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Biofuels Put 30M in Poverty, Oxfam Says

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The human cost of the global biofuel switch was put in stark terms today by international advocacy group Oxfam, which released a report saying biofuels are responsible for pushing 30 million people into poverty (International Herald Tribune, Reuters and BBC coverage). The widely noted report asserts that the increasing use of grains as biofuel feedstocks is responsible for 30 percent of the increase in food prices, and that’s hitting the world’s poorest hard.

The report, written by Oxfam biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey, urges developed nations to abandon their biofuel mandates and get rid of the subsidies and tariffs on biofuels that are destroying the ability of the market to appropriately adjust biofuel and food supply and demand. These economic hurdles have lead to an all-time low in grain reserves, the report says, and pushed food prices to record highs.

The report goes beyond the humanitarian consequences and puts numbers to the environmental boondoggle that is the current biofuel economy. Oxfam estimates that land-use changes largely from the palm oil plantations that have popped up around the world’s equator, are emitting a huge amount of CO2, and it will take 46 years of projected 2020-level biofuel use to make up a “carbon debt.”

Oxfam is just the latest in a series of international bodies that are calling for restructuring of the global biofuels market. UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, called the current biofuel industry a “crime against humanity” and said the misbegotten race to convert the world’s grain into fuel will cause more hunger. The Council on Foreign Relations says that Washington must step in and force diversification of biofuel feedstocks away from corn to prevent the poor of the world from starving. Critics in the United States and Washington insiders are calling for a scale back of the biofuels mandate.

11 Responses to “Biofuels Put 30M in Poverty, Oxfam Says”

  1. I forgot to include in that last paragraph… whatever we leave in the ground now, will be worth 10x more in the future. Consider that as a smart investment.

  2. The link between food and fuel prices should have been predicted long ago. Food IS fuel, and fuel WAS food. And it all came from the sun.

    The only reason this connection was ignored until now was because of the accessibility to abundant fossil fuel. The cost of fuel and food both will never decline again, until we engineer more cost-effective alternative energy, and become more efficient in many ways. Until then, higher costs will be the only protection against all fossil fuel being used up as quickly as civilization can suck or dig it out of the ground.

    Invest/pay now, or pay 10x later. Not to mention in our currently paranoicly terrorized state, it will be 10x better to hand our billions of energy dollars to our own farmers than to foreign, terrorist producing authoritarianist.

  3. Tim H.

    Food prices are going up because of oil speculation and grain speculation, which itself is tied to oil prices and global warming. As long as people naively swallow propaganda generated by the carbon industries (like this article), there is no hope for our society! We get the government we deserve.

  4. Ben Sure

    In response to JB’s statement the “politicians are dumb”, a warning: Politicians are not dumb. They are self motivated, crappy at their sworn jobs, and often corrupt. But I agree with your suggestion wholeheartedly.

  5. Keep a close eye on the “pinch points” in the oil shipping lanes. A single terrorist attack on a single tanker could send world governments scrambling to “do something” – and now! – about our oil dependency. Biofuels would doubtless be one idea that gets more funding and mandate because of the momentum it’s already got.

    And there’s precedent for such an attack:

  6. John Smith

    There’s a lot of promise in algae, which can generate far more oil per acre than any other plant source (and you can build vertical algae farms). Let’s be careful not to dismiss “all” bio-fuels with one fell swoop (algae waste products can be used as feed or fertilizer as well).

  7. “But we have to do something! We have to do something!”, the politicians cry. They could commit suicide and that would be doing something. And that would actually have tangible benefits. Government is dumb.

  8. Lets stop using our food crops as a source of fuel and refocus our line of thinking in turning waste into energy. Waste is already a problem, we have an abundance of it and there is a lot of untapped energy in our own waste. Waste2Energy is what I support.