In the homo ecos: library, you can find a whole bunch of ‘green classics’. These books (and magazines/films) are available to browse and borrow for any bookworm who considers themselves a friend of homo ecos:. For those people who do not enjoy the art of reading, our EVS volunteer Janny will read and review one sustainable page-turner every month.
This month: “On the Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and the Future of the Family Farm” by Willie Nelson.
You might not have heard of him, but Willie Nelson is world famous. In the United States, that is. He is a country music legend. And an environmental activist. A strange combination? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Save the farmers
Nelson is from farm country: Texas. In the 80s, he was one of the initiators of Farm Aid, a benefit concert organized to raise money for struggling family farmers. It was meant to be a one-time event, but it has since turned into a yearly tradition; unfortunately (American) farmers still need aid.
So how does farming connect to environmental activism and the topic of this little book – biofuel? Simple. Nelson believes that biodiesel is not only good for the environment, but can also help small farmers survive and prosper.
“On the Clean Road Again” is not the most critical book I’ve ever read. Rather, it is a love song for biodiesel – fuel made from plant material such as corn and soy. Burning biodiesel produces fewer hazardous waste gases than traditional diesel or petrol. Biodiesel can be used in any normal diesel engine. And any farmer can make biodiesel in their own shed.
Nelson does not use any of the arguments that environmentalists normally use to convince the public (dying polar bears, destruction of the rain forest, public health). Rather, he appeals to the patriotic American. Producing biodiesel can help hard-working American farmers become economically independent again. We don’t need to fight wars in the Middle East in order to get it. And it burns more efficiently than petrol, so you can save money!
It is quite interesting to see how his story appeals to a crowd that we would normally not associate with “green living”: American truckers. The book contains transcripts from Nelson’s weekly appearance on a local radio station. What was originally meant as a “fans talk to their music hero”-item, quickly became a “ask questions about biodiesel”-item. And the question heard most often is not “why should I use biodiesel?” but “where can I get it?”.
Nelson’s booklet is not very big (you can finish reading it in one long Latvian winter evening). And so there is not a lot of space for the science behind biofuels. The most instructive chapter is actually the afterword by professor Gavin DJ Harper, in which he quickly runs through a number of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.
But neither he nor Nelson address any of the negative aspects of biofuels. For one, they don’t talk about the fact that crops used for biofuels are also food – and so our need for energy directly competes with another global problem: our need to feed the world. Nor do they consider any energy efficiency or reduction options. They seem to assume that people can happily go on living they way they are living, as long as they use biofuel instead of fossil energy.
All in all, “On the Clean Road Again” is an interesting quick read about biofuels in a completely different context. But don’t rely on it too completely in a serious debate about our planet’s energy future.