From 'Peak Oil' to 'Peak Food'

The increasing use of food grains in biofuels, rising meat consumption in Asia and perverse government farming subsidies are having a serious effect on global food security.

"Vulnerable regions of the world face the risk of famine over the next three years as rising energy costs spill over into a food crunch, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Corn can be used for ethanol in cars and power plants, for plastics, as well as in baking tortillas. Natural gas can be made into fertiliser for food output. "Peak Oil" is morphing into "Peak Food".

Land use for biofuels has shot up from 12m to more than 80m hectares worldwide over six years. Biofuel provides 3pc of global energy needs, which will rise to an estimated 10.6pc by 2030.

In a pure market, sugar cane would be the only viable biofuel with a cost of $35 a barrel (oil equivalent). The others are sugar beet ($103), corn ($81), wheat ($145), rapeseed ($209), soybean ($232), cellulose ($305).

Subsidies drive the business. The US offers tax relief of $1 a gallon for biodiesel. The EU has a 10pc biofuel target by 2010.

The crop switch comes just as China and India make the leap to an animal-based diet, replicating the pattern seen in Japan and Korea, where people raised their protein intake nine-fold as they became rich. It takes 8.3 grams of soya or corn feed to produce a 1g weight gain in cattle - compared with 3.1g for pigs, 2g for chicken and 1.5g for fish.

The current "supercycle" is a break with history because energy and food have "converged" in price and can increasingly be switched from one use to another."

Full Story: Why the price of 'peak oil' is famine



Subsidies To Biofuels

Those subsidies should end, now that a study has shown that biofuels create more CO2 emissions than oil.

Charles Siegel


I'm skeptical of the latest reports that biofuels contribute more carbon than fossil fuels. The carbon incorporated in such plants comes from the air and is returned to the air. The carbon from fossil fuels goes from underground to the air.

However, the unchecked growth of biofuels from corn is having and will have an adverse effect on the cost of food. Also, ethanol plantations, particularly the palm oil from SE Asia and sugar from Brazil, have an adverse effect on the environment.

Although it is more expensive, I believe we should encourage the development and of cellulosic ethanol, which utilizes waste products such as corn cobs and stover, and crops that can be grown on what is now marginal lands, with minimal to no fertlizer and pesticide inputs, such as switchgrass.

We could free up more land for biofuels by phasing out or down, the production of alcohol and tobacco products. Such action would also significantly improve peoples' health. Such action could also free up more land for growing more food for a hungry world.

Latest biofuels studies.

The carbon incorporated in such plants comes from the air and is returned to the air. The carbon from fossil fuels goes from underground to the air.

Soil degradation loses C sequestered in the soil. Deforestation for additional farmland loses C in trees to the air. Ag operations emit CO2 into the air. Fertilizer is made via the Haber process and fossil fuels.

Mike O'Hare worked on a cellulosic project and his thoughts on the implications of the latest research are here, which aren't good.

Those of us with ag educations saw this coming years ago. Now the rest of us know too.



Biofuels And Carbon

In response to your comment below: modern agriculture is energy intensive, and lots of fossil fuel goes into growing the crops used to produce biofuels.

There have been several calculations of the amount of fossil fuel that goes into growing corn used to produce ethanol and then manufacturing the ethanol. Some show that more fossil fuel is used than the amount of gasoline that the ethanol replaces. Others show that ethanol reduces fossil fuel use slightly.

But all of these studies did not account for the land deforested to grow crops used for biofuels. this new study is the first to do that, and it shows decisively that shifting to biofuels will increase total carbon dioxide emissions.

Charles Siegel

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month

Wear your city with style!

100% silk scarves feature detailed city maps. Choose from six cities with red or blue trim.
Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 2012

Thinking about Grad School?

You need the essential resource for prospective planning students
Starting at $24.95