Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fuel vs Food - what's more important?


Interesting (if that's the right word) development. Critics of the green movement have long criticised the Green's single-minded pre-occupation with the environment. It seemed highly problematic to expect folks in developing countries to ratchet up their environmental standards if that meant a significant slowing down of economic development (with all the benefits this brings for human advancement in terms of jobs, education and health care).

Well, Australia's THE AGE broadsheet published a very interesting summary of a currently ongoing crisis in that context. Food prices worldwide have gone up at a record rate. It goes without saying that the poor are very much at the receiving end of this development. Part of the reason is that the world's farmers are switching their production to more lucrative products. Not, as you might expect, illicit drugs, but oil replacement products such as ethanol. Prices for staple foods have gone up by a whopping 18% in China, 13% in Pakistan and Indonesia and about 10% in Latin America. Reports THE AGE, 'India, Yemen, Mexico, Burkina Faso and several other countries have had, or been close to, food riots in the past year. Meanwhile, there are shortages of beef, chicken and milk in Venezuela and other countries as governments try to keep a lid on food-price inflation.'

Looks like we're heading for a head-on competition between motorists competing for ethanol fuels for their vehicles, and the much larger number of poor people trying to survive, and being unable to purchase food at affordable prices anylonger.

Scary stuff. Having just made my way to North America, I'm flabbergasted by the ridiculous number of oversized cars with absolutely gigantic engines on the streets everywhere. You know, in the UK or Germany you'd see a 3 litre V6 type car only once in a blue moon, while here it seems to be at the lower end of what people like to drive around in. Not much by way of sympathy for our poorer neighbours then...

3 comments:

  1. Funny you should mention that: I've just been asked to sign an urgent international petition launched by students at UC Berkeley against a proposed deal between their university and BP. This deal would see $500 million spent mainly on biofuel research involving genetic engineering. It would be the largest corporate grant ever made. The students, as well as a number of academics at the university, are deeply concerned about this proposal, particularly environmental sustainability and social impacts not having been taken into account. Also, BP will have strong influence over all decisions, and there will be a major focus on research leading to patented technologies rather than research for public benefit.

    The proposed director of the planned Energy Biosciences Institute which is to be set up as part of the deal, Chris Somerville, has stated that "my personal conviction is that every plant used by humans will eventually be GM".

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  2. I totally agree that the use of cars with huge engines cannot be sustained, and policy should be against it - so, tax fuel more heavily to force people to buy smaller cars, or tax cars beyond a certain level of horsepower as luxuries. Most obviously of all, all existing tax breaks for off-road vehicles should be reviewed and either eliminated or at least cut back very narrowly.

    All that said, we also need alternative fuel sources. There are going to be some tricky policy decisions here, and of course I don't trust conservative governments to make them.

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  3. Democratic governments - whether conservative, liberal or whatever - go by what their voters want. That is,of course, if they want to stay in office for the foreseeable future.

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