Thursday, June 23, 2011

Green fuel, empty stomachs By Bjorn Lomborg Economic Times

Spectators at February's Daytona 500 in Florida, US, were handed green flags to wave in celebration of the news that the race's stock cars now use gasoline with 15% corn-based ethanol. It was the start of a season-long television marketing campaign to sell the merits of biofuel to Americans. On the surface, the self-proclaimed 'greening of Nascar' ( National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing )) is merely a transparent - and, one suspects, ill-fated - exercise in an environmental form of whitewashing for the sport: call it 'greenwashing'. But the partnership between a beloved American pastime and the biofuel lobby also marks the latest attempt to sway public opinion in favour of a truly irresponsible policy. The US spends about $6 billion a year on federal support for ethanol production through tax credits, tariffs and other programmes. Thanks to this financial assistance, a sixth of the world's corn supply is burned in American cars. That is enough corn to feed 350 million people for an entire year. Government support of rapid growth in biofuel production has contributed to disarray in food production. Indeed, as a result of official policy in the US and Europe, including aggressive production targets, biofuel consumed more than 6.5% of global grain output and 8% of the world's vegetable oil in 2010, up from 2% of grain supplies and virtually no vegetable oil in 2004. This year, after a particularly bad growing season, we see the results. Global food prices are the highest they have been since the United Nations started tracking them in 1990, pushed up largely by increases in the cost of corn. Despite the strides made recently against malnutrition, millions more people will be undernourished than would have been the case in the absence of official support for biofuel

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