The New York Times weighed in today with an article on the food versus fuel issue, with emphasis on what’s going on in the 3rd world:
An Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel, Costly Calories
Definitely worth a read. Some excerpts:
KUANTAN, Malaysia — Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.
This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.
No category of food prices has risen as quickly this winter as so-called edible oils — with sometimes tragic results. When a Carrefour store in Chongqing, China, announced a limited-time cooking oil promotion in November, a stampede of would-be buyers left 3 people dead and 31 injured.
Cooking oil may seem a trifling expense in the West. But in the developing world, cooking oil is an important source of calories and represents one of the biggest cash outlays for poor families, which grow much of their own food but have to buy oil in which to cook it.
American farmers have been planting more corn and less soy because demand for corn-based ethanol has pushed up corn prices. American soybean acreage plunged 19 percent last year, producing a drop in soybean oil output and inventories.
The growth of biodiesel, which can be mixed with regular diesel, has been controversial, not only because it competes with food uses of oil but also because of environmental concerns. European conservation groups have been warning that tropical forests are being leveled to make way for oil palm plantations, destroying habitat for orangutans and Sumatran rhinoceroses while also releasing greenhouse gases.
The European Union has moved to restrict imports of palm oil grown in unsustainable ways. The measure has incensed the Malaysian palm oil industry, which had plunged into biofuel production in part to satisfy European demand.
I do not foresee a happy ending here. No doubt some of the reason for increased food costs is because energy prices have gone up. That’s primarily because of a very tight supply/demand balance. But the mandates that we use fuel made from food rest squarely on the shoulders of our political leaders. Shouldn’t they have seen this coming? And will they act to reverse their actions? In Europe, they are starting to see the light. In the U.S., we seem determined to expand upon this insane policy.
22 thoughts on “The NYT on Food versus Fuel”
But the mandates that we use fuel made from food rest squarely on the shoulders of our political leaders. Shouldn’t they have seen this coming? And will they act to reverse their actions? In Europe, they are starting to see the light.
Come on! The European Union was founded on the Common Agricultural Policy which produced the Butter Mountain and the Milk Lake — and discriminated heavily against food producers in the Third World.
Energy policy in the US has indeed been a stinking mess for decades, under Democrats & Republicans alike. But at least the US has avoided the hypocrisy of the self-satisfied European elite.
Look, if any of the Europeans gave a damn about poor people in the Third World, they would long ago have reversed their ban on DDT which has killed millions of African children. Since the Europeans have been able to live with themselves all these years despite that travesty, they will probably be able to live with hungrier people there too.
Internal EU report casts doubts on its biofuel strategy
BRUSSELS (AFP) – An internal European Commission study, seen by AFP Friday, criticises an EU plan to boost the use of biofuels in transport, concluding that their costs outweigh the benefits.
A Commission spokesman downplayed the study and insisted that the use of biofuels remained at the centre of its strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.
The unpublished working paper by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-house scientific body, makes uncomfortable reading for the EU’s executive body ahead of a meeting Wednesday where it is to detail a plan for biofuels to make up 10 percent of all transport fuels in the EU by 2020.
The cost-benefit study looks at whether using biofuels reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves security of supply and creates jobs and delivers an unenthusiastic opinion on all three counts.
“What the cost-benefit analysis shows is that there are better ways to achieve greenhouse gas savings and security of supply enhancements than to produce biofuels,” says the report.
“The costs of EU biofuels outweigh the benefits,” the researchers state.
EU taxpayers would have to fork out an extra 33-65 billion euros (48-95 billion dollars) between now and 2020 if the European Commission proposals go ahead, according to the study.
European Commission spokesman on energy Ferran Tarradellas Espuny stressed that the study was just a working paper and one of several opinions being taken into consideration as talks continued ahead of Wednesday’s decision.
But he made clear that that the 10 percent biofuels objective for vehicles remained.
“Economically speaking there is only one option, that is biofuels,” he told a press conference.
“It is good for the environment, it is good for transport and it is good for European agriculture”.
On agriculture however the study warns that the proposed EU measures will require the use of huge swathes of land outside of Europe and it questions whether it will make any greenhouse gas savings at all.
Green groups warn that the EU plans could lead to forest clearances for biofuels or for food crops displaced by biofuel plantations as farmers switch over.
The report concludes that by using the same EU resources of money and biomass, significantly greater greenhouse gas savings could be achieved by imposing only an overall biomass-use target instead of a separate one for transport.
“The uncertainties of the indirect greenhouse effects, much of which would occur outside the EU, mean that it is impossible to say with certainty that the net greenhous gas effects of the giofuels programme would be positive,” the study says.
Adrian Bebb, Agrofuels Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe, called it “a damning verdict on the EU’s policy for using biofuels.”
“The conclusions are crystal clear — the EU should abandon biofuels and use its resources on real solutions to climate change,” he said of the leaked report.
