The Naked Truth

Stopping the world’s spin.

The Cost of Global Warming Regulation

Biofuels forcing world to ration food aid

The World Food Program is preparing to ration food aid for the world’s hungriest poor. Why? Primarily because we’re burning food in our automobiles. The rich-country mandates for biofuels have doubled and tripled world food prices in less than three years.

The World Food Program’s costs are rising by millions of dollars per week and the donations aren’t, warns WFP executive director Josette Sheeran. The WFP is trying to feed more than 70 million people in 78 countries with voluntary contributions—but now can’t afford to keep its agreed-upon commitments.

World corn prices are above $5 a bushel, up from $1.86 three years ago. Prices for wheat, soybeans, rice and even cotton are rising as they’re crowded out of field space by biofuel crops. Pakistan says it will reimpose food rationing for the first time since the 1980s. China’s food inflation rate is 18.2 percent, and the Chinese have blocked further expansion of their fledgling biofuel program.

Food for Car

Oxfam points out that the poor in the Third World must often spend 60-80 percent of their incomes for food, so the price increases are a drastic threat to their well-being.

In Yemen, the prices of mostly-imported bread and other staples have nearly doubled in recent months, with at least a dozen people killed in food riots.

The underweight proportion of the world’s children under five had dropped by 20 percent since 1990—but that vital progress may now be reversed by the biofuel subsidies. Meanwhile, while U.S. and European officials stubbornly insist that burning millions of tons of corn, sugar and palm oil in our gas tanks has nothing to do with the soaring prices of farm commodities.

“The fundamental cause is high income growth, ” claims Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute. He blames increased meat consumption in such high-growth nations as China and India. But both those big countries have largely supplied their own grain and meat increases over the past 15 years.

The commodity-savvy Financial Times is more realistic. “Biofuels will not feed the hungry,” it warned in a recent editorial. “. . . the biggest structural change [in food pricing] is biofuels. In the space of a few years, the U.S. has diverted about 40 million tonnes of maize to produce bioethanol—about 4 percent of global production of coarse grains. That rapid growth is largely the result of subsidies—which must halt. The environmental benefits of maize biofuel are ambiguous at best and it should not be favored over growing maize for food.”

The same should be said, of course, about the EU’s new commitment to provide 10 percent of its transport fuel from land-hungry biofuels, grown both in the EU countries and imported from such species-rich environments as Indonesia and Thailand. One of the great apes, the orangutan, is directly threatened by palm oil plantations because the apes love to eat the palm seedlings. Thousands of orangutans have been captured and killed because the palm oil plantations are an “attractive biofuel nuisance.”

U.S. corn farmers raised a record amount of grain last summer—but one-third of it is going into ethanol plants to “cure our addiction to foreign oil.” That corn will produce perhaps 10 billion gallons of ethanol—but nets out to just 50 gallons worth of gasoline per acre. That’s after subtracting the nitrogen fertilizer, the diesel fuel, the process heat for the ethanol plants—and ethanol’s 35 percent fewer Btu’s of energy per gallon.

Match 50 gallons worth of gasoline per acre against America’s annual demand for 135 billion gallons of gasoline! If we doubled corn yields, we’d still not achieve much “energy independence.” Nor would we feed the hungry.

source: Dennis T. Avery, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and Director of Center for Global Food Issues (www.cgfi.org), and Alex A. Avery, Director of Research at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues. (via Enterstageright.com)

Update 

Upon further digging, I found a Swiss study which concluded that biofuels may not be the panacea for the world’s fossil-fuel woes. Such fuels may actually be more harmful for the environment than their fossil counterparts.

The research team tested the following alternative fuels: bioethanol, biomethanol, biodiesel and biomethane. It then considered the entire production cycle.

According to the authors, while it was true that biofuels might emit less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels when consumed, producing them was generally more stressful on the environment.

The report confirmed that biofuels emit up to a third less carbon dioxide than petrol and diesel. However, this in itself was not enough to give them the eco-friendly stamp of approval.

“The energetic efficiency and the resulting reduced emissions of greenhouse gases cannot be the sole criteria for assessing the environmental friendliness of biofuels,” said Rainer Zah, one of the authors. “The prefix ‘bio’ doesn’t necessarily mean environment friendly,” Zah added.

Growing and processing crops for energy purposes or feedstocks can have the heaviest environmental impact, as soil quality can be affected adversely, such as through fertiliser overuse.

In tropical countries slash and burning – used to clear land for crop production – resulted in copious amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the air. The production of bioethanol from rye was the least environmentally friendly owing to low yields. The environmental impacts of fuel processing and transportation were much lower, the report noted.

But unlike fossil fuels, the environmental impact of biofuels can be greatly reduced by specific measures and new production methods should lead to much better ecological results. Among the different biofuels, biogenic wastes, ranging from grass to wood, presented the most environmentally friendly option for replacing fossil fuels.

The study, Sustainable Energy: A Framework for Decision Makers concluded that the environmental and social damage could… outweigh the benefits of biofuels.

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March 19, 2008 - Posted by | global warming | , , , , , , ,

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