LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Hollywood actress Daryl Hannah says she did not foresee the effect that bio-fuel production would have on food prices when she began campaigning for a switch to them from fossil fuels like oil and coal.
But she is still certain that bio-fuel -- solid, liquid or gas fuel made from organic materials such as corn, sugar cane or sugar beets -- is vital for the U.S. economy.
Both the International Monetary Fund and a top World Bank economist said this year that large increases in bio-fuel production in the United States and Europe are the main reason behind a steep rise in global food prices.
World Bank economist Don Mitchell concluded that bio-fuels and related low grain inventories, speculative activity, and food export bans pushed food prices up by 70-75 percent.
For two decades, spanning many of her major movies including “Wall Street,” the 46-year-old Hannah lived quietly on her eco-farm in the Rocky Mountains and she still does.
She relies on renewable energy, and water from a spring to meet her daily needs. She lives there most of the year, growing her own food (she’s a vegetarian), rearing and riding horses.
While her house, a former stagecoach stop, was being re-modeled, Hannah stayed in a tipi (teepee) for nearly two years.
“I still use my tipi summer and fall. They are a beautiful, perfect light impact dwelling. I lived in it year-round for years before and while I was winterizing the old stagecoach stop,” she said in an interview.
In 2002 she went public with her eco-beliefs and began campaigning for the use of bio-fuel.
She has been driving the same bio-fuel-powered Chevrolet El Camino car for a decade and also has “a bio-diesel 4X4 for pulling my horses and snow conditions” at her home near Telluride, Colorado.
Hannah insists on “B100” as aficionados call pure 100 percent bio-fuel. Hers is “made from waste grease.”
Now food prices have rocketed, blame has been laid at the feet of greater bio-fuel production. The production of ethanol (the combustible result of refining organic material) does use food crops and is likely to do so in the future.
”In the case of ethanol and corn production. it is partly responsible“ (for food price rises),” Hannah said.
But she is still certain that “sustainable” bio-fuel will not damage food production because “there are many other fuel processing techniques and feed stocks that bio-fuels can come from - for both bio-diesel and ethanol,” including “garbage, hemp, algae, moringa, jatropha, cellulose waste and prairie grasses.”
Increasingly the actress has become a political campaigner.
Last year she was arrested after refusing to come out of a tree on a farm in central Los Angeles which was threatened by redevelopment and protested against big oil.
“I’ve personally witnessed the devastation in the Amazon that the oil companies have wrought upon these indigenous communities. There are open, unlined waste pits, rainbow oil slicks on the streams, high cadmium and lead poisoning in the children and wildlife. When you see these crimes, you have no choice but to speak up,” she said.
Does the Hollywood establishment disapprove of her activities?
“It’s of no importance to me what anyone thinks of my participation,” replies Hannah. “What’s important is awareness of the facts and issues. I truly believe when people have access to information, for the most part they will make wise decisions.”
But Hannah says she was “naive” to believe people would respond in the right way to her calls for eco-living, on the issue of bio-fuel.
“It was naive of me not to realize that of course and unfortunately short-sighted greed and opportunism would step right up to the plate as usual, and heavily invest in going down a bad road,” said Hannah.
“It’s almost inconceivable that some would ... choose to do things like burn rainforests in Malaysia to plant palm plantations, or make bio-fuels that compete with basic food supplies,” she said.
“We absolutely need bio-fuels to play a part in solving our energy crisis/demands, but it’s essential to make them sustainably.”
Hannah co-founded the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance (SBA - here), to help set certification criteria for sustainable bio-diesel.
“I‘m glad the message is finally getting across, but I was not prepared for the enormous amounts of dollars and energy that has gone into producing bio-fuels in an unsustainable manner,” she said.
“I‘m very happy bio-fuels are now not just perceived as a fringe alternative but as a real and important part of the solution.”
Editing by Paul Casciato