Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Biofuel demand sparks food riots

“Food riots” have taken place in countries around the world in recent months following a 37 percent spike in global food prices last year, reports the New York Times. Much to blame is soaring demand for biofuel. Palm oil prices alone are up almost 70 percent in the last year.

In response, families around the world are cutting back on staples and in some cases risking their lives to get cooking oil at affordable prices. In China for example, grocer Carrefour held a “limited-time cooking oil promotion.” The resulting “stampede” killed three and injured 31.

Across all vegetable oils, biofuel accounted for half the increase in demand last year. Surprisingly, just seven percent of vegetable oil is used for biofuel.

In a nut shell, the problem is, we’ve suddenly found a new use for crops without finding a new way to make more crops. Besides, it’s not like we had massive piles of extra food lying around and world hunger had been wiped out. Taken together, you can understand why we’ve got a problem.

Compounding the problem, governments aren’t letting high prices slow demand (thereby stabilizing prices). According to the Times, “Governments in many poor countries have tried to respond by stepping up food subsidies, imposing or tightening price controls, restricting exports and cutting food import duties.”

People, when is it going to sink in? We can’t solve the problem of dwindling fossil fuel reserves by cranking up demand of another finite resource, biofuel. There is only so much land to cultivate and there are so many things we rely on crops for (food, shelter, clothing and now fuel). The answer? Two things. First and most importantly: conservation. Second, infinite fuel sources like wind, solar, tidal and geothermal.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.