Greenpeace biodiversity campaigns manager Andy Tait has a piece up at Comment is Free in which he tells us that the government has got it wrong on biofuels.We are being sold a pup by governments and by the biofuels industry: a solution to climate change that actually risks making the problem worse.
Bravo Andy. You might also have pointed out to your readers that this is the problem with measuring carbon footprints rather than the full economic cost of something. The carbon footprint is just one cost among many, many different costs (and a small one at that). Unless you take them all into account you end up taking very silly decisions. This is why biofuels are not only associated with destruction of biodiversity but also with causing riots in Mexico and starvation in the third world. It's also why the track record of environmentalists has been to damage the environment rather than to enhance it. But hey-ho it keeps the activists off the streets.
Quite. But can you guess what's coming next? Yup, you got it...
It's also instructive to look at some of Greenpeace's earlier pronouncements on biofuels.
- Greenpeace today welcomed the Government’s announcement on a mandatory sales target for biofuels as a small step in the right direction. (link)
- When biomass is used to generate energy in an efficient and sustainable way, it has a role to play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and we strongly supports this. (link)
To be clear, they have caveated some of their support with requirements that the production should be environmentally sustainable, but one has to wonder whether they were really so daft as to think that there was a great deal of spare land around that could be converted to biofuels production.
Actually scrub that, of course they were that daft.
This issue is one that EU Referendum have been flagging up for some time (and which I have intended to write about for sometime).
Evidence is beginning to accumulate to suggest that, not only has the EU's management of grain stocks been deficient, but its proposed emergency measures to bring more grain onto the market and stabilise food prices is going to be completely ineffective.
More worrying still, the EU commission is showing every sign that it has not the faintest idea of what is going on. As a result, we are set to see spiralling increases in the price of basic food commodities and there is the very real prospect of shortages.
It was only a few days ago that we reported that the EU commission had so misjudged the grain supply that it had sold off the bulk of grain stocks last year, in anticipation of a "bumper harvest" that has not materialised.
Yesterday, however, in a widely anticipated emergency move, the commission proposed the removal of the compulsory set-aside requirement for the next planting season - a requirement which currently takes ten percent of land out of food production.
This news has received limited media coverage, notably the BBC and The Guardian, the latter reporting EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel's comments (pictured on the right in the photograph). She says that this will release up to seven of the ten million acres now under obligatory set-aside and produce 10-17million tons more grain.
The problem though – of which the commissioner seems to be wholly unaware – is that by far the bulk of set-aside is not available, being already dedicated to non-food production. This we have noted before, in the context of the land being used for biofuels production, but that is by no means the only use.
This is all very worrying stuff but not exactly surprising; planned economies—which the agrisulture industry effectively is—do have a habit of not working terribly well. In his book, All The Trouble In The World, P J O'Rourke devotes an entire chapter to the idea that it is very rare that famine is caused by real shortages: it is almost always caused by political machinations. Indeed, there is a classic example of this thesis (and of the failure of planned economies) in the infamous Ukrainian Famine.
The Ukrainian famine (1932-1933), or Holodomor, was one of the largest national catastrophes of Ukrainian nation modern history. Modern scholarly estimates of the direct loss of human life due to the famine range between 2.6 and 3.5 million, while the numbers as high as up to 10 million are sometimes cited in the media.
There simply isn't enough land, at present, to be able to cultivate the amount of biofuel that is being insisted upon. And we really are looking at food shortages or, at the very least, continued sky-rocketing food prices.
We thought it would be fun to see how [PDF] the same shopping basket is doing in Bottler's "low inflation" Britain:
- Bread—forget Shirl's three shilling loaf: the £1 loaf has now arrived: price up 8.9% over the last 12 months, a virtual doubling since 2000;
- Eggs—up an eye-watering 26.2% in the last 12 months; 45.5% since 1997;
- Cheese—up "only" 5.4% in 12 months, but accelerating sharply in response to a 16% hike in milk prices—buy now
- Beef—down by 2.6% in 12 months, and only up 5.7% since 1997—the value buy in Labour's basket... unless you're a beef farmer, of course
Overall, the ONS reckons food is up 5.1% in the last 12 months. That's way higher than Bottler's 2.1% headline CPI, and higher even than the more relevant 4.3% RPI increase. And just for comparison, average earnings are up 4.0%. The pinch has arrived.
