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Guardian: The western appetite for biofuels is causing starvation in the poor world

Queasy

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Aug 24, 2001
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It doesn't get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava. The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the district of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought. It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums.

This is one of many examples of a trade that was described last month by Jean Ziegler, the UN's special rapporteur, as "a crime against humanity". Ziegler took up the call first made by this column for a five-year moratorium on all government targets and incentives for biofuel: the trade should be frozen until second-generation fuels - made from wood or straw or waste - become commercially available. Otherwise, the superior purchasing power of drivers in the rich world means that they will snatch food from people's mouths. Run your car on virgin biofuel, and other people will starve.

Even the International Monetary Fund, always ready to immolate the poor on the altar of business, now warns that using food to produce biofuels "might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further". This week, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation will announce the lowest global food reserves in 25 years, threatening what it calls "a very serious crisis". Even when the price of food was low, 850 million people went hungry because they could not afford to buy it. With every increment in the price of flour or grain, several million more are pushed below the breadline.

The cost of rice has risen by 20% over the past year, maize by 50%, wheat by 100%. Biofuels aren't entirely to blame - by taking land out of food production they exacerbate the effects of bad harvests and rising demand - but almost all the major agencies are now warning against expansion. And almost all the major governments are ignoring them.

They turn away because biofuels offer a means of avoiding hard political choices. They create the impression that governments can cut carbon emissions and - as Ruth Kelly, the British transport secretary, announced last week - keep expanding the transport networks. New figures show that British drivers puttered past the 500bn kilometre mark for the first time last year. But it doesn't matter: we just have to change the fuel we use. No one has to be confronted. The demands of the motoring lobby and the business groups clamouring for new infrastructure can be met. The people being pushed off their land remain unheard.

In principle, burning biofuels merely releases the carbon the crops accumulated when growing. Even when you take into account the energy costs of harvesting, refining and transporting the fuel, they produce less net carbon than petroleum products. The law the British government passed a fortnight ago - by 2010, 5% of our road transport fuel must come from crops - will, it claims, save between 700,000 and 800,000 tonnes of carbon a year. It derives this figure by framing the question carefully. If you count only the immediate carbon costs of planting and processing biofuels, they appear to reduce greenhouse gases. When you look at the total impacts, you find they cause more warming than petroleum.

A recent study by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen shows that the official estimates have ignored the contribution of nitrogen fertilisers. They generate a greenhouse gas - nitrous oxide - that is 296 times as powerful as CO2. These emissions alone ensure that ethanol from maize causes between 0.9 and 1.5 times as much warming as petrol, while rapeseed oil (the source of more than 80% of the world's biodiesel) generates 1-1.7 times the impact of diesel. This is before you account for the changes in land use.

A paper published in the journal Science three months ago suggests that protecting uncultivated land saves, over 30 years, between two and nine times the carbon emissions you might avoid by ploughing it and planting biofuels. Last year the research group LMC International estimated that if the British and European target of a 5% contribution from biofuels were to be adopted by the rest of the world, the global acreage of cultivated land would expand by 15%. That means the end of most tropical forests. It might also cause runaway climate change.

The British government says it will strive to ensure that "only the most sustainable biofuels" will be used in the UK. It has no means of enforcing this aim - it admits that if it tried to impose a binding standard it would break world trade rules. But even if "sustainability" could be enforced, what exactly does it mean? You could, for example, ban palm oil from new plantations. This is the most destructive kind of biofuel, driving deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. But the ban would change nothing. As Carl Bek-Nielsen, vice chairman of Malaysia's United Plantations Berhad, remarked: "Even if it is another oil that goes into biodiesel, that other oil then needs to be replaced. Either way, there's going to be a vacuum and palm oil can fill that vacuum." The knock-on effects cause the destruction you are trying to avoid. The only sustainable biofuel is recycled waste oil, but the available volumes are tiny.

At this point, the biofuels industry starts shouting "jatropha". It is not yet a swear word, but it soon will be. Jatropha is a tough weed with oily seeds that grows in the tropics. This summer Bob Geldof, who never misses an opportunity to promote simplistic solutions to complex problems, arrived in Swaziland in the role of "special adviser" to a biofuels firm. Because it can grow on marginal land, jatropha, he claimed, is a "life-changing" plant that will offer jobs, cash crops and economic power to African smallholders.

Yes, it can grow on poor land and be cultivated by smallholders. But it can also grow on fertile land and be cultivated by largeholders. If there is one blindingly obvious fact about biofuel, it's that it is not a smallholder crop. It is an internationally traded commodity that travels well and can be stored indefinitely, with no premium for local or organic produce. Already the Indian government is planning 14m hectares of jatropha plantations. In August, the first riots took place among the peasant farmers being driven off the land to make way for them.

