Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Next Quick Fix: BioFuels and Automobiles

In Stephen Lendman's article Global Food Crisis: Hunger Plagues Haiti and the World he brings up some very valid points about how the search for the answer to the world's fuel problems have affected the world.

The World's food prices have skyrocketed in the past year, and there are food shortages as a result. Farming has been geared towards growing corn, wheat and sugar cane to create ethanol and this has created a shortage of corn grown for food. Lendman states:

"The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that worldwide food costs rose almost 40% in 2007 while grains spiked 42% and dairy prices nearly 80%. The World Bank said food prices are up 83% since 2005. As of December, it caused 37 countries to face food crises and 20 to impose price controls in response.

It also affected aid agencies like the UN's World Food Program (WFP). Because of soaring food and energy costs, it sent an urgent appeal to donors on March 20 to help fill a $500 million resource gap for its work. Since then, food prices increased another 20% and show no signs of abating. For the world's poor, like the people of Haiti, things are desperate, people can't afford food, they scratch by any way they can, but many are starving and don't make it."

This rise has been caused by oil prices and transportation costs increasing, but the steady shift towards bio fuel crop growing has only added to the problem. People see bio fuels, ethanol in particular, as the saviour to our low oil resources but that is far from the truth. They actually produce greenhouse gases, and destroy forests just like their gasoline counterparts. It is not the answer to global warming, or a 'safe' replacement for gasoline. Just because it is made from corn, wheat, or what have you, doesn't mean it is not bad for the environment.

Lenderman quotes Eric Holt-Gimenez, the executive director of the Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, and states the realities behind bio fuels:

"1. Agrofuels aren't clean and green. As cited above, they produce far greater greenhouse gas emissions than they save and also require large amounts of oil-based fertilizers that contribute even more.

2. Agrofuel production will be hugely destructive to forests in countries like Brazil where vast Amazon devastation is well documented and is currently increasing at nearly 325,000 hectares a year. By 2020 in Indonesia, "palm oil plantations for bio-diesel (will continue to be) the primary cause of forest loss (in a) country with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world."

3. Agrofuels will destroy rural development. Small farmers will be forced off their land and so will many thousands of others in communities to make way for Big Oil, Agribusiness, and Agribiotech to move in and take over for the huge profits to be extracted in the multi-billions.

4. Agrofuels increase hunger. The poor are always hurt most, the topic is covered above, and Holt-Gimenez quotes another forecast. It's the International Food Policy Research Institute's estimate that basic food staple prices will rise 30 - 33% by 2010, but that figure already undershoots based on current data. FPRI also sees the rise continuing to 2020 by another 26 to 135% that will be catastrophic for the world's poor who can't afford today's prices and are ill-equipped to raise their incomes more than marginally if at all.

5. Better "second-generation" argofuels aren't around the corner. Examples touted are eco-friendly fast-growing trees and switchgrass (a dominant warm season central North American tallgrass prairie species). Holt-Gimenez calls the argument a "bait and switch-grass shell game" to make the case for first generation production now ongoing. The same environmental problems exists, and they'll be hugely exacerbated by more extensive GMO crop plantings."

These are just some of the 'myths' debunked about the biofuel answer to global problems. It seems that they make more problems than fix. For instance, I remember when TATA Motors released the Nano (the world's cheapest car) that environmentalists said it would cause the rate of polution to drastically increase. They said that since it was so inexpensive that more people would be able to buy a car and pollute the environment. What about SUV owners in North America though? Shouldn't they be more concerned with how much pollution is created from the larger engines of those automobiles? What I am trying to get at here is that since it was the latest thing in the media, people attached themselves to the cause and saw nothing else but that. They were blinded by the immediate circumstances.

There is no quick fix to the environmental problem of our planet. Ethanol is not the answer, the banning of the TATA Nano is not the answer, we need to all work together to make a difference. Hybrid cars and SUVs are a step in the right direction, but in reality they don't do very much if they are more expensive than a gasoline variant, or 90% of people are driving gasoline guzzling vehicles. Ethanol may be another choice besides gasoline, but if it adds to world hunger, what is the point? We now have a second choice to oil, but people are dying of starvation! We all need to work together, not as individual countries, but as a world society. It is not just the Canada, or the United States, or Iceland, or Zimbabwe, or Hong Kong, etc. that are affected by our changing climate, it is everyone.


Anonymous said...

The real problem with the climate change issue is that it has been hijacked by politicians for all the wrong reasons .

Providing financial incentives to grow biofuel crops was done too hastily without thinking through the consequences for the global food supply and economy, in order to be "seen to be doing something" . The resultant crisis atmosphere also enables tax rises without resistance .

A much more strategic, thought-out global response is required rather than knee-jerk exploitation and taxation .

Caledonian Jim

DC said...

I agree totally Jim.

What is the point of saving the environment per say if there are no people to save, because they all starved!