CBO Blasts Ethanol

An article published last Thrusday by the Washington Times suggests that federal support for corn ethanol has large negative consequences and a dubious impact on the environment. It seems that the Congressional Budget Office is catching up to the many critics of ethanol (for some of our own criticism of ethanol, feel free to check here). This should be the final nail in the coffin for aggressive corn-based ethanol policies. Continue reading

Food and Climate Change: Part 1

The author attended a two-part lecture series on Food and Climate Change hosted by the Sustainable Food Initiative at Brown University. This is the first of two posts recapping the main points and providing analysis of the lectures.

Cooks Diet For A Dead Planet

Cover of Diet for A Dead Planet

Christopher Cook, journalist and author, gave the first in this two-part series. He called his “Just Food Nation”. Cook, who penned the book Diet For a Dead Planet, asserted that we need “radical change” to our food system.

In addition to the growing climate crisis, Cook also linked problems such as the recent food crisis and the American obesity epidemic to a fundamentally broken food system.

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University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh becomes first “Fair Trade University”

The news from Chancellor Richard H. Wells that UWO would become the nation’s first fair trade university was the only announcement met with applause during Tuesday’s opening day ceremonies, Wells said.

Fair trade certified products – which are produced under sustainable, decent and fair labor conditions – will now be available at university dining establishments, catered functions and in department offices when possible.

Colleges and universities selling fair trade products is nothing new, but the difference in this case appears to be the source of the proclamation and the scale. The magnitude of this announcement cannot be ignored as the Chancellor of a large public university is declaring the campus-wide use of fair trade products. Nevertheless, there are several concerns with the “Fair trade University” label. One could easily view this as another example of an attempt to address an issue solely through consumption.

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Ethanol Myths? A Thorough Exploration

Add the US Department of Energy to the growing list of ethanol apologists that insist on jumping aboard a sinking ship. They have an entire webpage devoted to debunking five so-called “ethanol myths”. In our look at each “myth” we will see that with all their resources the best the DoE can do is cast a pebble of doubt into the vast sea of ethanol criticism. As we will see, at times they do everything short of outright lying just to protect the image of ethanol.

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Oxfam: Biofuels have dragged 30 million people into poverty

BBC

What arguments are left for biofuels? A help to a domestic industry at the expense of the world? A small addition to total world energy production? A step towards miracle ethanol that can be made from anything? Oxfam has now refuted a principal argument in favor of “green” fuels.
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Free trade policies claiming Haiti as a victim

After seeing food riots in April, Haiti’s problems are nowhere near being solved. Completely dependent on food imports due to trade liberalization, soil erosion and an increasing population. Mike Williams of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution explored this issue a little deeper.

It’s not completely fair to blame free trade policies for the problems facing Haiti when the country has faced widespread corruption in recent history and has many geographic limitations. Nevertheless, this is the worst case scenario of what can happen to the undeveloped world (it wouldn’t be accurate to classify Haiti as developing) when the markets are open to cheap and subsidized foreign food, causing shortages, and leading to food aid which further undercuts local producers.

Before 1950, Haiti supplied close to 80% of its own food, and exported a large amount of food. Now, much of the population has shifted away from agriculture, unable to compete, and now are unable to afford the rising cost of food. Many are so poor they have resorted to eating dirt. Due to the high cost of fertilizer, foreign competition, and food aid, most farmers have resorted to subsistence farming, leaving much of the country vulnerable. What is the result? A life expectancy under 50 years, high amounts of undernourished people and high infant mortality.

Specialization can lead to many efficiency gains, but specialization away from agriculture is a dangerous game. Food aid will only exacerbate the issue.  The best way to treat this is by governments and NGOs encouraging a return to farming, protecting the domestic industry, aid in development of successful agricultural practices and subsidizing in fertilizer, equipment and tools.  In the meantime, the west needs to look to Haiti before it pushes the developing world into trade liberalization, especially while the governments are acting to distort the market.

The commodity “bubble” gets bigger

Much talk has been made in recent months about the commodity bubble, and when we will see the prices of oil and corn fall back from their current all-time highs. Not only has the recent rise been attributed to speculation, but market forces were also expected to ease the upward trend. Among these expectations was an increase in oil output in response to record prices and an increased corn yield in response to demand for ethanol and rising meat consumption in the developing world. Unfortunately, supply is tight enough in both markets to make i difficult for this simple solution to come to fruition.
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