Sunday, April 27, 2008

Biofuel famine, biofuel genocide and the global food price crisis

Biofuel famine, biofuel genocide and the global food price crisis

Dr Gideon Polya

Lecture to Agricultural Science students, Tuesday 29 April, 2008.

1. Summary

The world is facing a global food price crisis that threatens billions of people in the developing world with famine. Prices for major food commodities such as wheat, rice, corn and soybean have doubled in the last year or so. The price of rice has doubled in the last 6 months. Food prices in US$ have been driven upwards through a combination of factors, notably: (1) the immoral (and net CO2 polluting) diversion of food for biofuel (impelled by global warming considerations, peak oil, increased oil prices, economics, US, EU and UK legislation); (2) US dollar decline; (3) oil price impact on agriculture costs; (4) anthropogenic global warming (and consequent intensified droughts); (5) increased demand for food (notably meat) from the new Asian giants; (6) fear, speculation and unilateralism.

Global non-observance of basic human “entitlement” (Amartya Sen) means that millions who cannot buy food will starve to death. History ignored yields history repeated - when the price of rice doubled and then finally quadruped 6-7 million starved to death in Bengal and adjoining Indian provinces in 1943-1945 in the “forgotten” Bengali Holocaust, the man-made Bengal Famine in British-ruled India during World War 2.

The solutions in general involve rational risk management involving (a) accurate data, (b) scientific analysis and (c) systemic change to reduce risk. The specific solutions involve: (1) cessation of the biofuel perversion (except for environmentally and morally acceptable biomass and algal systems); (2) cessation of Biosphere-threatening CO2 pollution (indeed negative CO2 emissions are required to reduce atmospheric CO2 to a safe and sustainable 300-350 ppm from the present unacceptable 385 ppm); (3) respect for Humanity and “food entitlement” for all on Spaceship Earth; (4) cessation of the Third World Holocaust (16 million avoidable deaths annually) e.g. by “economic efficiency credits” (countries such as Bangladesh or peoples such as Indigenous Australians modestly rewarded for high efficiency and low impact on the Biosphere) and other measures to limit population and Biosphere impact.

2. Rational risk management

Rational Risk Management (RRM) successively involves (a) getting accurate data, (b) scientific analysis (science involving the critical testing of potentially falsifiable hypotheses) and (c) systemic change, involving setting up systems such that when Nature or fallible humans inevitably cause a dangerous situation the system is better able to minimize risk.

All too prevalent “spin” and “politicized” responses in society pervert RRM by (a) lies, slies (spin-based untruths), censorship, intimidation, self-censorship, white-washing, (b) anti-science spin involving the use of selected asserted “facts” to support a partisan position, and (c) “blame and shame”, picking convenient culprits for public punishment, thereby inhibiting reportage (war being the ultimate expression of this perverted approach).

For details of a recent course I gave on Risk Management, Science and Denial see: .

3. Avoidable mortality (excess death)

Excess death (excess mortality, avoidable mortality, avoidable death, death that should not happen) and other measures of undesirable outcome (e.g. under-5 infant mortality) can be used to measure the success or otherwise of local, national or global policies. For a country in a given period, excess death (avoidable death, avoidable mortality, excess mortality, deaths that should not have happened) is the difference between the ACTUAL deaths in a country and the deaths EXPECTED for a peaceful, decently governed country with the same demographics (see: ).

Using detailed UN Population Division demographic data I have calculated the avoidable mortality for every country in the world since 1950 in 5-year periods (pentades). The results are horrendous but have been corroborated by independent calculations of the post-1950 under-5 infant mortality for every country in the world since 1950 (see: “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: and ).

