Center for World Indigenous Studies
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The Choice: Fuel vs Food?

Published: January 21, 2008, Author: MHirch

Biofuel production is supposed to be the panacea for skyrocketing petroleum costs. Environmentalists argue that biofuels reduce carbon emissions and reduce dependency on petroleum-based fuels. Industry leaders argue biofuels are good for the economy. Both are wrong. Biofuels increase carbon emissions problems by increasing the destruction of jungles and forests. Biofuels like soybean and palm oil increase food oil prices.

Palm oil and soybean oil are two important sources of calories for peoples living in Asia, Melanesia and parts of the Middle East. Competing demands for these oils have suddenly exploded as Palm oil produced mainly in Indonesia is refined for use to power automobiles. Growers are clearing more jungles to plant palm trees to meet increased energy demands thus contributing to carbon emissions and increased prices for foods and cooking oil too.

Industry is essentially shifting valuable foodstuffs to the energy market taking nutrition from those who need it most.

If there was ever evidence that saving the environment and developing the economy at the same time is simply nonsense the competing demands between human food verses energy for machines certainly dashes the hopeful notions behind sustainable development. Biofuels, if they are to be produced, must not detract from human biological need. Reducing carbon emissions, improving human health and energy consumption command us to become more realistic. We must, in post-industrial states, accept the necessity to “use less” and not more. States like China, Brazil, Indonesia and India should stop repeating the failed experience of post industrial states like the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and others. Nineteenth century industrialization must be stopped and replaced by a combination of modernized traditional food production, housing, social organization (smaller towns) and modern advanced technology.

Intercropping, for example, (that food planting method that involves companion planting and plant selection) produces 40% more food than row cropping commonly used now by agricultural sectors around the world. Intercropping uses little added energy in the form of fertilizer, machine technology, etc. Row cropping is extremely expensive and inefficient in terms of food production and distribution.

Land tenure systems will have to be substantially changed in countries around the world to distribute land to landless peoples and communities so they can produce much of their own food.  Self-sufficient communities should be the goal instead of forcing global standardized markets and interdependence.

Fourth World peoples throughout the world demonstrate the staying power of self-sustaining communities that produce much of their own food and use little energy. Choices between fuel and food are substantially reduced making human life more important than energy profits. Post-industrial and industrial peoples must now stop and think! Does it really make sense to grow and increase energy use and grow carbon emissions to eventually choke life on the planet?  Does it make sense to barrel ahead taking food from the poor and the poorest of the poor to fuel machines, electrify homes and manufacture consumer goods?

The choice between fuel and food is a false choice. We humans cannot survive constant growth.  We need new strategies to meet human needs. We need new strategies to meet the demands of the living earth.  There are strategies long tested by Fourth World societies that do not pollute, leave a small human imprint and promote a high quality of life.  We must pay attention to those strategies as lessons of human survival.

(c) 2008 Center for World Indigenous Studies

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