What's the Big Deal About Biofuels?
Why Working and Poor People Should Oppose It
By Thomas Davies
George W. Bush stepped to the podium in his 2006 State of the Union address as the Head of State of a state in crisis. Among the many disastrous policies he put forward, his focus on developing the production of fuels created from crop sources has forced the Western world’s energy crisis onto the shoulders of the already starving people of the third world. As Fidel Castro wrote as part of a larger series of articles on the issue last year, “The dilemma is not in the reduction of energy costs, but in the idea of turning foodstuffs into fuel”. The reality of this idea could literally mean the deaths of billions of people as crops are fed to cars over humans.
Bush said it plainly enough: America is “addicted to oil,” and this poses a “national security problem” because it is “often imported from unstable parts of the world”. The U.S. had therefore already spent nearly 10 billion dollars developing the technology to turn crops such as corn and sugar cane into fuel sources, and would continue to prioritize this technology. Agcapita Farmland Investment Partnership research shows in the next 15 years approximately 240 million acres of farmland are committed to biofuel production.
The U.S alone would have to dedicate its entire corn production to fuel to fit its 2017 target, and still come up 40 million tons short annually. They aren’t the only country with these skewed priorities. The Canadian government has a 5 percent biofuel target for transport fuel by 2010, and the European Union is planning on 20% by 2020.
Again, it was Fidel Castro who pushed forward the most simple and important question when he asked, “What will happen when hundreds of millions of tons of corn are directed to biofuel?”
Supply and Demand
According to the World Bank, global food prices have increased by over 83% since February 2005. While climate change resulting from large corporations’ largely unchecked pollution of our environment has also wreaked havoc on crops and heightened food prices, the continued diversion of food crops into energy sources has been the most important reason.
As the U.S. prioritizes corn consumption for fuel purposes, prices for tortillas, the staple food in Mexico, grew over 100%. Even Brazil’s bio-fuel championing President Lula was forced to admit that corn prices had risen 85%. Additionally, the price of other crops increased as their supply diminishes as farmers switch over to exclusive corn cultivation.
Here’s where it all adds up to very real potential genocide of billions of people. 2.6 billion people around the world live on less than US$2 a day and spend 60% to 80% of their incomes on food. There is simply no room for an 85% increase that shows no sign of slowing down.
As Mark Lynas wrote in a New Statesman article entitled, “How the Rich Starved the World,” U.S. vehicles already burn enough corn to cover the entire import needs of the poorest 82 countries.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, sited UN Food and Agriculture Organization data which shows that the world already produces enough food to feed the double of the current world population. Those who die from malnutrition, he said, were being murdered. In this same speech, Mr. Ziegler singled out the transformation of agricultural land into land of the production of bio-fuels for America as a huge contributing factor.
How have people responded to this crisis? Food riots have flooded the streets around the world. From two day General Strikes in Burkina Faso to the tens of thousands people on the streets in Egypt and Bangladesh, the riots have resulted with the dismissal of the Prime Minister in Haiti, and forced countries like Brazil, India, and Vietnam to institute bans or limitations on rice exports. The calls of the protesters are the same in every language, “We are hungry!” Officials around the world are scrambling to contain a crisis which directly threatens their governments and exposes how close people around the world are to the edge of starvation, and to massive mobilization.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that in a world which is capable of feeding every single human being, the lives of 2.6 billion people are in direct jeopardy because of the food policies of countries like the U.S. and Canada. The promotion of biofuels by theses imperialist countries is an extension of their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – for control of resources at any human cost. This is what Fidel warned the world of at the June 12 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, when he demanded, “Let hunger disappear, and not mankind” For all of these reasons, poor and working people should demand an end to biofuel production and for the creation of real solutions to the questions of hunger, energy, and environment.
Back to Article Listing