The big picture is as follows: the 1950-2005 avoidable mortality has totalled 1.3 billion for the world, 1.2 billion for the non-European world and 0.6 billion for the Muslim world – a Muslim Holocaust 100 times greater than the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (6 million victims) or the WW2 man-made Bengal Famine in British-ruled India (6-7 million victims in Bengal and adjoining provinces; 1941-1951 demographic deficit 10 million; regional deaths associated with rice price-driven famine in Bengal and adjoining states of Bihar, Orissa and Assam: 6-7 million according to Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya of the Wellcome Institute, University College, London; essentially deleted from British history) (see: BBC transcript of “The Bengal Famine”: ; ABC transcript of “Bengali Famine”: ; “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 1998): ).

These horrendous figures are consonant with the post-1950 under-5 infant mortality which has totalled about 0.88 billion for the world, 0.85 billion for the non-European world and about 0.4 billion for the Muslim world (for relevant tables see the Appendix here: ).

4. Nuclear, greenhouse and poverty threats and their solutions

According to Dr John Holdren, the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the world’s biggest general scientific association) the acute threats facing the world are (a) nuclear weapons, (b) global warming and (c) poverty (see: and ).

(a) Nuclear weapons

The 25,000 nuclear weapons in the world today threaten complete annihilation of humanity and there is increased risk from conflicts arising from global warming and poverty.

However Dr Tillman Ruff (Medical Association for the Prevention of War, Melbourne) says that the technical problem of nuclear disarmament has been solved: “A large body of authoritative reports from the 1996 Canberra Commission, to the 2006 Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, describe how, through a series of binding, timebound, irreversible steps, nuclear weapons can be abolished. There are no insurmountable technical or legal obstacles. What is lacking is visionary leadership and the groundswell of irresistible pressure from mobilised citizens to make it happen.” (see “Abolishing weapons of terror”: ) .

(b) Global warming and climate change

According to the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Synthesis Report, unaddressed CO2 pollution and global warming will have a devastating effect on global malnutrition and poverty (see: and see ). According the Professor David Pimentel (2004) of Cornell University, New York, global malnutrition and poverty will be an “unimaginable” problem by 2054 (see: ), already pollution of the soil, water and air kills about 40% of the world’s population and 57% of the world’s population of 6.5 billion is already malnourished (see: ).

The 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment report (literature cut-off date 2005) may have under-estimated the threat. Runaway Climate Change is an acute threat NOW as perceived by Dr James Hansen (Head, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York): at an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 385 ppm the world has already reached a “tipping point” for complete loss of Arctic summer ice (some scientists say in about 5 years’ time) with huge implications for polar warming, Greenland, West Antarctic and tundra melting, further “positive feedbacks” (e.g. melt water glacier lubrication; the albedo flip of black light–absorbing water replacing white, light-reflecting ice and snow; melting tundra methane and CO2 emissions; forest fires) and major sea level rises of ultimately about 20 metres (see “Climate Code Red”: ).

Even very small increases in average temperature of circa 10C above the 2000 value (already 0.80C above the pre-industrial) can damage agriculture and bioproductivity, notably in the tropical and sub-tropical zones; at 450 ppm the coral reefs will die from ocean over-acidification; according to Professor James Lovelock FRS at 500 ppm phytoplankton photosynthetic productivity in the oceans (crucial for ocean bioproductivity and for cloud formation via dimethylsulphide production) goes into crisis.

Dr James Hansen: “There is strong evidence that the Earth is within 1oC of its highest temperature in the past million years. Oxygen isotopes in the deep sea foraminifera reveal that the earth was last 2oC to 3oC warmer [relative to 2000] around 3 million years ago, with carbon dioxide levels of perhaps 350 to 450 parts per million. It was a dramatically different planet then, with no Arctic sea ice in the warm seasons and sea levels about 25 metres higher, give or take 10 metres.” (quoted in “Climate Code Red”: ).

