Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Human Cost of Ethanol: High Food Prices

William Tucker's article on the high world price of food is one of the most insightful things I've seen in a long time. He makes the connection between the demand for ethanol and the price of food. Land used to grow corn for gas tanks is not available to grow corn for food.
Writing in the Washington Post in 2006, two former enthusiasts of biofuels, James Jordan and James Powell of Brooklyn's Polytechnic University, noted:

It's difficult to understand how advocates of biofuels can believe they are a real solution to kicking our oil addition. .  .  . [T]he entire U.S. corn crop would supply only 3.7 percent of our auto and truck transport demands. Using the entire 300 million acres of U.S. cropland for corn-based ethanol production would meet about 15 percent of demand. .  .  . And the effects on land and agriculture would be devastating.

the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has been screaming the same thing for years, to no avail. World food prices have almost doubled since 2005. There have been "tortilla riots" in Mexico and identical disturbances in Morocco, Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mauritania, Cameroon, Senegal, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. True, the rising cost of energy and the perennial defects of Third World food markets are partly to blame. But the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington says biofuel conversion accounts for at least a fourth of this increase. Even in the United States, milk prices have jumped 50 percent because so much corn is being diverted from cows to gas tanks. C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer, two agricultural experts at the University of Minnesota, predict that by 2025 bio-fuels will be responsible for 600 million more chronically hungry people. Jean Ziegler, a U.N. food expert, labeled biofuels a "crime against humanity" and called for a five-year moratorium. The great ethanol boom is a classic case of putting First World luxuries ahead of Third World necessities.

Since I read this article a month or so ago, I've been noticing that other outlets and commentators are catching on to the connection between "green" fuels and world hunger.
Then tonight, I opened my Zenit, Vatican News Service digest, and found this:
KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, JUNE 5, 2008 ( The Catholic seminary in Makurdi in central Nigeria is facing closure this month as a result of the worldwide food crisis, reported Aid to the Church in Need.

Monsignor Kenneth Enang, rector of the seminary, told the aid agency Wednesday that the major seminary, in which some 520 seminarians from 15 dioceses are preparing for the priesthood, has already been forced to ration the food on account of the "astronomical prices."

An additional problem is the price of diesel, which is used to provide electricity. Within just one week, the price of diesel has risen by a third.

Father Andrzei Halemba, who heads the Africa desk of Aid to the Church in Need, reports that the worldwide food crisis is becoming an ever greater problem for seminaries throughout the Third World, and is likely to threaten the continued functioning of many other seminaries.

Months earlier, Father Enang had told Aid to the Church in Need of his delight at the many, "good vocations," arriving to his seminary, and the well-qualified staff. He described the seminary as something of a "bridge" between the North and South of Nigeria.

It was a "wonderful experience," he added, to see the way in which these young men from all over the country got on together. One could see in it "how Nigeria ought to look."

At that time there was talk of enlarging the seminary, since the space was no longer sufficient for the many seminarians there.

Now they are threatened with closure by June 20.

Long-run unintended consequences to feel-good environmentalism. Be sure to read Tucker's full article here.

1 comment:

Roland said...

Well and it's a bandaid cure anyway, as is the arctic drilling. We just don't want to accept that the answer lies in a mix of temporary lifestyle cuts and long-term energy creativity - probably initiated in the private sector BECAUSE people begin to cut lifestyle costs.