Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rich Countries Once Used Gunboats to Seize Food. Now They Use Trade Deals

The world's hungriest are the losers as an old colonialism returns to govern relations between wealthy and poor nations

by George Monbiot

In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis tells the story of the famines that sucked the guts out of India in the 1870s. The hunger began when a drought, caused by El NiƱo, killed the crops on the Deccan plateau. As starvation bit, the viceroy, Lord Lytton, oversaw the export to England of a record 6.4m hundredweight of wheat. While Lytton lived in imperial splendour and commissioned, among other extravagances, "the most colossal and expensive meal in world history", between 12 million and 29 million people died. Only Stalin manufactured a comparable hunger.

Now a new Lord Lytton is seeking to engineer another brutal food grab. As Tony Blair's favoured courtier, Peter Mandelson often created the impression that he would do anything to please his master. Today he is the European trade commissioner. From his sumptuous offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, he hopes to impose a treaty that will permit Europe to snatch food from the mouths of some of the world's poorest people.

Seventy per cent of the protein eaten by the people of Senegal comes from fish. Traditionally cheaper than other animal products, it sustains a population that ranks close to the bottom of the human development index. One in six of the working population is employed in the fishing industry; about two-thirds of these workers are women. Over the past three decades, their means of subsistence has started to collapse as other nations have plundered Senegal's stocks.

The EU has two big fish problems. One is that, partly as a result of its failure to manage them properly, its own fisheries can no longer meet European demand. The other is that its governments won't confront their fishing lobbies and decommission all the surplus boats. The EU has tried to solve both problems by sending its fishermen to west Africa. Since 1979 it has struck agreements with the government of Senegal, granting our fleets access to its waters. As a result, Senegal's marine ecosystem has started to go the same way as ours. Between 1994 and 2005, the weight of fish taken from the country's waters fell from 95,000 tonnes to 45,000 tonnes. Muscled out by European trawlers, the indigenous fishery is crumpling: the number of boats run by local people has fallen by 48% since 1997.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Importing Food Means Exporting Drought

Happy world water week folks...

Published on Wednesday, August 20, 2008 by The Guardian/UK

We need to change the way we eat if we are to tackle the looming catastrophe of water scarcity
by Tom MacMillan

If you want proof the world has a water problem you're better treading the damp summer pavements of the City than the parched bed of the Aral Sea.

Goldman Sachs says water is the next oil and has bullish investment trends to prove it. For the rest of us a water boom spells trouble: investors can smell scarcity a mile off and, however much money they pump into managing it, the last result they'll want is abundance.

It will be our plates, not our rates, that bear the brunt of water shortage. As today's report from WWF spells out, the amount we spew out of taps is piddling compared with what it takes to make stuff and, especially, to grow our food.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Can the UN clean up the trade in carbon offsets?

posted by Dustin
The credibility of the whole system of carbon trading that is promoted in every entry level environmental, economics, and policy studies course is at stake. The question is, does anything voluntary ever work? Or another question is, would these CDM proposals simply emerge as development/aid programs otherwise? It sounds like the UN is finally treating this whole carbon offsetting and trading debacle with a little more scrutiny. Some groups like carbon trade watch have been looking with skepticism for some time. See the carbon neutral myth...

Can the UN clean up the trade in carbon offsets?
Posted by James Kanter

These days you can readily buy carbon credits from websites to“offset” your greenhouse gas emissions at home or from a flight. This trade has grown quickly but it has attracted sharp criticism because the companies offering the credits are largely unregulated and sometimes poorly monitored.

continued at international herald tribune...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Two Large Solar Plants Planned in California

August 15, 2008

Companies will build two solar power plants in California that together will put out more than 12 times as much electricity as the largest such plant today, the latest indication that solar energy is starting to achieve significant scale.

continued at the NYT...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Colbert on Obama energy policy


I'm not sure how reputable this site is, but its an interesting teaching/educational widget.

Pin this badge on your site.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The oil war treadmill?

posted by Dustin

Russian jets today targeted the 3 year-old Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that takes oil form the Caspian to the Mediterranean. Reports are that they missed.

This "energy corridor" is a critical piece for securing future profits for multinational oil companies, since this oil is eventually directed toward the very rapidly evolving markets in China and India. There have already been announcements to link it the
Trans-Israel Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, connecting Ceyhan to Israeli ports, bypassing Syria and Lebanon.

It is going to very important to keep an eye on what is happening and wade deep through the media noise over the coming weeks.

Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells a Food Bonanza

posted by Dustin

An excellent article that to me implies that petrodollar recycling is having an impact on the development of agriculture, and consequently famine, in Sudan. Wheat to Saudi Arabia? Vine ripened tomatoes for the Jordanian Army? Time to rethink the food aid/export earnings paradigm.

from nyt...
August 10, 2008
The Food Chain

ED DAMER, Sudan — Even as it receives a billion pounds of free food from international donors, Sudan is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries, capitalizing on high global food prices at a time when millions of people in its war-riddled region of Darfur barely have enough to eat.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights

Important questions about scale...


ONE of the biggest brand names in food this summer doesn’t carry a trademark. It’s the word “local,” which has entered the language as a powerful symbol of high quality and goodness.

Supermarkets are beginning to catch on that stocking corn and tomatoes grown nearby is not enough for customers. Now they are competing with farm stands and farmers’ markets for a wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

It’s been a boon for local farmers. Ten years ago local produce was devalued at the wholesale Hunts Point market, said Lyle Wells, whose family has been farming on Long Island since 1660. “Now you can’t get enough of the stuff.”

Last month Wal-Mart announced that it plans to spend $400 million this year on locally grown produce, making it the largest player in that market.

full article in nyt...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization

posted by Dustin

This trend could be promising for every issue from domestic job creation to supply chain auditing.

August 3, 2008
Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization

When Tesla Motors, a pioneer in electric-powered cars, set out to make a luxury roadster for the American market, it had the global supply chain in mind. Tesla planned to manufacture 1,000-pound battery packs in Thailand, ship them to Britain for installation, then bring the mostly assembled cars back to the United States.

But when it began production this spring, the company decided to make the batteries and assemble the cars near its home base in California, cutting more than 5,000 miles from the shipping bill for each vehicle.

continued here...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Wind fall profits tax & the energy consumer rebate = redistributive bandaid

I eagerly read a story about the windfall profit tax announced by Obama yesterday on the heals of Exxon Mobil's announcement on record profits. Skirting into the tax discourse is a potentially dangerous area for politicians, so I can perhaps justify his focus on the redistributive consumer rebate that will be funded by such a tax. But in the big picture this policy is very weak on substance, much to my disappointment.

If this political economic opportunity to pass a windfall profits tax is lost, and fails to correct some of the fundamental distortions in the carbon energy economy, it would be a terrible missed opportunity that may not reemerge anytime soon. It will have repercussions far beyond high energy costs, and postpone attempts to foster a low-carbon energy system.

Obama Remarks on the Economy are here on the nyt