The atmosphere is ALREADY at 385 ppm CO2 and CO2 concentration is increasing at about 2.5 ppm per year; global average temperature is about 0.8oC above the pre-industrial and increasing at about 0.3oC per decade with an in-built “thermal inertia” due to existing GHG pollution of the atmosphere of about 0.6oC and the possibility of another 0.3oC due to “positive feedback effects”. The world is currently STILL on track with the “worst case” greenhouse scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If you plot sea level (in metres) versus global mean temperature (oC) (see Figure 2, “Climate Code Red”) there is a remarkably linear relationship as you go from the last glacial maximum 20,000 years ago (sea level minus 120 metres relative to today’s sea level, global mean temperature 9.5oC), to TODAY (15oC), to the Pliocene 3 million years ago (sea level plus 20 metres, mean temperature 18oC) and the Eocene 40 million years ago (sea level plus 80 metres, mean temperature 19oC). The IPCC projection for sea level rise is less than 1 metre rise by about 18oC (clearly a big underestimate) and a temperature rise predicted to be 3oC this century on a “business as usual” scenario means a 20 metre rise in sea level.

If you accept that the catastrophic loss of Arctic summer sea ice means that 385 ppm CO2 is too much (see report of Dr Hansen’s lecture to the American Geophysical Union in December 2007: ) then what is needed is a “Negative CO2 emissions” policy of urgent cessation of GHG pollution through a rapid shift to already available renewable technologies plus mechanisms for reducing the existing CO2 in the atmosphere (re-afforestation, putting biomass-derived biochar back in the soil and further mechanisms for global cooling if necessary e.g. SO2 aerosols if need be as suggested by Dr Hansen) (for suggested solutions see: , and ).

Here are some estimates of the cost in Australian cents per kilowatt-hour (Ac/kWh) of various sources of electricity (for a detailed discussion see “Renewables: how the numbers stack up” in New Matilda: ):

3-4 — coal, Australia;

18 — the real cost of coal, taking into account the environmental and health impact; according to a conservative Canadian Ontario Ministry of Energy Report (CAN$0.164);

15 — nuclear via the UK’s newest Sizewell B plant;

7.5-8.5 — wind power, Australia;

15 — concentrated solar power or CSP;

25-45 — standard silicon-based photovoltaics (PVs).

However recent advances means we must add the following to the list:

4 – the price of solar PV is set to fall dramatically to compete directly with the current “market price” of coal due to balloon, sliver and non-silicon PV technology advances. The non-silicon organic thin film technology developed by US Nobel Laureate Alan Heeger and his South Korean colleagues will reduce the cost of installing photovoltaic (PV) capacity by a factor of 20; the Swiss ETH CIGS non-silicon thin film system may be competitive with coal within 5 years (a related US Nanosolar technology is in mass production: ); Australian sliver silicon PV technology will drop silicon solar panel costs threefold. In particular, the Californian balloon solar capture technology is predicted to make PV solar competitive with “market price” coal by 2010 (see “Solar energy & the end of war. US balloon technology to slash solar energy cost 90% by 2010”: ).

4 – Australian geothermal. According to Professor John Veevers (“The Innamincka hot fractured rock project” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics”, editor Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007; also see energy cost-related related chapters by Dr Gideon Polya “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality”, Dr Mark Diesendorf “A sustainable energy future for Australia”, and Martin Mahy “Hydrogen Minibuses”): “Modelled costs are 4 cents per kilowatt hour, plus half to 1 cent for transmission to grid. This compares with 3.5 cents for black coal, 4 cents for brown coal, 4.2 cents for gas, but all with uncosted emissions. Clean coal, the futuristic technology of coal gasification combined with CO2 sequestration or burial, yet to be demonstrated, comes in at 6.5 cents, and solar and wind power at 8 cents.”

Further, wave, tidal, biomass and biofuel energy technologies are renewable technologies competitive with the “true cost” of fossil fuels. Australia’s huge reserves of economic geothermal power are expertly assessed to have the capacity to provide most of Australia’s energy needs for the best part of a millennium and Australia is blessed with huge solar, tidal, wave and wind resources.

Nuclear is not an option –it is expensive, dangerous, can be very CO2 polluting and there are limited supplies of cheap uranium oxide.

