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Food Or Fuel

By John James

02 October, 2008

Fatal food riots in Haiti. Violent food-price protests in Egypt and Ivory Coast. Rice so valuable it is transported in armoured convoys. Soldiers guarding fields and warehouses. Export bans to keep local populations from starving. India had banned the export of rise.

The Amazon is an incomparable storehouse of both biodiversity and carbon. Because of deforestation and gigantic men-made forest fires Brazil now ranks fourth in the world in carbon emissions. A recent expert warned "You can't protect it. There's too much money to be made tearing it down.” Tearing it down to grow biofuels.

The biofuel boom is doing exactly the opposite of what was intended: it is dramatically accelerating global warming, imperilling the planet in the name of saving it.

Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to be environmentally disastrous. Even cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists as the fuel of the future, looks less green than gasoline.

By diverting grain and oilseed crops from food to fuel, biofuels are jacking up world food prices and endangering food for everybody.

The grain it takes to fill one SUV tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year.

In the past twelve months world stores of wheat and corn have been reduced to the lowest in 25 years, while we have added 2 billion to the population. “We are facing the perfect storm for the world’s hungry,” said Josette Sheeran of the World Food Program. “Costs have gone up 50% in the last five years. Some poor people are being priced out of the food market.”

He called it “a crime against humanity”.

Soaring corn prices have sparked tortilla riots in Mexico City, and skyrocketing flour prices have destabilized Pakistan, which wasn't exactly tranquil when flour was affordable.

Making this worse, peaking oil has doubled shipping costs and look like doubling again, adding stress on importing nations.

Is this why we don’t act: If your experience is that water comes from the tap and food comes from the grocery store, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them; it is otherwise if your experience is that water comes from a river and food comes from the soil.

Being dependent upon this system, it has become almost impossible to imagine living outside it, and therefore how can we struggle against it.

Just consider: If you ran the God’s Cosmic Insurance Company what rate would you quote on our survival?

John James is a therapist, architect, philosopher and medieval historian. His site shares information on Climate Change. He has just published The Great Field.

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