If the governments promoting biofuels do not reverse their policies, the humanitarian impact will be greater than that of the Iraq war. Millions will be displaced, hundreds of millions more could go hungry. This crime against humanity is a complex one, but that neither lessens nor excuses it. If people starve because of biofuels, Ruth Kelly and her peers will have killed them. Like all such crimes, it is perpetrated by cowards, attacking the weak to avoid confronting the strong.
I've never been for using food crops as fuel and this is the reason why. It raises prices on foods throughout the production chain and results in land being used to grow 'fuel' instead of food. And we only got even higher fuel prices in exchange for the ethanol mandate.
 

Fern

Elite Member
Super Moderator
Sep 30, 2003
26,907
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Originally posted by: Queasy
-snip-

I've never been for using food crops as fuel and this is the reason why. It raises prices on foods throughout the production chain and results in land being used to grow 'fuel' instead of food. And we only got even higher fuel prices in exchange for the ethanol mandate.
Yep, agreed. This is but another reason why biofuels are a bad idea.

Fern
 

Queasy

Moderator<br>Console Gaming
Aug 24, 2001
31,796
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Originally posted by: blackangst1
RP from a couple months ago I believe.
Must have been a different article. This one is posted Tuesday November 6, 2007.

 

Queasy

Moderator<br>Console Gaming
Aug 24, 2001
31,796
2
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Originally posted by: ayabe
This is a DUH! piece of information.
There are sure a lot of people out there pushing biofuels as the solution to our energy problems for this to be such a 'duh piece of information'.
 

OutHouse

Lifer
Jun 5, 2000
36,414
616
126
why dont you bitch to the government of Swaziland, they are the ones selling their food for fuel.
 

ayabe

Diamond Member
Aug 10, 2005
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0
0
Originally posted by: Queasy
Originally posted by: ayabe
This is a DUH! piece of information.
There are sure a lot of people out there pushing biofuels as the solution to our energy problems for this to be such a 'duh piece of information'.
Sure the people whose pockets will be lined like Congressmen from Iowa, big time subsidies for the corporate farms who are already subsidized out the ying-yang.

Aside from that I don't know of too many people who are full steam ahead on this idea.
 

Queasy

Moderator<br>Console Gaming
Aug 24, 2001
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Originally posted by: ayabe
Aside from that I don't know of too many people who are full steam ahead on this idea.
Link

A few weeks ago we informed about the First Biofuels Congress of the Americas, which will take place at the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina and will feature former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as the keynote speaker (and several political figures including former Colombia president Andres Pastrana). We bring the story back because the date changed: the event will be next May 10th and 11th, 2007. Sessions will include biofuels initiatives, sources of financing and investments, local and hemispheric project development, the government?s role in developing projects, and legal framework, among others. ?This Congress will be the cornerstone of a series of sub-regional conferences and exchanges during 2007 and 2008. A key goal is to focus governments, producers, NGOs, industry and corporations on viable strategies to develop biofuels throughout the Americas. We also seek to promote public-private partnerships that will result in specific investments and projects?, the two organizers (an ONG called Campo en Acción and the Foundation for InterAmerican Development) announce in their website. Following encounters will be in Mexico, Colombia, Central America and Brazil.

Some of the confirmed speakers are Andrés Pastrana, former Colombia president; Karen Poniachik Pollak, mining and energy Minister of Chile; Héctor Morales, U.S. Executive Director, Inter American Development Bank, among many others.
The program includes the following conferences: Global Biofuels in context and current trends, Financing and investment sources for Biofuel projects and plants, The Southern Cone & The World?s most productive agricultural heartland, Prospects, Opportunities and Challenges, Trends in Legal & Regulatory Frameworks, and the Keynote Address by Al Gore, ?Biofuels and the Environment?. ::First Biofuels Congress of the Americas
There are many other links with a simple Google search.
 

rpanic

Golden Member
Dec 1, 2006
1,896
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I would rather have fuel than people from the third world. Sounds like a win win situation to me, good way curb out of control populations.
 

ayabe

Diamond Member
Aug 10, 2005
7,449
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0
Originally posted by: Queasy
Originally posted by: ayabe
Aside from that I don't know of too many people who are full steam ahead on this idea.
Link

A few weeks ago we informed about the First Biofuels Congress of the Americas, which will take place at the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina and will feature former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as the keynote speaker (and several political figures including former Colombia president Andres Pastrana). We bring the story back because the date changed: the event will be next May 10th and 11th, 2007. Sessions will include biofuels initiatives, sources of financing and investments, local and hemispheric project development, the government?s role in developing projects, and legal framework, among others. ?This Congress will be the cornerstone of a series of sub-regional conferences and exchanges during 2007 and 2008. A key goal is to focus governments, producers, NGOs, industry and corporations on viable strategies to develop biofuels throughout the Americas. We also seek to promote public-private partnerships that will result in specific investments and projects?, the two organizers (an ONG called Campo en Acción and the Foundation for InterAmerican Development) announce in their website. Following encounters will be in Mexico, Colombia, Central America and Brazil.

