The World is facing a global food price crisis and looming mass starvation in the Developing World. The price of rice has doubled in 3 months and the price of wheat has doubled in one year. The huge increases in the price of staples such as wheat and rice is being driven by US, UK and EU diversion of food for biofuel; climate change and decreased agricultural productivity due to both inundation and drought; and globalization which means that 4 billion impoverished and under-fed people compete in the market place for those with the money to buy food to drive their cars or for grain-fed meat.
According to the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Synthesis Report, unaddressed CO2 pollution and global warming will have a devastating effect on global malnutrition and poverty (see: http://www.ipcc.ch and see http://green-blog.org). According the Professor David Pimentel (2004) of Cornell University, New York, global malnutrition and poverty will be an â€œunimaginableâ€ problem by 2054 (see: http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Feb04/AAAS.pimentel.hrs.html ), already pollution of the soil, water and air kills about 40% of the worldâ€™s population and 57% of the worldâ€™s population of 6.5 billion is already malnourished (see: http://news.cornell.edu/.../moreDiseases.sl.html).
Already 16 million people due avoidably each year (9.6 million being under-5 year old infants) from deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease on a Spaceship Earth dominated by a profligate and unresponsive First World (see "Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950", G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007) â€“ and this is increasingly being impacted by climate change through mega-delta inundation by storm surges, drought and increased temperature.
The worst offenders are the US, Canada and Australia as can be seen from this comparison of "annual per capita fossil fuel-derived carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution" (2004 data from the US Energy Information Administration) in tonnes CO2/person which is 19.2 (for Australia; 40 if you include Australiaâ€™s coal exports), 19.7 (the US), 18.4 (Canada), 9.9 (Japan), 4.2 (the World), 3.6 (China), 1.0 ( India) and 0.25 (for Bangladesh) (see "Climate Emergency, Sustainability Emergency").
According to Sir Nicholas Stern as quoted by the Guardian (2007): "[annual average CO2] emissions a head are more than 20 tonnes each year, with European citizens producing 10-15 tonnes each. In China it is about five tonnes, in India about one, and in Africa less than one tonne each" (see: http://guardian.co.uk/.../climatechange.carbonemissions).
However the problems of Third World countries are now being impacted by â€œpeak oilâ€ and the biofuel perversion of using food to drive cars and trucks in a starving world. Indeed in the ultimate obscenity Richard Bransonâ€™s Virgin airline has recently used biofuel to partly fuel a flight from London to Amsterdam, an act that drew critical condemnation from environmentalists (see: http://abc.net.au/.../stories/2008/02/25/2171511.htm). In short, diversion of agricultural land for biofuel has three major problems. Biofuel (A) drives up the world price of food in a global marketplace; ( can be associated with a huge â€œcarbon debtâ€ from release of soil carbon, whether from ploughed savannah or from deforested land; and © is currently associated with huge ecosystem damage. Let us consider these 3 problems in succession .
(A). Biofuel perversion is driving up global food prices
The United States is currently using about 9% of its wheat, 25% of its corn and about 15% of its grain in general to produce biofuel. The United Kingdom (UK) has committed to large increases in the use of biofuels over coming decades, has recently announced subsidies for biofuel and supports the European Commission (EU) target requiring 10 per cent of petrol station fuel to be plant-derived biofuel within 12 years. However the huge and intrinsically genocidal US diversion of 15% of its grain crop to biofuel production has had a huge impact already on soaring global food prices â€“ the world is already facing a global food crisis with alarm being expressed by UN, FAO and other scientific experts. Simple Google searches for â€œglobal food crisisâ€, â€world food price crisisâ€ and related phrases reveals massive current concerns.
The UK Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington CMG, FRS (Professor of Applied Population Biology at Imperial College, London.) has described the devastating potential of food shortages as an "elephant in the room" problem commensurate with that from climate change and warns that biofuel diversion (e.g. for canola oil- or palm oil-derived biodiesel and grain- or sugar-derived ethanol) is threatening world food production and the lives of â€œbillionsâ€ (see: http://theaustralian.news.com.au/....html).
Recently Finance Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has said that it is "outrageous" that developed countries are turning food crops into biofuels while billions of people in the developing countries are living on the edge and trying to cope with escalating food prices (see: BBC News).
