The Biofuel Fad

William Saletan argued in favor of biofuels on humanitarian and environmental grounds ["A Corny Cold War," Outlook, July 8]. He was wrong on both counts.

His claim that the rising costs of grains because of increased demand for fuel from food would boost incomes for farmers in the world’s poorest countries ignored evidence that in those countries past upswings in global commodity prices have favored only large landowners. As biofuel demand pushes up food prices, the world’s poorest will be forced to live on even thinner margins.

Mr. Saletan’s claim that the use of biofuels would help mitigate climate change was also wrong. The energy necessary to produce and transport biofuels offsets much of their greenhouse gas emissions "savings." Furthermore, global demand for biofuels has resulted in the destruction of rainforests in Brazil and Indonesia to create arable land for the cultivation of fuel crops. Rainforests are carbon sinks that soak up anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Destroying them is no different than emitting huge quantities of greenhouse gases. Their deforestation accounted for almost one-fifth of those emissions during the 1990s.

The biofuel fad hurts the poorest of the world and does little, if anything, to mitigate climate change.