THE DEBATE IS HEATING UP: FOOD FOR FUEL?
Posted: May 10th, 2007, 3:27 am
http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/2 ... htmlAtilio Borón, a prestigious leftist intellectual who until recentlyheaded the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), wrotean article for the 6th Hemispheric Meeting of Struggle against theFTAs and for the Integration of Peoples which just wrapped up inHavana; he was kind enough to send it to me along with a letter.The gist of what he wrote I have summarized using exact quotes ofparagraphs and phrases in his article; it reads as follows:Pre-capitalist societies already knew about oil which surfaced inshallow deposits and they used for non-commercial purposes, such aswaterproofing the wooden hulls of ships or in textile products, orfor torches. Its original name was petroleum or stone-oil.By the end of the 19th century after the discovery of largeoilfields in Pennsylvania, United States, and the technologicaldevelopments propelled by the massive use of the internal combustionengine-- oil became the energy paradigm of the 20th century.Energy is conceived of as just merchandise. Like Marx warned us, thisis not due to the perversity or callousness of some individualcapitalist or another, but rather the consequence of the logic of theaccumulation process, which is prone to the ceaseless mercantilismthat touches on all components of social life, both material andsymbolic. The mercantilist process did not stop with the human being,but simultaneously extended to nature. The land and its products, therivers and the mountains, the jungles and the forests became thetarget of its irrepressible pillage. Foodstuffs, of course, could notescape this hellish dynamic. Capitalism turns everything that crossesits path into merchandise.Foodstuffs are transformed into fuels to make viable theirrationality of a civilization that, to sustain the wealth andprivilege of a few, is brutally assaulting the environment and theecologic conditions which made it possible for life to appear onEarth.Transforming food into fuels is a monstrosity.Capitalism is preparing to perpetrate a massive euthanasia on thepoor, and particularly on the poor of the South, since it is therethat the greatest reserves of the earths biomass required to producebiofuels are found. Regardless of numerous official statementsassuring that this is not a choice between food and fuel, realityshows that this, and no other, is exactly the alternative: either theland is used to produce food or to produce biofuels.The main lessons taught us by FAO data on the subject of agriculturalland and the consumption of fertilizers are the following:· Agricultural land per capita in developed capitalism almost doublesthat existing in the underdeveloped periphery: 3.26 acres per personin the North as opposed to 1.6 in the South; this is explained by thesimple fact that close to 80 percent of the world population live inthe underdeveloped periphery.· Brazil has slightly more agricultural land per capita than thedeveloped countries. It becomes clear that this nation will have toassign huge tracts of its enormous land surface to meet the demandsof the new energy paradigm.· China and India have 1.05 and 0.43 acres per person respectively.· The small nations of the Antilles, with their traditional one-cropagriculture, that is sugarcane, demonstrate eloquently its erosiveeffects exemplified by the extraordinary rate of consumption offertilizers per acre needed to support this production. If in theperipheral countries the average figure is 109 kilograms offertilizer per hectare (as opposed to 84 in developed countries), inBarbados the figure is 187.5, in Dominica 600, en Guadeloupe 1,016,in St. Lucia 1,325 and in Martinique 1,609. The use of fertilizers istantamount to intensive oil consumption, and so the much toutedadvantage of agrifuels to reduce the consumption of hydrocarbonsseems more an illusion than a reality.The total agricultural land of the European Union is barelysufficient to cover 30 percent of their current needs for fuel butnot their future needs that will probably be greater. In the UnitedStates, the satisfaction of their current demand for fossil fuelswould require the use of 121 percent of all their agricultural landfor agrifuels.Consequently, the supply of agrifuels will have to come from theSouth, from capitalism's poor and neocolonial periphery. Mathematicsdoes not lie: neither the United States nor the European Union haveavailable land to support an increase in food production and anexpansion of the production of agrifuels at the same time.Deforestation of the planet would increase the land surface suitablefor agriculture (but only for a while). Therefore this would be onlyfor a few decades, at the most. These lands would then sufferdesertification and the situation would be worse than ever,aggravating even further the dilemma pitting the production of foodagainst that of ethanol or biodiesel.The struggle against hunger and there are some 2 billion people whosuffer from hunger in the world will be