Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bio-fuels contribute to hunger and climate change

Anglican Journal reports:
...there are people around the world who are starving because more and more land is being dedicated to cash-rich fuel crops like corn instead of food.

These were some of the points raised at a recent forum, Connecting the dots on the food crisis, sponsored by Kairos, the Canadian ecumenical justice organization, of which the Anglican Church of Canada is a member. The forum explored the root causes of the food crisis in the Global South, including the push for agro-fuels in rich countries like Canada and the U.S., the decades-long liberalization policies of governments, and the growth of agri-business transnational corporations.

John Dillon, program co-ordinator of Kairos, talked about how large-scale agro-fuel production for export has not only given way to hunger but also to exploitation of farmers who work in “slave-like conditions” in plantations, most of which are owned by trans-national corporations that enter into joint ventures with local landlords. (For example, since the U.S. cannot supply all the demand for corn ethanol, agri-business corporations have been importing agro-fuels from Asia, Latin America, and Africa.)
Ethanol was supposed to have been a better, cleaner fuel, but studies have shown that its production actually accelerates climate change. “While burning ethanol produces about 12 per cent to 13 per cent less greenhouse gases than petroleum, it is not a ‘clean’ fuel since it also emits carcinogens and increases atmospheric ozone,” said Mr. Dillon in a briefing paper published in 2007 where he cited a study conducted by the U.K.-based Institute of Science in Society. For instance, sugarcane is burned before harvest or forests are burned in order to clear it for palm oil plantations, causing a massive release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

With ethanol increasingly getting a bad reputation, many corporations are now looking for the next big fix, said Mr. Dillon, adding that cellulose is now being touted as an alternative. Mr. Dillon said groups like Kairos prefer to push governments to push in the direction of energy conservation and efficiency, and a re-examination of the pattern of consumption in the West.

“A study by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office found that reducing gasoline consumption by 10 per cent through an increase in fuel economy standards would cost consumers and industry about U.S. $3.6 billion a year,” said Mr. Dillon in his paper, Are agrofuels alternatives to oil? “To replace the same amount of gasoline by producing more ethanol would cost over US$10 billion in government subsidies.”

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