The Commission’s plans for biofuels are part of a broader energy strategy to cut down on greenhouse gases to be unveiled on Wednesday.
EU leaders have pledged to increase renewable energy use by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, with biofuels to make up 10 percent of all transport fuels used by then.
I share RR’s concerns about ethanol (actually, reading RR made me aware). But, I think there is hope in biodiesel. I think jatropha, and perhaps other plants can grow oil w/o taking up arable land. And, I think it can boost rural incomes.
I still think a diesel PHEV, using some biofuels when needed, is a hell of a good answer to tight oil supplies.
The PHEVs can get their juice from expanded clean sources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, even clean coal. Jeez, we could grow switchgrass, and burn it to turn steam turbines, if we have too.
Lastly, in defense of biofuels, for while we may have energy-related shortages of all oils, and RR is right that Third Worlders will suffer (as they are right now due to self-indulgent Thug State oil policies).
I suspect in time, high prices will encourage farmers to plant more. It may be good for rural incomes (definitely so, if jatropha can be grown on small farms, and sold to a collective).
==Look, if any of the Europeans gave a damn about poor people in the Third World, they would long ago have reversed their ban on DDT which has killed millions of African children.==
Except for that statement holds no basis in scientific fact, and is raw propaganda put forward by the likes of JunkScience.com
DDT was banned because it caused massive issues with agricultural pests, and largely since then many areas have been showing that DDT doesn’t even work any more because the mosquitos have become immune.
And as for the “Deaths” figure, thats based on the assumption that DDT is the ONLY anti-mosquito spray on the market. Or even more-so that it’s the ONLY way to prevent mosquito bites. An argument which is completely devoid of logic.
Largely the whole issue with the DDT spam is a smear campaign put forward to condemn the book Silent Spring. Because that was largely what kicked off the US environmental movement.
You know, reading that whole thing now, it almost look (between the lines) like a population/consumption problem, or a Chinese boom/inflation problem.
Surely only a tiny fraction of palm oil must go to biodiesel during this crunch.
And it is interesting for them to remind us that palms yield the highest calories per acre. It sounds like population pressure (and our need to Seven-year-old boy at fat people’s party in northeastern city of Shenyang
There are worries that some children are being fed excessively
The rate of obesity in China has increased by 97% in 10 years, according to a government report.”>feed global obesity) is going to drive new plantations in the rainforests.
The EU has stupendous AG subsidies but the US does not have a good record in that department either.
The US has a substantial subsidies for dairy products and grains.
Some of these (cotton subsidies in particular) have had very negative impacts on residents of third world countries.
I’m going to try my last paragraph again …
And it is interesting for them to remind us that palms yield the highest calories per acre. It sounds like population pressure (and our need to feed global obesity) is going to drive new plantations in the rainforests.
I guess I shouldn’t be so impatient, and I should use ‘preview’ a little more often.
In addition US ag subsidies have had substantial negative impacts against producers of non-subsidized commodities, like hay and beef.
Ag subsides were one of the main drivers of massive environmental destruction caused by the plowing up of the prairie as beef producing ranches were and converted to mono culture, subsidized crop productions.
This is the clever subliminal message part of the post urging Robert to start eating beef again. 🙂
Because beef is the most sustainable form of animal protein available.
The carbon sinks and wildlife habitat ranches provide is a little recognize side benefit ranching and beef consumption provides.
The EU has stupendous AG subsidies but the US does not have a good record in that department either.
Fully agree. With the evidence of the distortions & inefficiencies introduced by excessive governmental oversight of agriculture (which automatically leads to politics trumping common sense), it is strange that so many alternate energy enthusiasts want to repeat the experience in the energy sector.
Note, a bag of wheat flour has double out here in California over the last few years.
We energy-watchers have been seeing that through a corn-ethanol filter, but … wasn’t there also a claim that global grain harvest had fallen below consumption in the last few years? The only way that would work would be for previously stored grain to make up the difference.
evidence for my case that demographics matter:
“The FAO’s food price index rose by 40 percent this year, on top of the already high 9 percent increase the year before, and the poorest countries spent 25 percent more this year on imported food. The prices for staple crops, including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, all rose drastically in 2007, pushing up prices for grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy products and spurring inflation throughout the consumer food market.
Driving these increases are a complex range of developments, including rapid urbanization of populations and growing demand for food stuffs in key developing countries such as China and India, speculation in the commodities markets, increased diversion of feedstock crops into the production of biofuels, and extreme weather conditions and other natural disasters associated with climate change.”
So what about this NYTimes article 😛
Or better yet, this report:
Or this report:
My argument is not that biofuels don’t matter, and certainly not that they are harmless.
My argument is that the come at a bad time, and we didn’t really notices the “foods crunch” until now, when we see it through this filter.
Sure, roll back or even ban biofuels.
My prediction is that if you do, you won’t see prices fall back to old levels,.
People are seeing this through a fuels filter, when maybe that is (so far) a minority cause.
