My general pessimism about the will to turn round the move to environmental disaster is tempered by a report about Colombia (Guardian 5/6/2007). Such has been the success to use palm oil as a biofuel that now groups described as right-wing nationalists and (maybe) left wing rebels are driving people from their land to produce this lucrative commodity. Whereas the growing of coca for the drugs market is illicit, this venture is not.
“Surging demand for “green” fuel has prompted rightwing paramilitaries to seize swaths of territory, according to activists and farmers. Thousands of families are believed to have fled a campaign of killing and intimidation, swelling Colombia’s population of 3 million displaced people and adding to one of the world’s worst refugee crises after Darfur and Congo.” Source: Guardian 7/6/2007).
The Guardian editorial comments on the downside of politicians enthusiasm for biofuel where it drives up prices affecting the poor and encourages the destruction of rainforest to plant palms:
“This enthusiasm, however, is likely to come at a cost to the world’s poor. Diverting crops away from food into fuel runs the risk of increasing hunger for the poor. There are already some warning signs. Wholesale corn prices have rocketed, which caused 75,000 protesters to march through downtown Mexico City against dearer tortillas a few months ago. It has also made animal feed dearer, which has helped push up the cost of pork for the Chinese. Higher prices do not just affect poor countries, which is why American farmers are now feeding their herds Hersheys and pretzels, and Germans are upset to see beer prices go up as a result of a shortage of hops. But for China, still a developing country, to see the price of its staple meat rise 43% in the first three weeks of May alone is a much bigger hardship. In some cases the risk is of destruction of land. Palm oil is another potential biofuel, so farmers are chopping down forests to make way for palm trees. The conservationist Richard Leakey has warned that the orangutan is endangered by the drive for biofuels, while the UN has also shown green fuels the red light.” Guardian (5/6/2007).