Numerous Mainstream media reports are describing how we now have a global food crisis with the spectre of widespread famine due to escalating grain and food prices â€“ in a harsh, globalized market place those that cannot afford to buy food will simply starve unless rescued. Yet the UN and FAO are finding it acutely difficult to rescue such people. These food price rises in turn are because of the huge US and indeed Western biofuel diversion, complicated by climate change (impacting on drought in Australia and Canada), weather (e.g. too much rain the US), hedging speculation and diversion for livestock production.
The New York Times has recently reported that â€œrising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the worldâ€™s largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export. The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the worldâ€™s population, has almost DOUBLED on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrestâ€ (New York Times, March 29, 2008 â€œHigh rice cost raising fears of Asia unrestâ€).
There have been food riots over food prices recently in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. Rice export bans by rice-exporting nations (Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt and India) have raised world rice prices even more (see: http://nytimes.com/.../29rice.html).
The price of a wheat flour-based â€œrotiâ€ in Pakistan has doubled in the last year and food scarcity is of major concern to the UN and UN Agencies such as FAO (see â€œ2008 â€“ the Year of Global Food Crisisâ€) .
For an ALARMING graph of world food and wheat prices in recent years see the following report by Australian economists showing that the price of wheat in US dollars has DOUBLED in the last year: http://efic.gov.au. Part of this is due to the falling value of the US dollar but the alarming message is clear.
These food price rises are fuelled by the huge US and indeed Western (UK, EU) biofuel diversion PLUS Greenhouse Gas (GHG) pollution-driven climate change (impacting on drought e.g. in Australia and Canada), weather (e.g. too much rain in the US), hedging investor speculation and diversion of food for livestock production for â€œrichâ€ people who can afford it (not just in the West but also in the burgeoning Asian economies of China and India).
(. Biofuel production is currently associated with huge CO2 pollution
We live in a World in which â€œmoney buys truthâ€ and public discussion is dominated by lies, spin and slies (spin-based untruth). A devastating â€œslieâ€ is that biofuels are supposedly â€œgreenâ€ because the CO2 deriving from biofuel combustion is cancelled out by the CO2 sequestered by solar energy-driven photosynthesis. However this facile analysis ignores the release of carbon from the soil due to ploughing; loss of CO2 sequestration as a result of de-forestation; and other CO2-pollution inputs into biofuel production such as fertilizer manufacture, transport and mechanical agriculture.
Two major studies by US scientists and published in the prestigious US scientific journal Science have revealed the huge â€œcarbon debtâ€ associated with mainstream agricultural production of biofuels.
Timothy Searchinger and colleagues (â€œUse of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Changeâ€, Science 29 February 2008, Vol. 319. no. 5867, pp. 1238 â€“ 1240) have found the following:
Joseph Fargione and colleagues (â€œLand Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debtâ€, Science 29 February 2008, Vol. 319. no. 5867, pp. 1235 â€“ 1238) have made even more dramatic findings:
Biofuels can be renewable if derived from biomass from waste land e.g. through gasification of biomass to carbon monoxide (CO ) and hydrogen (H2) (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasification) and then subsequent Fischer-Tropsch catalytic conversion to hydrocarbons (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer-Tropsch_synthesis) or from oils from growth of prokaryotic organisms (cyanobacteria or blue-green algae) or eukaryotic organisms (green and red algae) (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae_fuel).
However in the context of horrendous global poverty, a major decline in grain production, huge increases in grain price and increasing diversion of grain for biofuel generation (see: http://www.fas.usda.gov/grain/circular/2006/05-06/graintoc.htm), current means of biofuel production from human foods (sugar- and grain-derived ethanol, palm oil-, canola- and other oil-derived biodiesel) is a perversion and a crime against humanity, the more so when alternative cheap, efficient renewable energy options are technically already available (e.g. solar energy-based hydrogen-driven transport).
(C ). Biofuel production is devastating the biosphere
As outlined in ( above, biofuel production is increasing CO2 pollution. The US Energy Information Administration gives a year-by-year summary of fossil fuel-derived CO2 pollution for every country in the world (see: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/iea/carbon.html ). However greenhouse gas pollution (methane, CH4, nitrous oxide, N2O, and carbon dioxide, CO2) comes not just from burning hydrocarbons and coal but also from land use â€“ specifically, agriculture, vegetative decomposition and animal husbandry. A 2000 list of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita provides data with and without this land use component (see: Wikipedia). Land use contributes about 20% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Thus out of 185 countries my own country Australia ranked 9th worst (with land use change) and 5th (without land use change). The tonnes of â€œCO2 equivalentâ€ per person per year were 25.9 (with) and 25.6 (without land use change) for Australia, indicating the preponderant importance of fossil fuel burning to Australiaâ€™s â€œscoreâ€. However the land use component is very large for de-foresting countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Deforestation contributes about 15-20% of annual CO2 pollution in the world. Yet according to Sir Nicholas Stern: "For $10-15bn (Â£4.8-7.2bn) per year, a programme could be constructed that could stop up to half the deforestationâ€ (see: http://guardian.co.uk/.../).