(c) Poverty and excess death from deprivation

Avoidable mortality is fundamentally due to violence, deprivation, disease and lying (i.e. fundamental violation of rational risk management by untruth, spin and expedience instead of accurate data, scientific analysis and informed systemic change). 16 million people die avoidably each year of whom about 9.5 million are under-5 year old infants (see Appendix data).

Intolerance of dishonesty, bigotry and violence, respect for human rights, international law and our common environment and commitment to truth and a modestly decent life for everyone will end the global avoidable mortality holocaust and ensure that it will never be repeated.

In addition to modest improvements in economic wellbeing (in 2003 an annual per capita income of US $1,300 for Cuba, together with peace, high female literacy, good governance and good primary health care enabled an infant mortality of 0.17%, the same as in the US with an annual per capita income of US$38,000). In 2003 to bring all countries up to an annual per capita income of US$1,000 would have cost US$1.4 trillion or about 2.5% of the Global GDP of $55 trillion (the annual global market value then was about $1 trillion each for 5 things we do not need – arms; alcohol, tobacco; illicit drugs; unhealthy processed food). Of course highly focussed educational, infrastructure and agricultural inputs can do this even more cheaply. Modest economic security and low infant mortality coupled with female literacy has the effect of reducing population growth.

A specific suggestion related to “carbon credits” is for a system of “economic efficiency credits” with countries such as Bangladesh or peoples such as Indigenous Australians being modestly rewarded for high efficiency and low impact on the Biosphere) and other measures to limit population and Biosphere impact (see: ).

5. Biofuel crisis

The World is facing a global food price crisis and looming mass starvation in the Developing World. The price of rice has doubled in 3 months and the price of wheat has doubled in one year. The huge increases in the price of staples such as wheat and rice are being driven by legislatively-mandated US, UK and EU diversion of food for biofuel; climate change and decreased agricultural productivity due to both inundation and drought; oil price hikes and increased costs of production; and globalization which means that 4 billion impoverished and under-fed people compete in the market place for those with the money to buy food to drive their cars or for grain-fed meat (see: and ).

Already 16 million people due avoidably each year (9.5 million being under-5 year old infants) from deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease on a Spaceship Earth dominated by a profligate and unresponsive First World (see “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: ) – and this is increasingly being impacted by climate change through drought, increased temperature and mega-delta inundation by storm surges.

The worst Developed World GHG offenders are the US, Canada and Australia as can be seen from this comparison of “annual per capita fossil fuel-derived carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution” (2004 data from the US Energy Information Administration: ) in tonnes CO2/person which is 19.2 (for Australia; 40 if you include Australia’s coal exports), 19.7 (the US), 18.4 (Canada), 9.9 (Japan), 4.2 (the World), 3.6 (China), 1.0 ( India) and 0.25 (for Bangladesh) (see “Climate Emergency, Sustainability Emergency”: ).

According to Sir Nicholas Stern as quoted by the Guardian (2007): “[for these countries annual average CO2] emissions a head are more than 20 tonnes each year, with European citizens producing 10-15 tonnes each. In China it is about five tonnes, in India about one, and in Africa less than one tonne each” (see: ).

However the problems of Third World countries are now being impacted by “peak oil” and the biofuel perversion of using food to drive cars and trucks in a starving world. Indeed in the ultimate obscenity Richard Branson’s Virgin airline has recently used biofuel to partly fuel a flight from London to Amsterdam, an act that drew critical condemnation from environmentalists (see: ). In short, diversion of agricultural land for biofuel has three major problems. Biofuel (A) drives up the world price of food in a global marketplace; (B) can be associated with a huge “carbon debt” from release of soil carbon, whether from ploughed savannah or from deforested land; and (C) is currently associated with huge ecosystem damage. Let us consider these 3 problems in succession .