And there is no sign that things are going to get any better: EU Referendum's latest posting on the subject makes no happier reading.
One listens, therefore, with only half an ear to the radio as the high and the mighty drone on with their prognostications and it was in that mode that I caught something on BBC Radio 4's From our own correspondent programme. It had gathered its foreign correspondents from near and wide, asking them each for their predictions for the coming year, but what made me sit up was blunt warning from the Asia correspondent that there would be "food riots in China".
By coincidence, England Expects picks up another strand of the same story, retailing a report in the Financial Times that China is to introduce taxes on grain exports "in the latest attempt to rein in food-driven inflation that reached an 11-year high in November."
From this we learn that exporters of 57 types of grain, including wheat, rice, corn and soya beans, will have to pay temporary taxes of between 5 and 25 percent. Furthermore, this move comes less than two weeks after China, the world's biggest grain producer, scrapped a 13 percent rebate on major grain exports in an effort to increase domestic supply and rein in inflation that hit 6.9 percent in November, well above the government's three percent target.
If the Chinese are going to attempt, at least partially, to shut down grain export, this will send the price of grain worldwide rocketing still further according to the simplest principles of supply and demand. And the EU's reaction?
As we have remarked many times (for instance here and here), this lack of engagement reflects the lack of engagement on the EU front, where European politicians have not even begun to address the seriousness of the situation. Instead, they have been raiding the CAP account to pay for their Galileo vanity project - a monumental act of folly.
The bizarre detachment of this list [of voters' priorities] belies the fact that the EU is still pushing ahead with its insane plan to demand member states meet a 10 percent quota for biofuels, despite even environmental groups warning that it will be a disaster.
Yesterday though, Christopher Booker in his column remarked that when history comes to be written, "2007 may well be marked as the significant year when it first registered that the disaster-movie threat posed to the planet by global warming might not be roaring down on us quite as predicted."
In the nature of scares – and such is the concern over global warming – these do not die out, as such. They are most often driven out, to be replaced by a greater or different concern. Thus, when the history of 2008 comes to be written, this may be the year when food security displaced global warming and the number one concern, as the reality of global food shortages finally struck home (although it may take a little longer).
This is seriously worrying, but it is not unprecedented, by any means. In fact, the food shortages, combined with the cooling trend that we are now seeing remind me of the Mediaeval times.
When the Mediaeval Warm Period established hold, it was a time of then unprecedented affluence in Britain: the warm weather resulted in consistently good harvests and the population of Britain grew massively; and, given the economies reliance on harvests at the time, people in general became much richer.
Conversely, as the Little Ice Age hit, so were the harvests leading to the Great Famine of 1315–1317.
The Great Famine of 1315–1322 was the first of a series of large-scale crises that struck Europe early in the 14th century, causing millions of deaths over an extended number of years and marking a clear end to an earlier period of growth and prosperity during the 11th through 13th centuries. Starting with bad weather in the spring of 1315, universal crop failures lasted through 1316 until the summer of 1317; Europe did not fully recover until 1322. It was a period marked by extreme levels of criminal activity, disease and mass death, infanticide, and cannibalism. It had consequences for Church, State, European society and future calamities to follow in the 14th century.
We are, relatively speaking, far richer now than we were at that time but we should not be complacent; it is becoming increasingly likely that, whilst we will not starve (or, at least, not in the West), we may well have to tighten our belts somewhat.
And our useless, bastard politicians are still whining about our carbon emissions, advocating policies that will only enhance these emissions whilst depriving us of sorely needed land for food production.
Merry fucking new year...