Friday, April 11, 2008

Yet more evidence that biofuels* are a terrible, terrible idea.

Yes, corn is renewable, but if you make ethanol out of it then poor people can't afford to eat it, or animals that eat it. Or at least, that's what the World Bank is saying about a recent disturbing rise in global food prices:
In the past two years, the price of corn in the United States has more than doubled, driven partly by demand for alternative fuels such as ethanol.

Climate, including droughts in Australia and Europe that have limited crop production, has also had an impact on food prices, he says.

"All this together has led to a real reduction in food stocks," he says.

Commodities and other traders who are betting on higher prices also contribute to the climb.

"Those combinations of events have led to an emergency situation," Zoellick says.

The World Bank has projected that food prices will stay high or go even higher over the next couple of years, and biofuels are a major factor.

"Biofuels is no doubt a significant contributor," Zoellick says. "It is clearly the case that programs in Europe and the United States that have increased biofuel production have contributed to the added demand for food."

So clearly it's not just biofuels that are causing problems here, and I think Kevin Drum is correct to note that rising oil prices as probably the main impetus. However, it seems obvious that when you have a world with billions of people living on less than a dollar a day that the strategies to reduce our oil dependence should not increase the demand for things that people need to eat. Cheap, clean energy is the way to make life much better for those billions, but when you tie that energy into the food supply you're shooting yourself in the foot.

*To clarify: Most biofuels are a bad idea, but biodiesel from algae seems promising.

Via Outside the Beltway