Cause and effect

I haven’t been too impressed with ethanol fuels for a while. My concern back then was “that if governments make emotional knee-jerk reactions, the cure may be as bad as the disease it is designed to alleviate.”

In that context, the current food crisis is a salutory reminder of the nature of cause and effect.  Food riots have occurred in Egypt and Haiti and other countries, and the World Bank has warned the increased cost of food will push 100 million impoverished people deeper into poverty.

As this Washington Post article makes clear, the causes of the crisis are many, including the Australian drought, high oil prices and world economic trade barriers which obscured the rising food prices, preventing the market from making gradual adjustments.

However, another cause is the move in the US to plant crops for biofuels. Apparently one-fifth to one-quarter of the US corn crop will go to the production of ethanol for biofuel, which has contributed to the rise in global corn prices. And one must question how efficient biofuel is, according to these statistics stated in a New York Sun article

“It takes around 400 pounds of corn to make 25 gallons of ethanol,” Mr. Senauer, also an applied economics professor at Minnesota, said. “It’s not going to be a very good diet but that’s roughly enough to keep an adult person alive for a year.”

Some environmental and charity groups have now turned against biofuels as a result of the current crisis. It just proves that there’s no easy solution, and that proper and considered thought needs to be put into alternative fuel sources. This is why I hate scaremongering; it leads to irrational responses where the outcomes can be disasterous. Hopefully this will cause some thought about other options instead of biofuel.

But more than that, I hope that people will not starve as a result of the heightened food prices.


Filed under climate change, Economics, environment, ethanol fuel, food, politics, society, USA

2 responses to “Cause and effect

  1. p45 of The Economist 2008-04-26 has something on the benefits of biofuels. I’ll leave the author until last, as a punchline.

    The rapid growth in food-based biofuels poses dilemmas and risks – higher food prices and issues over biodiversity, land use and human rights. Moreover, the CO2 benefit is variable.

    So we are working with partners to develop non-food biofuels that could have 90% low emissions than gasoline, using feedstocks like straw or wood chips. We are seeking very tight quality controls and appropriate measures and assurance systems for sustainability.

    Yes, it was an ad. Nope, it’s not an “ethical investment firm” seeking funds, nor a start-up like teslamotors (from the Google and PayPal folk who want everybody to use electric cars).

    It’s from Shell… that’s right… the oil company.

    Mind you, I don’t like the sound of “wood chips”. Straw sounds better. Hmmm. Hemp has a high oil content and low-lignin, grows like a weed….

  2. Actually, seriously, I’ve heard that hemp would be ideal…

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