Sunday, January 24, 2010

Burning Desperately Needed Food

One of the most pressing issues in the world is hunger. I can't recall a time when there wasn't pressing human need for food, and often liberals are at the front of the crowd calling for the U.S. to help with the problem. Strangely, those same people are calling for increases in the use of grain ethanol to power cars.

We've known biomass ethanol is largely a bad idea for many years. From the linked article:
In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:

* corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
* switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
* wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:

* soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
* sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

Not only that, but since ethanol produces less energy per unit burned than fossil fuels, you're burning more of it to go the same distance. If you believe that anthropogenically-produced carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is a problem, then you'll recognize the significance of that: burning ethanol dumps more CO2 into the air than burning gasoline does to produce the same result.

Clearly, producing ethanol from crops is a bad idea from an efficient energy use perspective. It's not any better from the human needs perspective. From the linked article:

One-quarter of all the maize and other grain crops grown in the US now ends up as biofuel in cars rather than being used to feed people, according to new analysis which suggests that the biofuel revolution launched by former President George Bush in 2007 is impacting on world food supplies.

"The grain grown to produce fuel in the US [in 2009] was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels," said Lester Brown, the director of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington thinktank ithat conducted the analysis.

The US is by far the world's leading grain exporter, exporting more than Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Russia combined. In 2008, the UN called for a comprehensive review of biofuel production from food crops.

"There is a direct link between biofuels and food prices. The needs of the hungry must come before the needs of cars," said Meredith Alexander, biofuels campaigner at ActionAid in London.
Quite literally, biofuel mandates in the U.S. are starving people to death by not only directly depriving the world of grain exports, but also by raising the price of food so the poorest nations can't afford basic sustenance. It's not very "progressive" to continue these policies, nor is it good for the environment or even your car's engine. We need to abandon ludicrous feel-good policies that kill people and implement real energy solutions.


Jean said...

Well, I agree with that. :)

Joanna said...

Hi Andrew this is Jo from ActionAid in London, glad you found Meredith's post interesting. We are in the thick of our campaign at the moment and have regular updates on our website, blogs and social networks all via Feel free to comment or get in touch if you or any readers would like any more information.