One tankful of the latest craze in alternative energy could feed one person for a year, Lester Brown tells Fortune.
The growing myth that corn is a cure-all for our energy woes is leading us toward a potentially dangerous global fight for food. While crop-based ethanol -the latest craze in alternative energy – promises a guilt-free way to keep our gas tanks full, the reality is that overuse of our agricultural resources could have consequences even more drastic than, say, being deprived of our SUVs. It could leave much of the world hungry.
We are facing an epic competition between the 800 million motorists who want to protect their mobility and the two billion poorest people in the world who simply want to survive. In effect, supermarkets and service stations are now competing for the same resources.
This year cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption. The problem is simple: It takes a whole lot of agricultural produce to create a modest amount of automotive fuel.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that world grain consumption will increase by 20 million tons this year, roughly 1%. Of that, 14 million tons will be used to fuel cars in the U.S., leaving only six million tons to cover the world’s growing food needs.
Already commodity prices are rising. Sugar prices have doubled over the past 18 months (driven in part by Brazil’s use of sugar cane for fuel), and world corn and wheat prices are up one-fourth so far this year.
For the world’s poorest people, many of whom spend half or more of their income on food, rising grain prices can quickly become life threatening.