Fuelling the food shortage.

The world seems to be chasing new sources of fossil fuel to feed its insatiable need for energy to the point of causing deprivation in many poor countries across the planet. Core cereal crops are being sacrificed to prop up the need in developed countries to maintain their current levels of energy consumption at all costs. Rather than look to new technologies, using innovation an adequate funding for research, the development is focused only on replacement of the fuels in use today.

Research released today highlights the need to move away from dependence on fossil fuels and the rush to exploiting existing fossil fuel reserves. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, called for a sharp reduction in C02 limits. The research shows that the problem may be more urgent than previously thought. In fact he asserts that:

“The amounts of “proven” and potential fossil fuel reserves are uncertain and debated. Regardless of the true values, society has flexibility in the degree to which it chooses to exploit these reserves, especially unconventional fossil fuels and those located in extreme or pristine environments… It is also important to ‘stretch’ conventional oil reserves via energy conservation and efficiency, thus averting strong pressures to extract liquid fuels from coal or unconventional fossil fuels while clean technologies are being developed for the era ‘beyond fossil fuels’. We argue that a rising price on carbon emissions is needed to discourage conversion of the vast fossil resources into usable reserves, and to keep CO2 beneath the 450 ppm ceiling. “

All this challenges the world to innovate and adapt to the climate changes that it is experiencing. If the rush to biofuels rather than new clean sources of energy continues the disharmony and social dislocation that is being experienced at present is set to increase.

On Sunday angry protests took place in Egypt as a result of the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Michael Slackman of the International Herald Tribune argues that the cause of the anger has been inflation on food products, mostly bread and cooking oil. The rising cost of wheat, coupled with widespread corruption in the production and distribution of subsidized bread, has outraged locals and the government is under pressure but has been seen to not have done enough to remedy the situation.

In Asia the production of rice has been outstripped by population growth and the changing eating patterns as workers become more affluent. Restrictions on export and hefty price rises have put pressure on populations for whom rice is the main staple.

Also in the Guardian today the story of the

“savannah and mangrove swamp on the east coast of Africa is the latest victim of the British thirst for biofuels.To meet the worldwide demand and the regulation that, from next week, petrol and diesel sold in Britain must be mixed with bioethanol or biodiesel as part of a drive to cut the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, the Mumias Sugar Company in Kenya is planning to plant 20,000 hectares of the Tana delta to grow sugar cane for biofuels and food. The £165m project, including an ethanol refinery and food-processing plant, promises to create thousands of jobs in an area dominated by traditional cattle herding, small scale rice and subsistence farming.”

Undoubtedly there will be environmental as well as social costs for this community. Like other communities that have turned to cash crops from traditional crops one questions what effects these changes will have for the people of the Tana delta. Critics of the scheme fear that the rich diversity would be replaced by this “monoculture planting and that it would require large amounts of available water for irrigation.”

The real reason for all this upheaval is that as yet the developed world is not prepared to accept the gravity of the situation or the fact that a return to previous climatic conditions may take a long time if ever to eventuate. Perhaps like the flora and fauna of the planet, we too may have to learn to adapt and find new ways to survive the changes that the climate brings. Scientists and conservationists alike are realising that the problem is that the progression of climate change is unpredictable and the urgency to limit emissions challenges us to find clean energy solutions.

~ by abstraktbiblos on Monday, 7 April, 2008.

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