(A) Biofuel perversion is driving up global food prices

The United States is currently using about 9% of its wheat, 25% of its corn and about 15% of its grain in general to produce biofuel. The United Kingdom (UK) has committed to large increases in the use of biofuels over coming decades, has recently announced subsidies for biofuel and supports the European Commission (EU) target requiring 10 per cent of petrol station fuel to be plant-derived biofuel within 12 years. However the huge and intrinsically genocidal current US diversion of 15% of its grain crop to biofuel production has had a huge impact already on soaring global food prices – the world is already facing a global food crisis with alarm being expressed by UN, FAO and other scientific experts. Simple Google searches for “global food crisis”, ”world food price crisis” and related phrases reveals massive current concerns.

The US expanded renewable fuels standard (RFS) requires 8.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2008 and progressively increases to a 36 billion gallon requirement by 2022 (see: ).

The UK Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington CMG, FRS (Professor of Applied Population Biology at Imperial College, London.) has described the devastating potential of food shortages as an "elephant in the room" problem commensurate with that from climate change and warns that biofuel diversion (e.g. for canola oil- or palm oil-derived biodiesel and grain- or sugar-derived ethanol) is threatening world food production and the lives of “billions” (see:,25197,23336840-11949,00.html ).

Recently Finance Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has said that it is "outrageous" that developed countries are turning food crops into biofuels while billions of people in the developing countries are living on the edge and trying to cope with escalating food prices (see: ).

Numerous Mainstream media reports are describing how we now have a global food crisis with the spectre of widespread famine due to escalating grain and food prices – in a harsh, globalized market place those that cannot afford to buy food will simply starve unless rescued. Yet the UN and FAO are finding it acutely difficult to rescue such people. These food price rises in turn are because of the huge US and indeed Western biofuel diversion, complicated by climate change (impacting on drought in Australia and Canada), weather (e.g. too much rain the US), hedging speculation and diversion for livestock production.

The New York Times has recently reported that “rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world’s largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export. The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world’s population, has almost DOUBLED on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest” (New York Times, March 29, 2008 “High rice cost raising fears of Asia unrest”: ).

There have been food riots over food prices recently in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. Rice export bans by rice-exporting nations (Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt and India) have raised world rice prices even more (see: ) .

The price of a wheat flour-based “roti” in Pakistan has doubled in the last year and food scarcity is of major concern to the UN and UN Agencies such as FAO (see “2008 – the Year of Global Food Crisis”: ) .

For an ALARMING graph of world food and wheat prices in recent years see the following report by Australian economists showing that the price of wheat in US dollars has DOUBLED in the last year: . Part of this is due to the falling value of the US dollar but the alarming message is clear.

These food price rises are fuelled by the huge US and indeed Western (UK, EU) biofuel diversion PLUS Greenhouse Gas (GHG) pollution-driven climate change (impacting on drought e.g. in Australia and Canada), weather (e.g. too much rain in the US), hedging investor speculation, oil price impacts on production costs and diversion of food for livestock production for “rich” people who can afford it (not just in the West but also in the burgeoning Asian economies of China and India).

A sad commentary is given by Dr Lester Brown (January, 2008; see: ): “Whereas previous dramatic rises in world grain prices were weather-induced, this one is policy-induced and can be dealt with by policy adjustments. The crop fuels program that currently satisfies scarcely 3 percent of U.S. gasoline needs is simply not worth the human suffering and political chaos it is causing. If the entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into ethanol, it would satisfy scarcely 18 percent of our automotive fuel needs.”

(B) Biofuel production is currently associated with huge CO2 pollution

Advocates of biofuel argued that it was “green” because the CO2 deriving from biofuel combustion is cancelled out by the CO2 sequestered by solar energy-driven photosynthesis. However this facile analysis ignores the release of carbon from the soil due to ploughing; loss of CO2 sequestration as a result of de-forestation; and other CO2-pollution inputs into biofuel production such as fertilizer manufacture, transport and mechanical agriculture.

Two major studies by US scientists and published in the prestigious US scientific journal Science have revealed the huge “carbon debt” associated with mainstream agricultural production of biofuels.

Timothy Searchinger and colleagues (“Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change”, Science 29 February 2008, Vol. 319. no. 5867, pp. 1238 – 1240: ) have found the following:

“Most prior studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gases because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of the feedstock. These analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels. By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.”

