Monday, April 14, 2008

Biofuels a Crime Against Humanity?

The developing world has landed in a full-blown, food crisis. It's the result of the combination of crop failures and soaring food prices. What that means is that, if the world's poor can find food, they often can't afford to buy it.

This is a global problem, afflicting the poor on virtually every continent on our planet. Even Mexico brought food riots to North America. From Haiti to Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to Afghanistan, masses are facing the scourge of malnutrition, even famine.

Much of the problem is man-made, mainly due to climate-change related crop failures (droughts/floods), increased demand for feed grain to supply the growing demand for meat products in the emerging industrial economies and diversion of crops for the production of biofuels.

There has been a lot of attention paid to the food crisis lately, an awful lot of talk but precious little in the way of effective action. The World Bank is calling for the developed countries to put up half a trillion dollars for immediate food aid. Some nations are calling for the International Monetary Fund to make emergency loans to hard hit countries (great, if they can't afford to buy food, lend them money they won't be able to repay).

There is also a growing demand to scrap grain-based biofuel production.

"'If food prices go on as they are today, then the consequences on the population in a large set of countries, including Africa, but not only Africa, will be horrific,' IMF managing director Dominque Struass-Kahn said at a press conference.

"Hundreds of thousands of people will be starving. Children will suffer from malnutrition, with consequences on all of their lives."

That level of concern didn't translate into pledges for more food aid or concrete ideas about how food inflation might be reversed.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn said some ministers told him that using foodstuffs to make fuel amounted to a "crime against humanity."
The Bush administration, big time backer of corn-based ethanol, has announced that it's very concerned about the growing global food crisis. Spokesfemme Dana Perino said Bush is looking at new approaches such as buying more of the food needed for assistance from sources close to needy countries. Great, the US is going to compete with locals for already limited food stocks which should drive up the price putting food out of reach for even more people.
If Bush is sincere (and wouldn't that be a first?), he ought to announce an end to the corn-based ethanol scam.


Anonymous said...

Gee, can hardly wait to see this one unroll. Reminding one of how the International Monetary Fund took a thriving agrarian society -Sudan - introduced in this order; debt financing, a morass of war, then starvation.
Wasn't it America eading that one as well, back in the 70's & '80's.

JimBobby said...

A little correction: You say: "The World Bank is calling for the developed countries to put up half a trillion dollars for immediate food aid."

I think they're only asking for an immediate $500 million. That's half a billion.

To put things into some perspective, Canada's 2006 budget gave $2 billion to ethanol and biofuel development. One-quarter of the money Canada, alone,is spending on ethanol subsidies could alleviate the suffering of 89 million hungry people.

At least the drivers of Flex-Fuel Lincoln Navigators can pat themselves on the back at the pump.

I blogged on this today, too.


The Mound of Sound said...

Hi JB. Of course you're right, it's half a billion although it's hard to see how much good that can do given the enormity of the problem.

I've been wondering just how extensive this problem will be. Could it even be permanent with climate-change disruptions in crop production?

At what point are we apt to become so desensitized to this that we turn indifferent? I think that oculd happen.