Friday, April 11, 2008

Biofuels Pose Poverty Fight Setback

These are scary times for the world's poorest people. Food, for them, is rapidly becoming unaffordable. This isn't just one or two countries struck by some natural disaster, it's a plight now common to the poor around the world.

The World Bank estimates the food crisis has set back the fight against poverty for seven years.

World Bank president and former US trade negotiator, Robert Zoelleck, has called on rich countries to come up with an extra half-trillion dollars for the World Food Programme and to enact a "New Deal for global food policy." From The Guardian:

"Zoellick said: 'In the US and Europe over the last year we have been focusing on the prices of gasoline at the pumps. While many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs. And it's getting more and more difficult every day.'
He said the price of wheat had risen by 120% in the past year, more than doubling the cost of a loaf of bread. Rice prices were up by 75% in just two months. On average, the Bank calculates that food prices have risen by 83% in the past three years.

"In Bangladesh a 2kg bag of rice now consumes almost half of the daily income of a poor family. With little margin for survival, rising prices too often means fewer meals," he said. Poor people in Yemen were now spending more than a quarter of their income on bread. "This is not just about meals forgone today, or about increasing social unrest, it is about lost learning potential for children and adults in the future, stunted intellectual and physical growth. Even more, we estimate that the effect of this food crisis on poverty reduction worldwide is in the order of seven lost years."

Zoellick criticised the subsidies and import tariffs used to promote wider use of the fuels.

Liz Stuart, spokeswoman for Oxfam, said: "Europe and the US must stop adding fuel to fire by increasing crop production for biofuels. These have dubious environment benefits, and by driving up prices, are crippling the lives of the poor."

Now, let's see how long this New Deal takes to make it to the legislative tables of the western nations. Surely there has now been a critical mass of research showing that our hopes for biofuels were unfounded and they're causing more harm than good.

1 comment:

JimBobby said...

Whooee!We could see this one comin' from a mile away. While there is some merit to some bio-diesel, ethanol and most bio-diesel are not even a step in the right direction for the environment. The competition for food dollars was predicted and pooh-poohed by the big agri-lobbies.

The rush for bio-fuels is a rush for a magic bullet. Wasteful consumers do not really want to stop wasting. They want to waste clean fuels. The big commodities guys like ADM, Monsanto, DeKalb are behind the false promiuse of a magic bullet. They've used their considerable wealth and influence to get ethanol legislated into fuel formulas. They don't give rat's ass about starving people so long as their profit rises.

We need to conserve. WEe need to increase our energy efficiency. We do not need to starve the third world so we can drive a Flex-Fuel Lincoln Navigator.

Sadly, bad moves like this which are made in the name of environmentalism give a bad name to environmentalism and foster even more anti-earth cynicism.