Comment: Is oil more important than food?
August 15th 2012
Sports stars like Mo Farah at No 10 will not change a simple fact: people are starving because of the west's thirst for biofuels, says George Monbiot in the Guardian
I don't blame Mo Farah, Pele and Haile Gebrselassie, who lined up, all hugs and smiles, outside Downing Street for a photocall at the Prime Minister's hunger summit. Perhaps they were unaware of the way in which they were being used to promote David Cameron's corporate and paternalistic approach to overseas aid. Perhaps they were also unaware of the crime against humanity over which he presides. Perhaps Cameron himself is unaware of it.
You should by now have heard about the famine developing in the Sahel region of west Africa. Poor harvests and high food prices threaten the lives of some 18 million people. The global price of food is likely to rise still further, as a result of low crop yields in the United States, caused by the worst drought in 50 years. World cereal prices, in response to this disaster, climbed 17% last month. We have been cautious about attributing such events to climate change
: perhaps too cautious. A new paper by James Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, shows that there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers. Between 1951 and 1980 these events affected between 0.1 and 0.2% of the world's land surface each year. Now, on average, they affect 10%. Hansen explains that 'the odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small'. Both the droughts in the Sahel and the US crop failures are likely to be the result of climate change
But this is not the only sense in which the rich world's use of fuel is causing the poor to starve. In the United Kingdom, in the rest of the European Union and in the United States, governments have chosen to deploy a cure as bad as the disease. Despite overwhelming evidence of the harm their policy is causing, none of them will change course. Biofuels are the means by which governments in the rich world avoid hard choices.
The US and the European Union have both set targets and created generous financial incentives for the use of biofuels. The results have been a disaster for people and the planet. Already, 40% of US corn (maize) production is used to feed cars. The proportion will rise this year as a result of the smaller harvest. Though the market for biodiesel is largely confined to the European Union, it has already captured 7% of the world's output of vegetable oil. The European commission admits that its target (10% of transport fuels by 2020) will raise world cereal prices by between 3% and 6%. Oxfam estimates that with every 1% increase in the price of food, another 16 million people go hungry. By 2021, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that 14% of the world's maize and other coarse grains, 16% of its vegetable oil and 34% of its sugarcane will be used to make people in the gas-guzzling nations feel better about themselves. The demand for biofuel will be met, it reports, partly through an increase in production; partly through a 'reduction in human consumption'. The poor will starve so that the rich can drive.
Read the full article: The Guardian
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