NY Sun: Food Crisis Eclipsing Climate Change

Posted by Kendall Harmon

With prices for rice, wheat, and corn soaring, food-related unrest has broken out in places such as Haiti, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. Several countries have blocked the export of grain. There is even talk that governments could fall if they cannot bring food costs down.

One factor being blamed for the price hikes is the use of government subsidies to promote the use of corn for ethanol production. An estimated 30% of America’s corn crop now goes to fuel, not food.

“I don’t think anybody knows precisely how much ethanol contributes to the run-up in food prices, but the contribution is clearly substantial,” a professor of applied economics and law at the University of Minnesota, C. Ford Runge, said. A study by a Washington think tank, the International Food Policy Research Institute, indicated that between a quarter and a third of the recent hike in commodities prices is attributable to biofuels.

Last year, Mr. Runge and a colleague, Benjamin Senauer, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, “How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor.”

“We were criticized for being alarmist at the time,” Mr. Runge said. “I think our views, looking back a year, were probably too conservative.”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchClimate Change, Weather* Economics, PoliticsEconomyEnergy, Natural Resources

Posted April 25, 2008 at 8:12 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Lumen Christie wrote:

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “a quart of wheat for a denarius,” and three quarts of barley for a denarius, but do not harm the oil and wine.”  (denarius being the wage of a full day’s labor [or more])

Revelation 6: 5—6

How is it that you can read the signs of the weather but you do not understand the signs of the times?

April 25, 8:33 am | [comment link]
2. Clueless wrote:

But I still don’t understand why the government doesn’t hand out instructions and seed to folks.  Every apartment could grow potatoes in the window (in large containers.  Every back yard could raise enough food to feed a family.  Why is everybody waiting for somebody else to solve the problem,rather than aiming for self sufficiency?  It used to be normal for folks to grow the food they ate.  Why must the world’s ability to feed itself have to depend on the business plans of a few large commercial US farmers?

Shari (who plans to grow all the food she and her family actually needs in her one eight acre suburban back yard).

April 25, 11:06 am | [comment link]
3. Ross Gill wrote:

It looks like filling our tanks with ethanol blended fuel becomes a moral issue.  How many hungry people will I sacrifice so I can drive my SUV?

April 25, 2:09 pm | [comment link]
4. Clueless wrote:

Actually the problem is Al Gore’s global warming idiocy.  The fuel efficiency of biofuels is low, and after factoring in cost of fertilizers (which require oil) the oil savings are minimal.

Windmills accross the Oklahoma dust bowl would generate enough electricity to meet the needs of that area, and northern Texas.  The chinese is building nuclear power plants, and we could do so too were it not for the environmental fanatics.  These will probably be needed in northern states, however, and as the lefties watch their heating bills rise, their opposition to nuclear energy or burning coal (both of which we have large gobs of) may wane.

Solar in the south would be efficient once a longer lasting battery is developed.  (This is in progress now).  Right now I have solar attic fans, and I am considering a solar panel attached to a battery to run both my whole house fan in the summer (which obviates the need for air conditioning) and to run the pellet feeder on my whole house fireplace inserted pellet stove (which obviates the need to run the heating in winter.  This would allow my family to stay warm in winter and cool in summer even if there are power outages (and I expect brown outs to become increasingly common.

I have little mushroom solar lights in the garden, and if there is a power outage, I simply bring them in and stick them in a vase for lights.  (I also have kerosene lanterns in storage for rainy days).

If we developed a better battery, then I will have a couple more solar panels on my house to run utilities, and to power an electric car.  I see this coming in about 5-7 years.  (I anticipate eventually (10-15 years) we will all have electric cars with solar panels on the roof, and ability to plug into terminals in parking lots, giving power back to the grid during the day, while charging up the battery.

At any rate, I agree that growing corn for ethanol is a bad idea.  However I still don’t understand why everybody insists on being dependent on US farmers, rather than being self sufficient.  If our aid agencies were to focus on developing home gardening resources in Third World nations, instead finding markets for our grain, I think that there would be a lot fewer hungry people, and that there would be a lot fewer corrupt Third World governments.  It is the fact that the aid has to pass through the governments hands and is distributed to their cronies that keeps the gangs of Sudan in power.  If the gang leaders ability to eat depended on the ability of each homeowner to grow, they might consider settling down until after the harvest. 

Famine.  Another triumph of liberal feel good policies.

April 25, 3:11 pm | [comment link]
5. Baruch wrote:

A major problem being ignored is that ethanol is as poluting as gasoline and does not get as many miles per gallon as gasoline. The politicians tripping over one another to look like they were doing something has ended up causing more problems. A not unusual result of such legislation.

April 25, 5:13 pm | [comment link]
6. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Bio-diesel can be produced from algae grown in plexiglass tanks of waste water.  Where are the methane capturing sewage plants?  Our “waste water” could be fuel for generators, just as some of our “trash” is being burned to produce electricity.  The fuel is there.  The technology exists.  The market is there.  Where is the will and capital to make it happen?

April 26, 10:13 am | [comment link]
7. libraryjim wrote:

In the WWII days, they were called “Victory Gardens”.

April 26, 11:50 pm | [comment link]
8. Mike Bertaut wrote:

#6 Sick and Tired, you’ll be pleased to know that my best friend works for a major waste disposal company and his job is to turn waste pits and garbage dumps into methane-producing self sustaining electricity generating plants! 

They do things like laying perforated pipes underground in old garbage dumps, capturing the methane, drying it and then burning it to create electricity.  The power actually runs the dump and then is sold back to the grid.

The larger produce and pork producers have an even cooler gadget.  Those large waste pits behind the pens and barns, (which you can smell for miles away) produce copious amounts of methane.  The company he works for sets up a giant tent over the pits, captures this methane, drys and burns it and then uses the electricity to run the farm!  The good ones make more power than the farm can use, he tells me.

So you see, this technology is already out there, it’s just starting to get going.


April 27, 12:06 am | [comment link]
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