seriously impaired by theexpansion of land taken over by agrifuel crops. Countries wherehunger is a universal scourge will bear witness to the rapidtransformation of agriculture that would feed the insatiable demandfor fuels needed by a civilization based on their irrational use. Theonly result possible is an increase in the cost of food and thus, theworsening of the social situation in the South countries.Moreover, the world population grows 76 million people every year whowill obviously demand food that will be steadily more expensive andfarther out of their reach.In The Globalist Perspective, Lester Brown predicted less than a yearago that automobiles would absorb the largest part of the increase inworld grain production in 2006. Of the 20 million tons added to thoseexisting in 2005, 14 million were used in the production of fuels,and only 6 million tons were used to satisfy the needs of the hungry.This author affirms that the world appetite for automobile fuel isinsatiable. Brown concluded by saying that a scenario is beingprepared where a head-on confrontation will take place between the800 million prosperous car owners and the food consumers.The devastating impact of increased food prices, which willinexorably happen as the land is used either for food or for fuel,was demonstrated in the work of C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer,two distinguished professors from the University of Minnesota, in anarticle published in the English language edition of the ForeignAffairs magazine whose title says it all: How Biofuels Could Starvethe Poor. The authors claim that in the United States the growth ofthe agrifuel industry has given rise to increases not only in theprice of corn, oleaginous seeds and other grains, but also in theprices of apparently unrelated crops and products. The use of land togrow corn which will feed the fauces of ethanol is reducing the areafor other crops. The food processors using crops such as peas andyoung corn have been forced to pay higher prices in order to ensuretheir supplies. This is a cost that will eventually be passed on tothe consumer. The increase in food prices is also hitting thelivestock and poultry industries. The higher costs have produced anabrupt decrease in income, especially in the poultry and porksectors. If income continues to decrease, so will production, and theprices of chicken, turkey, pork, milk and eggs will increase. Theywarn that the most devastating effects of increasing food prices willbe felt especially in Third World countries.Studies made by the Belgian Office of Scientific Affairs shows thatbiodiesel causes more health and environmental hazards because itcreates a more pulverized pollution and releases more pollutants thatdestroy the ozone layer.With regards to the argument claming that the agrifuels are harmless,Victor Bronstein, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, hasdemonstrated that:·It is not true that biofuels are a renewable and constant energysource, given that the crucial factor in plant growth is not sunlightbut the availability of water and suitable soil conditions. If thiswere not the case, we would be able to grow corn or sugarcane in theSahara Desert. The effects of large-scale production of biofuels willbe devastating.·It is not true that they do not pollute. Even if ethanol producesless carbon emissions, the process to obtain it pollutes the surfaceand the water with nitrates, herbicides, pesticides and waste, andthe air is polluted with aldehydes and alcohols that are carcinogens.The presumption of a "green and clean" fuel is a fallacy.The proposal of agrifuels is unviable, and it is ethically andpolitically unacceptable. But it is not enough just to reject it.It is necessary to implement a new energy revolution, but one that isat the service of the people and not at the service of the monopoliesand imperialism. This is, perhaps, the most important challenge ofour time, concludes Atilio Borón.As you can see, this summary took up some space. We need space andtime; practically a book. It has been said that the masterpiece whichmade author Gabriel García Márquez famous, One Hundred Years ofSolitude, required him to write fifty pages for each page that wasprinted. How much time would my poor pen need to refute those who fora material interest, ignorance, indifference or even for all three atthe same time defend the evil idea and to spread the solid and honestarguments of those who struggle for the life of the species?Some very important opinions and points of view were discussed atthe Hemispheric Meeting in Havana. We should talk about those thatbrought us real-life images of cutting sugarcane by hand in adocumentary film that seemed a reflection of Dantes Inferno.A growing number of opinions are carried by the media every day andeverywhere in the world, from institutions like the United Nationsright up to national scientific associations. I simply perceive thatthe debate is heating up. The fact that the subject is beingdiscussed is already an important step forward.Fidel Castro