|Biofuel: Sowing Hunger Wherever It Grows|
By Ashton Ellis
Wednesday, April 13 2011
With the cost of living climbing to new heights, the world’s poor are tasting the bitter reality of market-distorting government policies. Biofuels, and the subsidy chasers who love them, damage not only America’s wealth – they make the simple act of eating exponentially more expensive.
From October 2010 to January 2011, the cost of food rose 15 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s index of food prices.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in February that, “Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world.”
The World Bank estimates that 44 million people in the developing world were thrown into poverty as a result. Zoellick stressed that the spike in food prices hits the poorest hardest because many of them already “spend more than half of their income on food.”
The situation is only marginally better in more developed countries like China and India. There, increasing wealth is causing a rise in demand for richer foods like meat and beer, commodities heavily reliant on accessible grain stock to keep pace with appetites.
The problem facing all of these hungry consumers is the current alternative energy fad known as “biofuels.”
With political turmoil engulfing petroleum-rich countries in the Middle East, many policymakers in the West and elsewhere are trying to supplement their energy supply with homegrown alternatives.
But since expanding domestic oil and natural gas production is anathema to environmentalists – and nuclear power is now effectively off the table for many thanks to Japan’s Fukushima fiasco – so-called green alternatives like biofuels are filling the gap.
Premised on the argument that plants are cleaner sources of energy than extracted goods like oil, gas and coal, biofuels divert staple crops like corn and cassava into non-food uses such as fueling cars.
As with all green technologies, biofuels are an interesting idea that can’t compete in a free market. In order to continue development, firms that specialize in biofuels make endless appeals for government subsidies to midwife them to sustainability. (At which point, the companies will be happy to keep the profits and leave taxpayers with the R&D bill.)
Acknowledging this, on March 31, President Barack Obama unveiled his so-called Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future. The plan mandates cutting U.S. oil imports one-third by 2025, and promises billions of dollars in new investments to prop up green energy research.
Unfortunately, the president’s blueprint does far more than send tax dollars chasing a green pipedream. When coupled with a congressional statute requiring a switch to at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel annually by 2022, the effect is unmistakable: Having declared biofuels’ inevitable success, the government will now make it so with massive funding on a preordained timetable.
So much for the federal government divorcing science from ideology.
And then there’s the effect on food prices. For every ear of corn or cassava root that makes the jump to a biofuels plant, one less portion for food is available at market. Moreover, with the supply of food decreasing at a time when world economies are developing, the price of eating better – or for many, eating at all – rises beyond reach.
Few outside the biofuels industry think the technology is worth the price. Some environmentalists recoil from the coal supply needed for production. Many humanitarian groups deplore the inflated costs of food caused by the scarcity of grain stock biofuels create.
The only interest group committed to increasing the biofuels experiment is a clutch of crony capitalists using the enticement of “green jobs” to lure in politicians.
When it comes to staking a clean and secure energy future on the stomachs of the world’s poor, one would think a technology like biofuels would be a non-starter. Perhaps it would be, if only the poor knew how to organize better.
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