RWE Npower, not content with being the largest CO2 emitter in European power production, decided they'd move into more eco sources by, oooh what? Offshore windfarms? Rooftop solar panels?
Nope. Burning palm oil.
Brother George Monbiot's done not one but two whole articles on why biofuels for cars are worse than fossils.
Burning down tropical forest so that the trees release their carbon, then draining the peat soils so they decompose and release their carbon means palm oil is at least ten times worse than burning fossils!
Amazingly, the message is getting through. Even as biofuels try to take hold, the truth is coming out. RWE Npower, despite successful testing of burning palm oil in a Kent power station, decided not to go ahead on environmental grounds.
When I first signed up to Yorkshire Electricity's green tariff years ago, I was sent a welcome pack. It explained that most of their green electricity was coming from a power station in Lincolnshire that burned biomass.
What kind? Fast growing coppiced willow? Miscanthus grass? Again with the 'nope'.
Remember how the BSE crisis meant those pellets made of ground up cattle couldn't be used as animal feed any more? The processing plants didn't stop making them. They simply started selling them as biomass.
Surely this was some squeamish stop-gap whilst the meat industry readjusted? Once more, nope.
Via - gadzooks! - Meat News I bring you this story of a brand new meat-fuelled power station being built in Scotland. [UPDATE: That Meat News page has been taken down, but here's the owner's announcement about the power plant]
Yet it must be said that there is some level at which it makes sense. I mean, the meat industry is producing the cows anyway, and rather than tipping the unwanted bits into landfills or somesuch, isn't it better to do something useful? The Scottish power plant - within the utterly fucking insane barbaric obscene world of modern food production - has a logic to it.
But doesn't this then prolong the obscene and unsustainable cattle farming by giving it higher dollar for the remains?
It's like like the unjoined-up thinking some veggies use to justify wearing leather because 'it's only a by-product'; it ignores the fact that slaughterhouses make about a fifth of their money from sale of hide. And I don't see those same veggies eating black pudding, which is only made from by-products.
But there's some bigger picture stuff to consider. Rather like the palm oil, we need to look at where we source our biomass; even if the cows are local, what are they fed on and where did it come from? Soya grown on ex-Amazon forest is widely used. Factor in not only the poor land use but the deforestation or other displacement of trees and it can't be a good thing.
I've been deep in there with climate change maths lately, and I'm sure there's some figures to be worked out.
Cattle are serious contributors to climate change. Their digestive systems release huge quantities of methane (which is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2). If a cow grazes, burps and farts for several years, what's the climate impact?
What is the energy derived from burning that cow, and how much CO2 does it save by not being a fossil source?
My guess is that the energy benefit is much, much less than the flatulence detriment. It's a whole new facet to the climate cost of meat.
And that's before we discuss what biomass crop could've been grown on the pasture if the cow hadn't been there, and how much more energy we'd have got from that. Surely a cow - which shits out most of the grass it eats - is less efficient than simply burning that grass directly.
What's the kilowatt hours per acre for cattle? What acreage would we need to power the UK with them? Again, I'm only guessing but I suspect the numbers would be ludicrous.
(And all this, of course, makes no mention of how being chopped up and burned is really nasty to the cow.)