note that this blog no longer accepts comments (there was
too much spam coming in!). If you're reading this blog and want to
respond then please use the contact form on the site.
You can also follow me on twitter.
Prospect has published my essay on bioenergy, in which my
research left me astonished at the environmental and economic harm
that is being perpetrated. Biomass and biofuels are not carbon
neutral, can't displace much fossil fuel, require huge subsidies,
increase hunger and directly or indirectly cause rain forest
destruction. Apart from that, they're fine... Here's the
From a satellite, the border between Haiti and the Dominican
Republic looks like the edge of a carpet. While the Dominican
Republic is green with forest, Haiti is brown: 98 per cent
deforested. One of the chief reasons is that Haiti depends on
bioenergy. Wood-mostly in the form of charcoal-is used not just for
cooking but for industry as well, providing 70 per cent of Haiti's
energy. In contrast, in the Dominican Republic, the government
imports oil and subsidises propane gas for cooking, which takes the
pressure off forests.
Haiti's plight is a reminder there is nothing new about bioenergy.
A few centuries ago, Britain got most of its energy from firewood
and hay. Over the years the iron industry moved from Sussex to the
Welsh borders to Cumberland and then Sweden in an increasingly
desperate search for wood to fire its furnaces. Cheap coal and oil
then effectively allowed the gradual reforestation of the country.
Britain's forest cover-12 per cent-is three times what it was in
1919 and will soon rival the levels recorded in the Doomsday Book
Yet if the government has its way, we will instead emulate Haiti.
In 2007, Tony Blair signed up to a European Union commitment that
Britain would get 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources
by 2020. Apparently neither he nor his officials noticed this
target was for "energy" not "electricity." Since much energy is
used for heating, which wind, solar, hydro and the like cannot
supply, this effectively committed Britain to using lots of wood
and crops for both heat and electricity to hit that target. David
Cameron and Chris Huhne, anxious to seem the "greenest of them
all," dare not weaken the target, despite its unattainability.