Monday, October 29, 2007

Global Warming vs. Global Hunger: Which is more important?

Last week, Jean Zigler, a U.N. expert on the right to food, declared the creation of biofuels as a "crime against humanity." Biofuels are made using such essential foodstuffs as corn and sugar. Because of the increased demand for these crops, food prices have gone up to record highs over the past few months. Zigler declared that this act is a "crime against humanity" because it is not only destroying food crops that are essential to those who are poor but also raising the prices of the crops that are left and thus making them harder to afford for poor people. His solution to the problem is to ban the creation of biofuels for five years so that scientists may develop a process where they could be created using food waste instead of actual food. However, seeing as the U.S. would like to end its dependence on foreign oil as soon as possible as well as stop burning fuel that would contribute to global warming, five years is a lot of time that the U.S. does not have if it wants to make a reasonable change in the amount of fossil fuels that it burns. This brings up a very interesting and controversial question: should the U.S. stop creating biofuels so that the poor have food to eat or is the starvation of the world's poor a reasonable sacrifice to be made for the wellbeing of our planet's environment?


terissa said...

I think this is an amazingly controversial issue. One could argue that if politicians within the United States would make the dramatic step toward limiting carbon emissions and taking responsibility for the great toll industrialism has taken on our environment, then perhaps the production of biofuels could be slowed, or even halted, without much negative effect to the atmosphere and the battle against global warming. Global warming and global hunger are two very important, very loaded issues that effect all nations. To alleviate one, you mustn't also exacerbate the other. Political issues need not be so explicitly black and white. The United States should put its energies into more long lasting and productive ventures - there are many current geoengineering projects that need governmental support that go unnoticed or ignored. These projects are, in some cases, promising, however nothing is as effective in the fight against global warming and eliminating the origin of the problem all together. Cutting back on emissions, and not just vehicular emissions, is the biggest step that can be taken. Alternative sources of fuel should be a priority, but they should not be prohibitive with respects to other world issues.

Perhaps this issue is a good place to start a debate centered around changes in the lifestyles of U.S. citizens. As consumers, it is our time to make a difference. Not just as U.S. citizens, but as global citizens with a civil duty to preserve and protect the land we are entrusted with.

Nikki M said...

I'm not extremely well versed on this topic, but it seems to me that the price of food (especially in terms of a global market) is an extremely complex issue that has to do with far more than the production of biofuel.

Many developing nations are forced to focus on growing cash crops for export instead of food to feed their people just so they're able to stay somewhat viable in a world economy that is stacked against them. I don't think we have to choose between the environment and allieviating starvation. How about we focus in on some fair trade practices and debt cancellation instead?

steve said...

I think part of this issue is what its relevant to a wider population. Food is relevant to every one and especially in those countries that have large numbers of poor and hungry. The need for biofuel is relevant to industrial societies, but not every society aroud the world. As a world leader, America is in a unique position. The need for alternative fuel is a pressing issue and at the same time we are, or should be, responsible for helping to alleviate hunger on the world scale.
A solution to the question of what is more important is hard to come by. Both are issues that must be addressed and there is the question of whether we can afford to put off biofuel production and research. World markets are complex systems and changing them may have unforseen results. However it may be possibe to implement biofuel slowly into society without increasing the demand for biofuel crops excessivley, by only introducing biofuel technology to commercial industries.

jolz said...

Firstly I would like to state that I am not condoning this flagrant waste of vital food but I was wondering if the utilization of these essential crops is stopped would poor really have more access to it? If the countless tons of corn and sugar that are no longer converted to biofuels, are farmers just going to start selling are bottom prices to accommodate the impoverished? I then pose another question, before this biofuel revolution were there less hungry people due to the fact that essential crops were not being converted into alternative energy sources?
Theoretically, the economic law of supply and demand would agree that increasing the supply of the crop would decrease the price but that says nothing about who is actually going to have access to it. If there is to be a ban on biofuels, I strongly think that policies or strategic methods of some kind should be in place for ensuring that poor people are able to obtain this food. If not then it seems futile declaring creation of biofuels a human rights violation because the poor people are denied food anyway.