Still, it is worth considering that biofuels is an infant industry. We are just starting. There will be mistakes. In Western-style free markets and democracies, we have an ability to grope our way to to the right decisions. Blundering? Yes.
But think about it: 10 years ago if you said “we need to grow ethanol for fuel” in the US to a Republican, he would have sneered at you as a wimp greenie. Now, it is the position of the R-Party.
Okay, it is the wrong position (the R-party has to be wrong consistently, as a matter of pride).
Seriusly, it shows ociety has moved to embrace alternative fuels. The wrong fuel, but a step in the right direction.
I think we can move towards PHEVs and a smart bio and fossil fuel mix in years ahead. It just has to be seen as a national policy, not a leftie or rightie policy.
Maybe I’m an optimist on this. I’ve long felt that reality will sink in, and we’ll turn back from this flirtation with (esp) ethanol, but to a lesser degree biodiesel.
Sure, a good cheap cellulosic solution could change that, but then so could good cheap solar/batteries.
I think this is related to our debt crisis and tandem changes in globalization. We have been piling on debt in the US, at the personal, corporate, and governmental levels. Par of that has been to take out 6-year (flex-fuel) SUV loans, and part of that has been to pay ethanol subsidies.
This not just unsustainable in the environmental sense, it is unsustainable in the economic sense.
… When Something Cannot Go On Forever, It Will Stop.
“When Something Cannot Go On Forever, It Will Stop”
When? After millions have died of starvation because they can’t afford food? Americans don’t seem to know or care what your policies are doing to world food prices and how they impact the poor. Then again, could most Americans find India on a map?
“Anonymous” wrote (anonymously, as befits his message):
Americans don’t seem to know or care what your policies are doing to world food prices and how they impact the poor.
Guilty as charged, of course. And proud of it, too!
But then, “Anonymous”, it is a reasonable guess that when you bought your great big European flat screen TV, you did not think about the effects that extracting the required Rare Earths are having on African villages.
You probably have not lobbied the EC either about the impacts of European agricultural protectionism on human beings in the Third World, have you?
Look, there are lots of things that should be done better in this world. We will make more progress once Europeans stop behaving like bratty teenagers, grow up a little, and start taking some responsibility.
The ONLY way biofuels is going to get of the ground, is if they use waste as a feedstock. Forget food. Forget any energy crop, until much later.
This EU report muddies the water, in that is overly analytical: what is the carbon footprint of a liter of biodiesel? No need to get that technical. If the biodiesel was produced from foodgrade oil it is bad. If it was produced from that same oil after use in a fryer (or whatever) it is good.
There is a lot of suitable feedstock out there, much of it conveniently collected in locations known as landfills. That is where the focus of the biofuel industry should be.
Once we get close to 100% utilization of our wastes, we can start turning our attention to an energy crop. This is not rocket science, either: you need a fast growing species (algae, with apologies to all farmers, who need to focus on food production) and you need to use the entire biomass, not just the lipid or the carbohydrate fraction (goodbye biodiesel AND ethanol, hallo gasification).
The only energy crop I can see working would be algae cultivated at sea. Sure, there will be environmental impacts, but that will be the case with all biofuels. And it sure beats causing starvation in the third world.
Suffering in Africa is not caused by lefties/enviros/Europeans/hippies/(your favorite boogeyman here). You need to turn off the “fair and balanced” reporting occasionally.
Corrupt African leaders do it. The ones with the fat Swiss bank accounts. The ones whose cousins win all the government contracts. The ones who kill their own people for dissent. Robert Mugabe, (Prince) Charles Taylor, Daniel arap Moi, Kenneth Kaunda, Sani Abacha, Idi Amin, …(the list goes on and on).
Want proof? Here is a black African (brother of a current president, no less) claiming that Africa was better off in colonial times. Oh sorry, how un-PC of me.
I once read an excellent book called “Tropical Gangsters.”
I came a way with an idea that west African leaders could be murderous thugs, lining their own pockets, who often somehow also tried to do the best thing. It was a weird story, but one that seemed truthful.
Of course that was written in which what we’d now call (with retrospect) “gentler times.”
Are we really surprised that governments continually fail at the allocation of a scarce resource? Are you shocked that the market shies away from a subsidy restrictions in certain countries? Are you not appalled at the hypocrisy of the European Union, the “greenest” government on earth, for whom palm oil is just not green enough?
Are we really surprised that governments continually fail at the allocation of a scarce resource?
Not at all.
Are you shocked that the market shies away from a subsidy restrictions in certain countries[?]
Are you not appalled at the hypocrisy of the European Union, the “greenest” government on earth, for whom palm oil is just not green enough?
No. That’s three strikes!
Palm oil is not clean enough, as is any biofuel that uses food as a feedstock. It took the Europeans a while, but they are finally waking up.
Unfortunately, in America, a combination of lack of interest/understanding and the politically corrupt midwestern powers are uniting to keep the gravy train going.
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