Biofuels are a crime against humanity

by twit

We should have known something was wrong the instant biofuels became so enthusiastically supported by the Bush Administration, but it still is something of a surprise that the World Bank has for months sat on a report that details the crimes against humanity caused by the biofuels industry.

Fortunately, there is someone with a conscience working at the World Bank who helpfully leaked the “damning” report to the media. Via the Guardian on July 4, 2008:

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises.

The World Bank report also includes an analysis of what this means for the world:

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

sounds about right. So why didn’t we hear about the devastating impact of biofuels when it first became clear to the World Bank back in April?

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush.

“It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House,” said one yesterday.

makes sense. Crimes against humanity generally have conspirators, the good people remaining silent out of fear or other motivations.

“Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises,” said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. “It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.”

Apparently, the World Bank used simple economics to figure out how biofuels have devastated the global economy:

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

And it is now up to the G8 to stop this catastrophe before it gets any worse:

The news comes at a critical point in the world’s negotiations on biofuels policy. Leaders of the G8 industrialised countries meet next week in Hokkaido, Japan, where they will discuss the food crisis and come under intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels.

The New York Times notes on July 3, 2008:

The World Bank was keeping the report secret to avoid a clash with the United States, the paper said. But Robert Zoellick, the bank’s chief, hardly minced words this week in a plea for aid to avert starvation:

“What we are witnessing is not a natural disaster — a silent tsunami or a perfect storm,” Mr. Zoellick said in a letter sent Tuesday evening to the major leaders of the West. “It is a man-made catastrophe, and as such must be fixed by people.”

I shudder to think what it will mean for the world if they fail.

update: The BBC reports on July 7, 2008 that biofuels are actually worse in so many, many more ways than the devastating economic impact of the industry:

… one study stood out from the plethora of reports detailing the climatically crazy felling of tropical forest to grow biofuel crops and the equally large dossier of reports blaming biofuel demand for raising food prices.

It was published in the journal Science in February. And the US academics writing it showed that conventional sums failed to show the whole picture.

Making ethanol from US-grown corn was supposed to bring a 20% saving in greenhouse gas emissions compared to using petrol.

But Timothy Searchinger’s group showed the real impact was a doubling of greenhouse emissions, as developing world farmers cleared forests and grasslands for new agricultural fields to grow corn to fill the gap in the food market.

and this has been published since February. How could this be, you ask?

Because of scum like this, knowing what they do about biofuels and insisting that the spectre of this tragedy:

But there it is; we need some liquid to put in our cars other than water and brake fluid. Otherwise we might have to walk.

Requires this:

So far, biofuels are all there is. And the wheels have to be kept turning.

The world must suffer catastrophe to avoid having to walk? Our cars might be too expensive to drive and we might have to radically redesign communities and transportation systems, in a New-Deal, avert-disaster kind of way? Reduce demand and drive the price down, allowing necessary petroleum use to become more affordable?

Shocking, I know. And to think that we might still have time to avert so much suffering, if we just start now.

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