Feeling green while the poor starve


Of all the insanities committed in the name of green politics, one of the most insane is the production of biofuels from food crops.  In pursuit of increased proportion of energy from renewable sources, governments have realized that wind and solar power cannot make sufficiently large contributions.  They have therefore turned to biofuels, a move that hugely delights their farming lobbies.

Left at that, this might not have done too much damage outside of a massive misallocation of resources, but in a move that compounds insanity with thoughtless wickedness, they have chosen to do so out of food crops, rather than push forward the development of fuels from biological waste products such as husks, stalks and other cellulose surplus.  

Now Robin Pagnamenta reports in the Times that "Britain's self-sufficiency in wheat will end next year because a giant new biofuel refinery needs so much of the staple crop that home-grown supplies will be exhausted."  Yes, we are now buying wheat on world markets to turn into fuel that is more expensive than that we can buy elsewhere or pump out of North Sea wells.  That puts upward pressure on world prices, forcing up the price of foodstuffs.  To affluent people this will be an inconvenience; to the poor it might mean starvation.

We have, in effect, reintroduced the Corn Laws which were abolished in 1846, ensuring that the poor have to pay more for their bread as landowners and farmers benefit from higher prices.  Well-to-do ladies driving their children to school in 4x4s can feel good that they are driving on 'green' fuel, even as people in poorer countries go hungry.  Already there have been pasta protests in Italy and tortilla riots in Mexico, as poor people protest as the higher prices.

Why in the name of sanity and decency did governments not do the obvious thing and offer huge prizes to rush forward the development of biofuels from waste products instead?  It has been achieved on small scale, and all it needs are the incentives and investment to roll it out on a larger scale.  Biofuels from food crops is a profligate waste of precious food to satisfy green consciences, and the next government should pledge itself to stop it.

Check out Dr Madsen Pirie's new book, "101 Great Philosophers."