Joseph Fargione and colleagues (“Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt”, Science 29 February 2008, Vol. 319. no. 5867, pp. 1235 – 1238: ) have made even more dramatic findings:

“Increasing energy use, climate change, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels make switching to low-carbon fuels a high priority. Biofuels are a potential low-carbon energy source, but whether biofuels offer carbon savings depends on how they are produced. Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a "biofuel carbon debt" by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. In contrast, biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained GHG advantages.”

Biofuels can be renewable if derived from biomass from waste land e.g. through gasification of biomass to carbon monoxide (CO ) and hydrogen (H2) (see: ) and then subsequent Fischer-Tropsch catalytic conversion to hydrocarbons (see: ) or from oils from growth of prokaryotic organisms (cyanobacteria or blue-green algae) or eukaryotic organisms ( green and red algae) (see: ).

However in the context of horrendous global poverty, a major decline in grain production, huge increases in grain price and increasing diversion of grain for biofuel generation (see: ), current means of biofuel production from human foods (sugar- and grain-derived ethanol, palm oil-, canola- and other oil-derived biodiesel) is a perversion and a crime against humanity, the more so when alternative cheap, efficient renewable energy options are technically already available (e.g. solar energy-based hydrogen-driven transport).

(C ) Biofuel production is devastating the biosphere

As outlined in (B) above, biofuel production is increasing CO2 pollution. The US Energy Information Administration gives a year-by-year summary of fossil fuel-derived CO2 pollution for every country in the world (see: ). However greenhouse gas pollution (methane, CH4, nitrous oxide, N2O, and carbon dioxide, CO2) comes not just from burning hydrocarbons and coal but also from land use – specifically, agriculture, vegetative decomposition and animal husbandry. A 2000 list of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita provides data with and without this land use component (see: ). Land use contributes about 20% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Thus out of 185 countries my own country Australia ranked 9th worst (with land use change) and 5th (without land use change). The tonnes of “CO2 equivalent” per person per year were 25.9 (with) and 25.6 (without land use change) for Australia, indicating the preponderant importance of fossil fuel burning to Australia’s “score”. However the land use component is very large for de-foresting countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Deforestation contributes about 15-20% of annual CO2 pollution in the world. Yet according to Sir Nicholas Stern: "For $10-15bn (£4.8-7.2bn) per year, a programme could be constructed that could stop up to half the deforestation” (see: ).

In addition to playing a vital role in global temperature homeostasis, forest ecosystems are sources for invaluable pharmaceutical resources (see my recent huge reference book: Gideon Polya, “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds. A pharmacological reference guide to sites of action and biological effects”, CRC Press, Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003: ).

At an even more fundamental level, Balmford et al in the prestigious scientific journal Science (see “Economic reasons for preserving wild nature”: ) have estimated that for a variety of “biomes” (ecological systems) the total economic value (TEV) is about 50% greater when the resource is used sustainably as opposed to destructive conversion. Further, these scientists have found that the economic benefit from preserving what is left of wild nature is OVER 100 TIMES greater than the cost of preservation.

However over-riding these economic concerns is the fundamental concern over species extinction – the rate of mammal extinction is already one thousand times greater than for the fossil record (see: ). We have no right to destroy the irreplaceable biodiversity that is the common property of the world and indeed of the universe.

6. Biofuel famine (2008) versus Bengal Famine (1943-1945)

The world is already seeing the commencement of a re-run - on a possibly 100-fold greater scale - of the man-made World War 2 Bengali Holocaust in which 6-7 million people perished in Bengal and in the adjoining provinces of Assam, Bihar and Orissa under the merciless British “scorched earth policy” when the price of rice doubled and finally doubled again (see: ).

Ten years ago I published a book entitled “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: ) in which I described horrendous man-made, market-forces famines in British-ruled India from the 1769-1770 Great Bengal Famine (10 million deaths or one third of the Bengali population) to the World War 2 Bengal Famine (6-7 million deaths in the Bengal region).

