January 2, 2007

Energy choice: drive cars or eat meat

Excerpts from "Ethics of Biofuels," Sharon Astyk, 28 Dec 2006 (click the title of this post):
[I]f ethanol means that poor countries are taking grain (good food for humans) and converting it to ethanol (gas for people wealthy enough to have cars -- i.e., us) and food for livestock (i.e., meat, which many poor grain producers worldwide are also too poor to have), what we will achieve is total net transfer of food from the poor of the world to the rich of the world, to put in their gas tanks and eat as beef.

Ethical Principle #5 -- Either we must address the more basic injustices that lead to hunger, or we must acknowledge that large-scale use of biofuels will increase hunger and inequity.

[T]he present emphasis on "selling" biofuels as dual purpose, because they can feed animals, ignores the fact that in many poor nations, most meat goes for export, and most poor people can afford to eat little meat.

Ethical Principle #6 - We must make the relationship between biofuels, meat eating and hunger explicit, because we can’t have it all.

Ethanol is booming, despite the fact that it may be a net energy loser. There are enough plants either in existence or being built in Iowa to use every grain of corn grown in the state, and if the ethanol industry gets its way, there will be enough plants to use up fully one half of the US corn crop. Now as might be expected, this makes people from the meat, dairy and poultry lobbies quite nervous. Because right now, more than 70% of all our corn production goes to feed livestock. Take half of the corn away, and we’ll be faced with a problem – do we reduce our meat consumption by 1/3 - 2/3 (the proportion of feed value removed from the grain in ethanol production) in order to fuel our cars, or do we keep eating and pay $6 per gallon for gas? But you will note that no one in the ethanol or biodiesel debate has suggested that if we want cheap, sustainably produced fuel, we ought to go vegetarian as a nation.

The danger, then, is that Americans, being rich, will continue to do both. They will eat meat and they will drive ethanol cars, and because our own grain is going to produce ethanol, we will import more grain, grown in poorer nations, to feed our livestock. We are doing this right now, and it is already raising the price of grain. Poor nations will be unable to compete, and unjust trade policies will continue to have them export food to us while they go hungry.

[T]he energy intensive quality of meat production may necessitate reducing our consumption of animal products ...

Any plan for large scale biofuel production must recognize that the first priority is the restoration of the world's grain reserves back to at least a six month reserve supply, and that expanding those reserves further ought to be a high priority. This would be easy to do, if most of us abjured grain fed meat, but we haven't. And as always, the cost is greatest for the weakest and poorest people in the world.
peak oil, biofuels, vegetarianism