Tuesday, April 15, 2008

UN calls for revolution in food production.


dariush sokolov said...

This is becoming the big debate isn't it. Where do you stand now Phil on Brazil's championing of biofuels? Here's oil giant Venezuela saying using food to make fuel is criminal - http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601086&sid=aVWkvzDDYy3I&refer=news.
And Lula's defence - http://uk.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUKN1633644420080416. Lots of analysis here from Agrocombustibles, an NGO thinktank specialising on this based in Montevideo (I'm afraid almost all in Spanish though) - http://www.agrocombustibles.org/noticias/.

Composing said...

Yeah, I know it's the big debate, because I listen to The Archers where Pat is having a major argument with David and Adam over the desirability of their anaerobic digester project for Ambridge :-) (Interestingly, when this plot-arc started, she sounded like a voice from the fringe, but her position seems to be rapidly becoming mainstream.)

In general I don't think my position has changed much - but this may be because I haven't updated my technical facts, I'm open to expert correction - I understand that sugarcane is a far more efficient energy crop than wheat, corn or soya. While at the same time, sugar is an overused and unhealthy cheap suppliment to bulk-up other mass produced foods.

So there is *some* justification for using sugar for alcohol rather than food. This is very different from, say, corn which is far less efficient source of biofuels.

What I'm missing in the rather broad argument between Lula and everyone else is any indication of this difference. I'd say each crop should be judged on it's merits as a) food, b) fuel, c) the kind of land taken to grow it.

At the moment, the argument has missed this, and Lula's getting held up as the poster-boy / defender of any biofuel project however useless. And Chavez obviously has his own agenda, but the sad thing is how this issue is being used to drive further divisions between Brazil and Venezuela.

Of course, you can't simply switch to biofuels and hope to continue using energy with the same profligacy as before. It isn't going to work, and trying will certainly bring starvation in many parts of the world. So I definitely think that we should be reducing consumption and pursuing real alternative energy sources.

But I also think that there's going to be no dominant energy source in the future in the way that petroleum was so dominant in the 20th century. The mass exploitation or consumption of anything is usually problematic.

The solution to energy in the future has to be diversity of sources and smaller scale production which suits local conditions.

Biofuels can (and arguably should) be used as part of that mix - especially in a country like Brazil which can produce sugar-based ethanol. But Brazil shouldn't be trying to turn itself into a mass exporter of biofuels to the rest of the world.