It’s an inconvenient truth that across the world valuable cropland is being converted from growing food to growing biofuel. The croplands are being converted with government subsidies, and we are about to learn a very harsh lesson.
In Egypt we have breadlines, in Pakistan and India soaring flour prices, and in the rest of the subcontinent we have rice shortages.
Lester Brown, director of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, said yesterday that land turned to biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs. “This year 18% of all US grain production will go to biofuels. In the last two years the US has diverted 60m tonnes of food to fuel. On the heels of seven years of consumption of world grains exceeding supply, this has put a great strain on the world’s grain supplies,” he said.
The rising price of energy has decreased supplies of food in two ways: it’s made fuel crops more attractive and it’s made export and transport of food staples such as wheat, corn, and rice both more expensive and less appealing.
The outcome? We have breadlines in Egypt, we have spiraling food staples cost, and not enough food, which means people will be starving to death later this year. Yes, we passed a tipping point Al, and it was much closer and more easily seen than the one you spoke of in your movie.
Food production and commodities combined with free markets have kept famine at bay across most of the world since the early 80’s. The fact is that modern famines are created by government policies, or strife which interdicts transport. The Somalian famine was due to civil war against Islamists, and the Bangladesh famine was due to failed governance.
Any country can feed its people no matter how dense the population if they can farm at the level that 16th century Japanese peasants were capable of, this demonstrated in “A Step Further Out” by Jerry Pournelle. In the modern world with cheap transport and modern agriculture there’s simply no excuse for Famine, but I fear we’ve passed that point and that we will see some people starving to death this year.
Some future Chomsky will no doubt be writing screeds about Euro-centric Environmental Imperialism and Energy Hegemony, but in the end it’s exactly that sort of person who’s at fault here. Social liberals and computer models are a terrible combination, as the Club of Rome model tells us. (See here.)
In the end oil, coal, and food are foolish to burn, all create carcinogenic compounds that pollute the air — and if you have a ecological concern that should be it, not global warming. However our current eco-movements are headed down this exact path, with politicians hostage to the coal, oil, and bio-fuel lobbies worldwide.
We have the means to create plentiful, worldwide, cheap energy with Nuclear, Solar, Hydroelectric, Wind, Geothermal, Ocean thermal, and in the future Solar Power Satellites. The chest of options for really clean energy is full, but we fail to open it.
Our goal needs to be more than energy independence, if we are truly a great nation then we should set the bar higher – we must create abundant clean energy for the world.
All of the clean technologies are capable of generating electricity at a reasonable cost point which would surely come down if they were put into large-scale use, and all of them are feasible. With the exception of Solar power satellites, they have all been used for large scale electric generation. Also if you don’t think solar power satellites are feasible I will point you to the saga of Spirit and Opportunity, both live on past all expectations of gloom.
The future of the world is bright, but not if we follow charlatans and fear-monger lobbies who are really just after world socialism and wealth redistribution. We don’t need carbon credits, we need nuclear power. We don’t need carbon sequestration, we need hydrogen fuel research. We don’t need Kyoto, we need energy.
In the end Al Gore lied, and people will likely die. Don’t worry however: If famine does come, as appears likely, Al can sponsor a “Concert for X” (insert country name with hundreds of thousands dieing of starvation at X,) to make himself feel better about it.
[editor: Much more on energy potentials can be found online, and in the sidebar here under “Energetic Futures”. If you can find a copy of Jerry Pournelle’s book , I recommend you grab it. It’s a seminal work on the subject. Photo Credit Don McCullin, Contact Press]