The way to sustainable price increases

Previous post was about the Oxfam happening against increasing food and energy prices at the G7 meeting. In this post I will focus more on the reasons why they claim food and energy is getting more expensive for the poor.

This is how Lies Craeynest (Oxfam EU policy analyst on climate and food security) explained it (translated from Dutch):

Craeynest links that pollution with rising food prices and notes that Europe is one of the largest food importers. Climate change indeed let many crops fail. Therefor threatens to increase the cost of food and energy supplies, in such a way the poorest in Europe would have hardly any access to food or heating. “Break that addiction to fossil fuels and choose a solution that is sustainable and good for food security worldwide,” said Craeynest.

That “pollution” was not mentioned in the text before this quote, but in the video on the same page they meant: pollution from fossil fuel use. She claims that “gigantic” droughts, storms and extreme weather events (caused by our emissions) let harvests fail. So “Harvests are going down while the demand is going up” and “poor people having to choose between eating or heating”.

Let’s go back to reality. The statements of crop failure were done in the present time. As far as I know storms and droughts are decreasing, not increasing. This is logical because in a warming world where the poles warm quicker than the equator, the temperature difference will be smaller and there will be less storms. So where does she gets that data of the contrary?

Can we see a loss in harvests because of these extreme events already? According to FAO the production of foods is actually increasing. According to their latest report of May 2014 most foods are at a record or near record production. Her claim of crops failure seems not substantiated. Or does she expect the effects of climate change only in the future?

In the FAO report there are some real reasons why food prices are on the rise, such as geopolitical developments like wars (she also acknowledges this further in the interview) and the mandatory mix of ethanol in fuel (which she doesn’t mention).

But what about Haiyan or the drought in North America? These are weather events. I think she conflates climate, climate change and weather. Droughts, storms and extreme weather existed long before we were around, they are here now and without a doubt will continue to exist in the future. Whatever the climate does, we need to be prepared for them.

On the other hand, aren’t fossil fuels the reason why agriculture became MORE productive in the first place? There is a reason why our economies are “addicted” to fossil fuels. They have a high energy potential needed to support for example large scale food production. Converting to “sustainable” energy sources probably would decrease food production, unless other high density energy sources are being used (which are not available yet).

But if storms, droughts and extreme events are not the driving force behind the current price increase, then what is it? It is not Russian gas that is increasing our energy prices, it is also not the fossil fuels, not even coal. At least in this region, it are wind and solar that are very expensive energy forms in need for huge subsidies. These are adding to the energy bill in that way that poor people can’t afford energy anymore (here it is called energy poverty). For example, in Flanders we pay more than 1 billion euro per year (and increasing) on subsidies alone for inland wind/solar/biomass. For a population of about 4.5 – 5 million people. This excluding offshore wind that was directly done via our government (so this will increase taxes).

As mentioned above, there are also crops that are grown for being converted into (bio) fuels in order to make our cars drive. Making food cost higher. Clear example was the 2011-2012 price increase of maize and soybeans. Farmers switched to maize and soybeens from other crops they were growing, combined with the increasing use of corn for ethanol and a slight drop in production drove up food prices worldwide. Ethanol production for use in cars took 27% of the maize produced. The shortage is not in production, but in how it is used.

In the end she got it the other way around! It is not the fossil fuel use that is driving the higher costs for food and energy in the last years. Until now it is the cost of “sustainable” energy that did the trick…


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