Monday, May 07, 2007

Global warming: Bio-fuels are not the answer

The United States is seeking a huge shift towards Bio-fuels (fuel-oil derived from agricultural products rather than oil and coal). This shift is being spun as environmentally friendly, but its motivation is more to reduce the USA's dependence on oil.

In an important contribution to the debate Fidel Castro argues that this will have a disastrous impact on the world's poor. Pushing up the price of food, increasing rural unemployment and the increased mechanisation of agriculture will increase CO2 emissions.

In an article written for May day, CASTRO WRITES :

At the end of World War II, fought by the peoples against fascism, a new power emerged that took over the world and imposed the absolutist and cruel order under which we live today.

Before Bush’s trip to Brazil, the leader of the empire decided that corn and other foodstuffs would be suitable raw material for the production of biofuels. For his part, Lula stated that Brazil could supply as much biofuel as necessary from sugar cane; he saw in this formula a possibility for the future of the Third World, and the only problem left to solve would be to improve the living conditions of the sugarcane workers. He was well aware – and he said it – that the United States should in turn lift the custom tariffs and the subsidies affecting ethanol exports to that country.

Bush replied that custom tariffs and subsidies to growers were untouchable in a country such as the United States, which is the first world producer of ethanol from corn.

The large U.S. transnational producers of this biofuel, which are investing tens of billions of dollars at an accelerated pace, had demanded from the imperial leader the distribution in the U.S. market of no less than 35 billions (35,000,000,000) of gallons of this fuel every year. The combination of protective tariffs and real subsidies would raise that figure to almost one hundred billion dollars every year.
Insatiable in its demand, the empire had launched into the world the slogan of producing biofuels in order to free the United States, the world’s supreme energy consumer, from all external dependency on hydrocarbons.

History shows that sugar as a mono-crop was closely associated with the enslavement of Africans, forcibly uprooted from their natural communities and brought to Cuba, Haiti and other Caribbean islands. In Brazil, the exact same thing happened with sugarcane cultivation.

Today, in that country, almost 80% of sugar cane is cut by hand. Sources and studies contributed by Brazilian researchers affirm that one sugarcane cutter, a piece-work laborer, must produce no less than12 tons in order to meet basic needs. This one worker needs to perform 36,630 flexing movements with his legs, make small trips 800 times carrying 15 kilos of cane in his arms and walk 8,800 meters in his task. He loses an average of 8 liters of water every day. Only by burning cane can that productivity per person be achieved. Cane cut by hand or by machines is usually burned to protect people from nasty bites and especially to increase productivity. Even though the established norm for a working day is from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, this type of piece-work cane cutting tends to go on for a 12-hour working day. The temperature sometimes rises to 45 degrees centigrade by noon.

The great agricultural yields of the United States were achieved by rotating gramineae (corn, wheat, oats, millet and other similar grains) with legumes (soy, alfalfa, beans, etc.). These contribute nitrogen and organic material to the soil. The corn crop yield in the United States in 2005, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, was 9.3 tons per hectare.

In Brazil they only obtain 3 tons of this same grain over a similar area of land. The total production registered by this sister nation that year was 34,600,000 tons, consumed internally as food. It cannot contribute corn to the world market.
Prices for this grain, the staple diet in numerous countries of the region, have almost doubled. What will happen when hundreds of millions of tons of corn are redirected toward the production of biofuel? And I would rather not mention the volumes of wheat, millet, oats, barley, sorghum and other cereals that industrialized countries will use as a source of fuel for its engines.

Add to this that it is very difficult for Brazil to rotate corn and legumes. Of the Brazilian states traditionally producing corn, eight are responsible for 90% of production: Paraná, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina y Mato Grosso do Sul. On the other hand, 60% of sugarcane, a grain that cannot be rotated with other crops, is cultivated in four states: Sao Paulo, Paraná, Pernambuco and Alagoas.

The engines of tractors, harvesters and the heavy machinery required to mechanize the harvest would use growing amounts of hydrocarbons. The increase of mechanization would not help in the prevention of global warming, something that has been proven by experts who have measured annual temperatures for the last 150 years.

Brazil does produce an excellent food that is especially rich in protein: soy, 50,115,000 tons. It consumes almost 23 million tons and exports 27,300,000 tons. Could it be that a large part of this soy will be converted to biofuel?
As it is, the producers of beef cattle are beginning to complain that grazing land is being transformed into sugarcane fields.

The former agriculture minister of Brazil, Roberto Rodrigues, an important advocate of the current government position – and presently a co-president of the Inter-American Ethanol Commission created in 2006 following an agreement with the state of Florida and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to promote the use of biofuel on the American continent – announced that the program to mechanize the sugarcane harvest will not create more jobs but, on the contrary, would produce a surplus of non-qualified manpower.

We know that the poorest workers from various states are the ones who gravitate toward cane cutting out of necessity. Sometimes, they have to spend many months away from their families.

Added to this is the latest report by the United Nations on climate change, which affirms what would happen in South America with water from the glaciers and the Amazon water basin as the temperature of the atmosphere continue to rise.

It is imperative to have an immediate energy revolution that consists not only of replacing all the incandescent light bulbs, but also of massively recycling all domestic, commercial, industrial, transport and social electric appliances that require two and three times more energy with their earlier technologies.

It hurts to think that 10 billion tons of fossil fuel is consumed every year. This means that each year we waste what it took nature one million years to create. National industries are faced with enormous challenges, including the reduction of unemployment. In that way, we could gain a little time.

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