Some of the confirmed speakers are Andrés Pastrana, former Colombia president; Karen Poniachik Pollak, mining and energy Minister of Chile; Héctor Morales, U.S. Executive Director, Inter American Development Bank, among many others.
The program includes the following conferences: Global Biofuels in context and current trends, Financing and investment sources for Biofuel projects and plants, The Southern Cone & The World?s most productive agricultural heartland, Prospects, Opportunities and Challenges, Trends in Legal & Regulatory Frameworks, and the Keynote Address by Al Gore, ?Biofuels and the Environment?. ::First Biofuels Congress of the Americas
There are many other links with a simple Google search.
So? What is your point? It's not a long term solution and people in the know already know this.

Yeah they got Al Gore, ok great, so?
 

blackangst1

Lifer
Feb 23, 2005
20,827
804
126
Originally posted by: Queasy
Originally posted by: blackangst1
RP from a couple months ago I believe.
Must have been a different article. This one is posted Tuesday November 6, 2007.
It was. Different article, same exact message. I believe it's sitting in one of Dave's threads.
 

BoberFett

Lifer
Oct 9, 1999
37,563
9
81
Originally posted by: ayabe

Yeah they got Al Gore, ok great, so?
You don't see a problem with Gore endorsing starvation? You Gore-bots put us Paul-bots to shame. I think I'll start another RP thread...
 

Red Dawn

Elite Member
Jun 4, 2001
57,531
3
0
Originally posted by: blackangst1
Originally posted by: Queasy
Originally posted by: blackangst1
RP from a couple months ago I believe.
Must have been a different article. This one is posted Tuesday November 6, 2007.
It was. Different article, same exact message. I believe it's sitting in one of Dave's threads.
Well there you go, who in their right mind bothers to read any of Daves threads?
 

Wreckem

Diamond Member
Sep 23, 2006
9,323
777
126
No its the third world causing starvation of their own people... The US and Rest of the World Repeatedly give African countries aid in way of money, food and medical supplies and the countries, must run by dictators and warlords squander it/keep it for themselves.
 

Fern

Elite Member
Super Moderator
Sep 30, 2003
26,907
173
106
Originally posted by: Red Dawn
Originally posted by: blackangst1
Originally posted by: Queasy
Originally posted by: blackangst1
RP from a couple months ago I believe.
Must have been a different article. This one is posted Tuesday November 6, 2007.
It was. Different article, same exact message. I believe it's sitting in one of Dave's threads.
Well there you go, who in their right mind bothers to read any of Daves threads?
:laugh:

Fern
 

CADsortaGUY

Lifer
Oct 19, 2001
25,162
1
76
www.ShawCAD.com
Originally posted by: blackangst1
Originally posted by: Queasy
Originally posted by: blackangst1
RP from a couple months ago I believe.
Must have been a different article. This one is posted Tuesday November 6, 2007.
It was. Different article, same exact message. I believe it's sitting in one of Dave's threads.
Yep, and it's the same old BS. I posted some interesting FACTS in that thread and it seems they were ignored. Oh well, people will continue to choose ignorance I guess.
 

Moonbeam

Elite Member
Nov 24, 1999
67,320
4,016
126
I think the future in this area needs to go to non food stuff bio mass cellulosic ethanol production. Research and development are already underway.
 

1EZduzit

Lifer
Feb 4, 2002
11,834
1
0
Originally posted by: ayabe
Originally posted by: Queasy
Originally posted by: ayabe
This is a DUH! piece of information.
There are sure a lot of people out there pushing biofuels as the solution to our energy problems for this to be such a 'duh piece of information'.
Sure the people whose pockets will be lined like Congressmen from Iowa, big time subsidies for the corporate farms who are already subsidized out the ying-yang.

Aside from that I don't know of too many people who are full steam ahead on this idea.
We have always grown a surplus of grain in this country so your going to end up subsizing the corporate farms anyway, at least until they get smart and pass a bill (with no loopholes) that limits the total subsidy per person.

We have a choice, start doing what we can to become as energy independant as possible (ethanol/biodiesel production being only one part of that solution) or sell the grain to 3rd world countries at a loss.
 

StageLeft

No Lifer
Sep 29, 2000
70,150
2
0
Originally posted by: Citrix
why dont you bitch to the government of Swaziland, they are the ones selling their food for fuel.
Took a while for people to realize that. THe article heading blames the west when in fact this is Swaziland doing the main thing. They should be shamed and beaten with sticks.
 

OrganizedChaos

Diamond Member
Apr 21, 2002
4,525
0
0
with almost 40% of their population HIV+ i think they're trying to make the choice between food and medicine. all the food in the world isn't going to help if there's nobody left to eat it in 100 years.
 

blackangst1

Lifer
Feb 23, 2005
20,827
804
126
Originally posted by: OrganizedChaos
with almost 40% of their population HIV+ i think they're trying to make the choice between food and medicine. all the food in the world isn't going to help if there's nobody left to eat it in 100 years.
Yep. Average life expectancy in many African countries is less than 38 years old. With no medicine, it will decline like it has for the last decade. But thats another thread.
 

Specop 007

Diamond Member
Jan 31, 2005
9,454
0
0
Higher crop prices are not necesarily bad. Your "mom and pop" farmers have been getting screwed, badly, for quite some time. I mean to the tune of DECADES.
 

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