SERGIO SCHLESINGER - Heinrich Böll Stiftung

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SERGIO SCHLESINGER - Heinrich Böll Stiftung

INTRODUCTIONThe exhaustion of the world’s petroleum reserves, so often announced, is now anever increasingly closer reality. Consumption of this commodity today far outstripsdiscoveries of new reserves, and has gained an even greater impulse with the rapideconomic growth of the world’s most populous countries – China, and India.Ten times more petroleum is burned today worldwide, than fifty years ago.The escalation of petroleum prices as a result of this panorama seems irreversible.At the same time, the world has finally realized that global warming is afact and that burning fossil fuels is a decisive contributing factor to this problem.From the beginning of the 21st century, the sum of these factors has stimulatedthe search for, and production of alternative sources of fuel made from variousagricultural products, which are traditionally used as food sources. In an attempt tocombat this dependency on petroleum consumption, the present economic modelseeks to maintain its greatest addiction: limitless economic growth at the cost ofrenewable natural resources.In itself, the use of plant-based fuels is not a novelty. In the U.S. the Model T –first car manufactured by Ford – already in 1866 could be powered by ethanolmade from corn. In 1900 during the Paris exhibition, the Frenchman Rudolf Dieseldemonstrated that peanut oil could be used to power diesel engines. Since 1978Brazil manufactures cars powered exclusively by ethanol. In 1986, at the height ofthe Proálcool program, 76% of Brazilian automobiles were equipped with motorsfueled by ethanol produced from sugarcane.The recent increases in petroleum prices – and the impression that these arehere to stay – has stimulated programs for the production of agrifuels worldwide.The global need for fuels necessary for the development of these programs willprobably lead to radical transformations in agriculture.5

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