These catastrophes have been deliberately erased from British history and from general public perception – leading to the acute danger of History ignored yielding History repeated. My pleas for action to prevent further such catastrophes have fallen on deaf ears. Bengal is now acutely threatened not only from biofuel-driven global food price rises but also from inundation from global-warming-driven sea level rises. I am revising my book for a 2008 second edition that in itself will be a further testament to “History ignored yields History repeated”.

In January 2008 I took part in a BBC radio broadcast about the “forgotten”, 6-7 million victim World War 2 Bengal Famine (WW2 Bengali Holocaust) that also involved 1998 Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen (Harvard, formerly Cambridge University, UK), Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya (medical historian, Wellcome Institute, University College London) and other scholars (see: ).

Yet history ignored, the world is facing a vastly greater catastrophe.

The current catastrophic global food price rises are due to a combination of legislatively mandated biofuel diversion; global warming (and likely related drought); oil price hikes; a declining US dollar; oil price hikes and increased costs of production; globalization and increased demand for food and grain-fed meat; and market uncertainty enhanced by unilateralist cessation f food exports.

However the ultimate 4-fold increase in the market price of rice in WW2 Bengal arose from a variety of factors but before listing these it is important to note that according to Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen there WAS food available to prevent starvation but cashed up Calcutta was in a war-time boom and effectively sucked food out of a starving , rice-producing countryside.

Factors that led to the huge price rise included: loss of rice imports from Japanese-occupied Burma; greatly decreased grain imports into India; Churchill’s European city bombing policies that led to a loss of shipping in the Atlantic, followed by compensatory mandated decrease in shipping in the Indian Ocean; policy from 1941 of provincial autonomy in food supplies; local storm and fungal infestation events; heavy-handed British seizure of boats vital for food acquisition and transport; hoarding and fear.

According to General Wavell (Viceroy of India and who pleaded in vain for help) the Bengal Governor Australian R.G. Casey told him that the Argentinians had burned 2 million tons of wheat to run their railways at the time of the Bengal Famine, there being a wartime coal shortage. In 2008 Europeans are compulsorily using food as fuel while millions starve (see Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History: ) .

I made the following general methodological point at the end of the BBC program: “This isn’t simply an argument about rubbing out history. Scientists can help society through what is called rational risk management. It successively involves A, getting the accurate data. B, doing a scientific analysis. And then C, recognising this, taking action, changing the system, whether it’s a national system or a global system, to avoid a repetition.”

However Professor Amartya Sen concluded the program with the following profound point: “I think the fact that famines happen when they’re so extraordinarily easy to prevent – nothing in the world is easier to prevent – affects me. Being a Bengali I can’t say that it adds especially to that because this seems to me to be a basic human sympathy at seeing suffering all across the world which are completely needless.” All decent people around the world must speak out to prevent this mounting, NEEDLESS global famine tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes.

Some references

Balmford et al. (2002), Economic Reasons for Conserving Wild Nature, Science 9 August 2002: 950; see:

Brown, L.R. (2008), Why ethanol production will drive world guel prices even higher in 2008, Earth Policy Institute; see: .

Lovelock, J. (2006), The Revenge of Gaia. Why the Earth is fighting back and we can still save humanity (Allen Lane, London).

Mason, C. (2000), A Short History of Asia (Macmillan, London)

Polya, G.M. (1998), Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History (Polya, Melbourne): .

Polya, G.M. (2003), Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds. A pharmacological reference guide to sites of action and biological effects (Taylor & Francis, New York & London)

Polya, G.M. (2007), Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950 (G.M. Polya, Melbourne) (see: and ).

Reason, J. (2000), Human error: models and management, British Medical Journal, vol. 320, pp768-770

Snow, C.P. (1961), Science and Government (The New English Library, London)

Spratt, D. & Sutton, P. (2008), Climate Code Red – the case for a sustainability emergency” (Friends of the Earth, Melbourne).


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