Biofuels and the Globalisation of Risk offers the reader a fresh and compelling analysis of the politics and policies behind the biofuel story, critically examining the technological optimism and often-idealised promises it makes for the future. Starting with a brief history of bioenergy policy, the book goes on to explore the evolution of biofuels as a policy narrative, as a development ideal and as a socio-technical system through a series of interlinked case studies from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Smith argues that the nature of biofuels, so debated and contested, allow us to understand the relationships between and possible impacts of climate change, globalisation and development in entirely new ways and in doing so allow us to better understand the shifting dynamics of risk, responsibility and impact that investment in biofuels creates. This essential new critique argues that the support for biofuels points to a deep reconfiguration of risk and responsibility and new forms of environmental determinism where the global south is encouraged to re-orient its agro-food systems towards biofuel crop production in order to allow the global north not to meaningfully engage with altering its levels of consumption, energy use or unsustainable development. Therefore, he argues, risks and responsibilities migrate from north to south and biofuels may constitute the biggest change in North-South relationships since colonialism.
"This is a revolutionary body of work that analyses the allure of biofuels from a global, historical and political perspective. Nuances of why the global debate on biofuels, climate change, and sustainable development have lost resonance with the livelihoods and local perspective are explored. The question of whether the biofuel system offers emerging economies, and local communities the opportunity of being exigent from the colonial paradigm is probed." - Professor Judi Wakhungu, Director of the African Centre of Technology Studies 'James Smith has produced an incredibly important book for anyone interested in why global investment in biofuels continues to expand at breakneck speed despite the technology's current inherent inability to make any significant impact on energy security or green house gas emissions.' - Simon Trace, CEO Practical Action 'iofuels have received a huge amount of attention in the past few years and Smith has done an excellent job in bringing to our attention their potential and unforeseen consequences. By their nature, biofuels involve complex issues and I agree with him that we simple do not understand yet the gamut of interactions and implications; bioenergy is constantly evolving, interacting and shaping interlocking systems. Smith examines key uncertainties in science, knowledge and methodology that drive the uncertainty of potential impacts of biofuels, and the increasing control of multinationals of the biofuel industry. Biofuels, Smith states (p.130), risk generating not energy but a false sense of sustainability. Biofuels promise a supposedly radical new way of generating energy in the most benign manner possible, by changing very little at all. As Smith says, we need to avoid undue pessimism but at the same time we need to be imbued with realism. I do not share some of his conclusions, however. For example, bioenergy and biofuels is used interchangeably while they represent different things. Smith overstates the potential impacts of biofuels when they still represent a very small proportion of land use and oil replacement e.g. he states that we are witnessing land use changes of unprecedented scale, and new global connections of unparalleled scope (p.91), largely attributed to biofuels, when in reality it is due to many complex factors. He also often gives the impression that biofuels will be used in large scale when this is highly unlikely, at least in a global scale. Understanding the role of agriculture is fundamental to the future role of biofuels production and should be given greater prominence. Another area he largely ignores is the potential negative impacts of subsidies of fossil fuels. Overall, I strongly recommend the reading of this book, for the expert and non-expert and politicians. If biofuels are to play an important role in our energy future, it is imperative we address all questions including uncomfortable ones, as Smith has done in this book.' Frank Rosillio-Calle, Imperial College