At this point it’s widely acknowledged that biofuels made with corn and soybeans are not the solution to our addiction to oil. Farmers clear huge tracts of land to grow monocrops destined for biofuel production where once natural ecosystems thrived, or where they had grown food for their families. Multinational biotech corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta provide these farmers with genetically engineered crops (GMOs) that irreversibly destroy agricultural biodiversity. The machinery and chemicals used to grow these crops have their own destructive effect upon the environment, and the production of the fuel itself produces carbon emissions.
Last year, UC Berkeley accepted an offer of $500 million in research funds from British Petroleum, “to develop new sources of energy, primarily biotechnology to produce biofuel crops.” For ten years, this money will support the new Energy Biosciences Institute, a joint operation between UC Berkeley, the University of Illinois, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and BP. The major alternative fuel to be studied is corn-based ethanol.
The Student Organic Garden where I will be working this Spring sits on a little plot by campus, adjacent to an entire block of land used for testing and experimentation by the Center for Analytical Biotechnology. We gardeners are grateful to be at the top of the hill, so any runoff produced from the Center will flow away from our food. But it feels like we’re the pea under the corporate princess’ pillows. I won’t be at all surprised if our organic operation is threatened soon, by the powers of more “profitable” research.
We haven’t found the solution to our energy needs, and currently, clearly, extensive time and money are being devoted to the wrong research. I write now not with an answer, but at least with the hope that other universities in this country will see UCB’s partnership with BP as a drastic mistake. We must ask the brilliant minds of our country to turn their attention towards productive projects.
This isn’t just an issue of a university acting like a corporation, or organic kids complaining about toxic materials. It’s about the vast potential of academic research to result in creative solutions to climate change. We mustn’t waste it! We haven’t got the time.