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Let’s Save the Planet — Without Starving People

Turning food into fuel may create more problems than it solves. If we are serious about global warming, here are a few modest steps we should take today -- while letting people eat their corn.

by
Elizabeth Scalia

Bio

March 21, 2008 - 1:00 am

In an era where the word “crisis” is attached to every issue that has an advocate, it becomes so difficult to know what to save first. Do we address the “man-made global warming crisis” by burning off our very food in order to propel ourselves around? Or do we instead anticipate the ever-looming “food shortage/famine” crisis by sending human beings the grain they need to survive, while taking a chance that the earth really isn’t going to end in thirty short years — or sooner if we drill in ANWR — without ethanol?

Hmmmm, let’s think about that. In poorer countries famine routinely occurs and people live and die in hunger; in prosperous countries people now find their grocery bills running over budget. The starving people are going to die without nourishment. The struggling people may see their national economies negatively affected if food prices skyrocket.

But proponents of ethanol, despite growing evidence that food energies are causing some unexpected environmental problems of their own, press on with the idea of using fiber and food to create energy, even though the UN reports that world food supplies are quickly dwindling.

Oddly enough, though you might expect that famine exists in the world today — it has always existed somewhere — if one googles the world “famine” one will find coverage of food shortages dated as recently as 2006, but then there is a sudden drop-off in reportage; one is hard-pressed to find more recent stories about any nation facing famine.

One such nation must be out there. Is it possible that for the first time in human history no nation on earth is dealing with a food shortage? Or is famine simply being ignored because to focus on it would emphasize the moral conundrum of burning food for fuel, particularly when alternative energy sources like nuclear energy are available but discomforting, when wind farms are deemed alright for Texas but not for Cape Cod, and when America’s own rich resources of fossil fuels are going largely untapped.

If the world is in fact facing a warming “crisis” that is not cyclical but “man-made” — and there is some credible doubt on that score, as to both cause and effect — does it make sense to address that “crisis” by creating another, and far more provable, crisis of something as fundamental to humanity as food?

Before we do something as drastic as decreasing the world’s food supply in order to feel better about our summer vacations, perhaps we can effect real and lasting changes in the environment, even “saving the planet” if such a thing is humanly possible to begin with. Perhaps we should consider some short-term measures of self-denial that might just meet the challenge.

For example, we were told in December 2007 that if some of the world’s Jews would simply not light their last Hannukah candle, they could have a serious impact on CO2 emissions and thus on saving Gaia.

It seems to me that if merely “not lighting” candles can save the planet, then we can possibly put “man-made” global warming into a full reversal with a few calculated and temporary moves; if this “crisis” is as real as we are being told, then these steps should be taken immediately:

  • Declare a 2 or 3 year moratorium on all rock/pop concerts, in every venue, but especially in stadiums and at night. Gaia could live for several hundred years more just on the absence of match-lighted power ballads, the darkening of stage and stadium lights, the canceled pyrotechnics, the unplugged amplifiers and garaged roadie trucks and buses, the grounded private jets, and the unprinted commemorative posters. I am a fan of U2, but if not lighting a few million Hanukkah candles could do so much, then perhaps canceling their splendidly ironic ZOO-TV tour of 1992-3 could have, all by itself, saved the planet for all time: each one of its 157 shows — just the shows themselves — used one million watts of power.
  • Cancel the 2008 Olympics — China is already outpacing the rest of the world in polution and carbon emissions. (By contrast, the United States saw its emissions fall by 1.3% in 2006 and that trend is looking to continue.) The 2008 Olympics will require enormous amounts of energy to transport and house hundreds of thousands of athletes, spectators, and journalists. Consider all the energy wasted in lighting arenas and transmitting images and commentary. Consider the deforestation resulting from all of those programs and paper sports-drink cups. In a “crisis,” we ought not be amusing ourselves with athletics. In fact, let’s cancel baseball and football, hockey and all ice-dancing, too, until the planet can be officially declared “saved.”
  • Suspend all film and nonessential television production — In a time of genuine “crisis” we cannot in good conscience fire up those klieg lights, blow up those cars, chauffeur those stars, burn that petroleum-based film, or fly over to Cannes — privately, of course — for promotional purposes or dress fittings. “What,” you cry, “no new Die Hards or Rambos?” Well, if this is a “crisis” we’re going to have to act like it’s a crisis. I know it’s hard, but we must be brave — after all, we’re trying to save the world here.
  • End the overlong farce that has become the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign. In a time of serious environmental and planetary “crisis,” we have been watching these candidates fly back and forth from battleground state to battleground state ad nausaum. They’ve used planes, trains, automobiles, and helicopters. They’ve debated and interviewed under the hot lights for months, and printed up posters, flyers, and fundraising material — all while suggesting that the greatest crisis facing the nation is economic or racial or military. Somehow the great “crisis” of “man-made” global warming has barely blipped on their radars, and it likely will not, until political expediency demands it.

If the hysteria is to be believed, then it seems imperative to me that the “global community” take these four steps. In temporarily denying ourselves some entertainment and the continuous loops of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama working crowds — which so inspire us all — we must deny ourselves the abundance of such riches. We will be missing art, human drama, and political satire, but Gaia will thank us, and we will not have to burn the food that hungry people need, even if you’re not reading about them just now.

By all means, if it serves both the environment and our economies to research and perfect alternatives to fossil fuels, not just for energy but to replace all petroleum-based products, then let us do so. America should always be on the cutting edge of technology and advancement. But here’s an idea: why not use food for food and fuel for fuel?

Perhaps in attempting to “heal” our planet we should heed Hippocrates’ dictum: first, do no harm.

The Anchoress blogs at the Anchoress Online.

Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer to First Things Magazine and the blogger known as The Anchoress.
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