Food or Fuel?

The UN and many countries officially share the view that bio-fuel is one option in fighting climate change. But encouraging production of bio-fuels on land that would have been used for other purposes makes no sense, as it increases the cost of food, harming the poorest of the poor, and contributes to the destruction of forests, thereby accelerating climate change.

When United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently visited Antarctica, he was impressed by the melting ice he saw there. Then he was in Brazil, where he was impressed by the country’s use of bio-fuel to power a quarter of its automotive traffic. Oil pressed from rapeseed can be used as diesel fuel, and maize or sugar beets can yield ethanol to replace gasoline.

The UN and many countries officially share the view that bio-fuel is one option in fighting climate change. The United States generously subsidizes production of ethanol from maize, with output there currently growing 12% annually and almost 10% worldwide. EU countries subsidized bio-fuels production with €3.7 billion in 2006, and intend to cover 8% of their motor fuels from biological sources by 2015 and 20% by 2020. The Kyoto Protocol allows countries to meet their target reductions of CO2 emissions by substituting bio-fuels for fossil fuels.

But is it really a wise and ethically acceptable strategy to burn food rather than eat it? If we allow food to be used to produce bio-fuels, food prices will be linked to the oil price, as the head of the German farmers association happily announced. Indeed, food prices are currently increasing in Europe, because more and more farmland is being used for bio-fuels instead of for food production.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/kOCQfD0;
  1. Television sets showing a news report on Xi Jinping's speech Anthony Wallace/Getty Images

    Empowering China’s New Miracle Workers

    China’s success in the next five years will depend largely on how well the government manages the tensions underlying its complex agenda. In particular, China’s leaders will need to balance a muscular Communist Party, setting standards and protecting the public interest, with an empowered market, driving the economy into the future.

  2. United States Supreme Court Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

    The Sovereignty that Really Matters

    The preference of some countries to isolate themselves within their borders is anachronistic and self-defeating, but it would be a serious mistake for others, fearing contagion, to respond by imposing strict isolation. Even in states that have succumbed to reductionist discourses, much of the population has not.

  3.  The price of Euro and US dollars Daniel Leal Olivas/Getty Images

    Resurrecting Creditor Adjustment

    When the Bretton Woods Agreement was hashed out in 1944, it was agreed that countries with current-account deficits should be able to limit temporarily purchases of goods from countries running surpluses. In the ensuing 73 years, the so-called "scarce-currency clause" has been largely forgotten; but it may be time to bring it back.

  4. Leaders of the Russian Revolution in Red Square Keystone France/Getty Images

    Trump’s Republican Collaborators

    Republican leaders have a choice: they can either continue to collaborate with President Donald Trump, thereby courting disaster, or they can renounce him, finally putting their country’s democracy ahead of loyalty to their party tribe. They are hardly the first politicians to face such a decision.

  5. Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron John Thys/Getty Images

    How Money Could Unblock the Brexit Talks

    With talks on the UK's withdrawal from the EU stalled, negotiators should shift to the temporary “transition” Prime Minister Theresa May officially requested last month. Above all, the negotiators should focus immediately on the British budget contributions that will be required to make an orderly transition possible.

  6. Ksenia Sobchak Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    Is Vladimir Putin Losing His Grip?

    In recent decades, as President Vladimir Putin has entrenched his authority, Russia has seemed to be moving backward socially and economically. But while the Kremlin knows that it must reverse this trajectory, genuine reform would be incompatible with the kleptocratic character of Putin’s regime.

  7. Right-wing parties hold conference Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

    Rage Against the Elites

    • With the advantage of hindsight, four recent books bring to bear diverse perspectives on the West’s current populist moment. 
    • Taken together, they help us to understand what that moment is and how it arrived, while reminding us that history is contingent, not inevitable


    Global Bookmark

    Distinguished thinkers review the world’s most important new books on politics, economics, and international affairs.

  8. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Bill Clark/Getty Images

    Don’t Bank on Bankruptcy for Banks

    As a part of their efforts to roll back the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, congressional Republicans have approved a measure that would have courts, rather than regulators, oversee megabank bankruptcies. It is now up to the Trump administration to decide if it wants to set the stage for a repeat of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.