In addition to playing a vital role in global temperature homeostasis, forest ecosystems are sources for invaluable pharmaceutical resources (see my recent huge reference book: Gideon Polya, â€œBiochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds. A pharmacological reference guide to sites of action and biological effectsâ€, CRC Press, Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003).
At an even more fundamental level, Balmford et al in the prestigious scientific journal Science (see â€œEconomic reasons for preserving wild natureâ€) have estimated that for a variety of â€œbiomesâ€ (ecological systems) the total economic value (TEV) is about 50% greater when the resource is used sustainably as opposed to destructive conversion. Further, these scientists have found that the economic benefit from preserving what is left of wild nature is OVER 100 TIMES greater than the cost of preservation.
However over-riding these economic concerns is the fundamental concern over species extinction â€“ the rate of mammal extinction is already one thousand times greater than for the fossil record (see: http://greenfacts.org/.../figure1-8-species-extinctions.htm). We have no right to destroy the irreplaceable biodiversity that is the common property of the world and indeed of the universe.
The world is already seeing the commencement of a re-run - on a possibly 100-fold greater scale - of the man-made World War 2 Bengali Holocaust in which 6-7 million people perished in Bengal and in the adjoining provinces of Assam, Bihar and Orissa under the merciless British â€œscorched earth policyâ€ when the price of rice doubled and finally doubled again (see: http://open2.net/.../bengalfamine_programme.html). Ten years ago I published a book entitled â€œJane Austen and the Black Hole of British Historyâ€ (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com) in which I described horrendous man-made, market-forces famines in British-ruled India from the 1769-1770 Great Bengal Famine (10 million deaths or one third of the Bengali population) to the World War 2 Bengal Famine (6-7 million deaths in the Bengal region).
These catastrophes have been deliberately erased from British history and from general public perception â€“ leading to the acute danger of History ignored yielding History repeated. My pleas for action to prevent further such catastrophes have fallen on deaf ears. Bengal is now acutely threatened not only from biofuel-driven global food price rises but also from inundation from global-warming-driven sea level rises. I am revising my book for a 2008 second edition that in itself will be a further testament to â€œHistory ignored yields History repeatedâ€.
In January 2008 I took part in a BBC radio broadcast about the â€œforgottenâ€ World War 2 Bengal Famine (WW2 Bengali Holocaust) that also involved 1998 Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen (Harvard, formerly Cambridge University, UK), Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya (medical historian, Wellcome Institute, University College London) and other scholars.
I made the following general methodological point at the end of the program: â€œThis isnâ€™t simply an argument about rubbing out history. Scientists can help society through what is called rational risk management. It successively involves A, getting the accurate data. B, doing a scientific analysis. And then C, recognising this, taking action, changing the system, whether itâ€™s a national system or a global system, to avoid a repetition.â€
However Professor Amartya Sen concluded the program with the following profound point: â€œI think the fact that famines happen when theyâ€™re so extraordinarily easy to prevent â€“ nothing in the world is easier to prevent â€“ affects me. Being a Bengali I canâ€™t say that it adds especially to that because this seems to me to be a basic human sympathy at seeing suffering all across the world which are completely needless.â€
All decent people around the world must speak out to prevent this mounting, NEEDLESS global famine tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes.
Dr Gideon Polya published some 130 works in a 4 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003). He has just published â€œBody Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950â€ (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/1375/247/ and http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com); see also his contribution â€œAustralian complicity in Iraq mass mortalityâ€ in â€œLies, Deep Fries & Statisticsâ€ (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007). He is currently preparing a revised and updated version of his 1998 book â€œJane Austen and the Black Hole of British Historyâ€ as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a possibly 100-fold greater famine catastrophe (see: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya310308.htm) than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the â€œforgottenâ€ World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving me, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others).