Posts Tagged ‘food’

Hands up, who’s turning a blind eye to biofuels?!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Monbiot claims that biofuels could kill more people than the Iraq war. Here’s how his article opens –

It doesn’t get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava(1). The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the county of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought(2). It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums.

This is one of many examples of a trade described last month by Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur, as “a crime against humanity”(3). Ziegler took up the call first made by this column for a five-year moratorium on all government targets and incentives for biofuel(4): the trade should be frozen until second-generation fuels – made from wood or straw or waste – become commercially available. Otherwise the superior purchasing power of drivers in the rich world means that they will snatch food from people’s mouths. Run your car on virgin biofuel and other people will starve.

Even the International Monetary Fund, always ready to immolate the poor on the altar of business, now warns that using food to produce biofuels “might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further.”(5) This week the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation will announce the lowest global food reserves in 25 years, threatening what it calls “a very serious crisis”(6). Even when the price of food was low, 850 million people went hungry because they could not afford to buy it. With every increment in the price of flour or grain, several million more are pushed below the breadline.

The cost of rice has risen by 20% over the past year, maize by 50%, wheat by 100%(7). Biofuels aren’t entirely to blame – by taking land out of food production they exacerbate the effects of bad harvests and rising demand – but almost all the major agencies are now warning against expansion. And almost all the major governments are ignoring them.

For the rest of the article and footnotes, read here. So where are the systemic analyses? If only a low-impact, laboratory-based refining method could be created and quickly scaled up…


Haven Europe (Haven America?) – safe while the world burns

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A total of 46 nations and 2.7 billion people are now at high risk of being overwhelmed by armed conflict and war because of climate change. A further 56 countries face political destabilisation, affecting another 1.2 billion individuals.

– according to the organisation, International Alert, written about in the Observer.

The worst threats involve nations lacking resources and stability to deal with global warming, added the agency’s secretary-general, Dan Smith. ‘Holland will be affected by rising sea levels, but no one expects war or strife,’ he told The Observer. ‘It has the resources and political structure to act effectively. But other countries that suffer loss of land and water and be buffeted by increasingly fierce storms will have no effective government to ensure corrective measures are taken. People will form defensive groups and battles will break out.’


In Europe, most countries are currently considered stable enough to cope with global warming, apart from the Balkans; wars have left countries such as Serbia and Montenegro politically weakened. As temperatures rise and farmland is reduced, population pressures will trigger violence that authorities will be unable to contain.

Some nations on the risk map, such as Russia, may cause surprise. ‘Moscow’s control of Russia as a whole will not be undermined by global warming,’ said Smith. ‘But loss of farmland in some regions will lead to local rebellions like those already triggered in Chechnya.’

Conflict triggered by climate change is not a vague threat for coming years, he added. ‘It is already upon us.’

What luck for us Europeans. No mention, I note from the article, of North America.

[You may wonder why I’m tagging this post in ‘psychology’, ‘religion’ and other seemingly peripheral categories; well, I think we need all the help we can get, and psychologists and religious folk alike need to lend their helping hands to these problems.]

What should we do next? What would Bush do? (That’s tongue in cheek, by the way. We need some attention and resource to the United Nations, the only international forum around.)

Important news

Saturday, November 3, 2007

There’s a pending world food crisis. This from the Director of the United Nations Word Food Programme –

There are 854 million hungry people in the world and 4 million more join their ranks every year. We are facing the tightest food supplies in recent history. For the world’s most vulnerable, food is simply being priced out of their reach.

Political instability is, excuse the pun, cropping up throughout the world owing to food shortages, farmers switching to biofuel production, and global warming. Read on here.

This from the World Food Programme’s website, which shows just how much learning there was to be done on an organisational level from its first days in the late C20th –

Scheduled to go into operation in 1963 as a three-year experimental programme, WFP was up and running before it could walk. An earthquake hit Iran in September 1962, followed by a hurricane in Thailand in October. Newly independent Algeria was resettling 5 million refugees. Food aid was urgently needed and WFP supplied it. It has never stopped.