Friday, May 02, 2008

The Fuel Cost and Food Crisis

Too often, I suppose, the words crisis and environment are linked in today's corporate media because TV, radio, magazines and newspapers consistently frame their stories around attention-driven eye catchers. That's lamentable because it triggers the ‘chicken little’ response in the public rendering serious attention to important stories null and void. When an actual disaster faces the public, we fail to act because we’ve become too inured to the plethora of calamities clamoring for our attention. (I know this criticism is usually levied on environmentalists, but we have little ability to reach the general public except through the media.)

Anyway, from the miasma of news out there, I hope most are getting the sense of urgency surrounding the present food crisis. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently said "Without full funding of these emergency requirements we risk again the spectre of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale," –from World UN task force to take aim at food crisis facing the world's poor That’s a pretty clear statement of concern.

A myriad of causes surround the reasons for the present food crisis—climate change, economics, more farmable land being used for biofuels (which Bush denies and may actually be true because the problem is one of speculation not actual fact at the moment), political unrest, etc.—including the rise in the price of fuel—namely oil, or (more refined) gas, that gas our vehicles so crave.

Fuel then is helping to fuel the food crisis. The rise in fuel prices ripples through the world’s economies rendering the US dollar cheaper in some countries, making the delivery of food more expensive, and the cultivation and spread of pesticides (which require fuel) more dear, meaning that a farmer is less inclined to produce necessary food basics like rice and wheat if some other crop will make better economic sense for him or her.

So, what are we doing about it? We could donate our tax rebate checks from the government to trusted international organizations to help the starving. (Which, my wife and I intend to do, though, I know we’re supposed to be using that to save our economy by shopping—like before.)

Or, in the longer more sustainable run, we could be adopting a sensible policy towards the use of fuel. Rochester, or rather RGRTA, this month is working on lowering the bus fare and mapping out more strategic bus runs. Best and most responsible idea I’ve heard locally on the gas cost crunch yet.

Also, we could be parking our cars and walking, using a bike, paddling a kayak and not power driving that duel-tank 140 gallon tank cruiser up and down the lake, lowering our thermostats, covering our hot water heaters with a thermo blanket, turning off the lights when we’re not using them, etc. Though, these things only really make sense if we are also moving across-the-board towards more sensible fuel use. …you know, so people, people who have no more cargo to throw overboard (that is, no excess in their earnings) can at least afford food basics to keep them alive.

Sensible would be moving towards renewable energy sources like wind (like they are now doing in Monroe County in Naples and Hamlin) and solar (hey, a solar car just drove into town this month).

But, during a food and fuel crisis is not a time to push your political agenda. Immediately, it’s the people who are starving who are most important right? Then, non-sensible fuel options we should avoid. Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge {ANWR), like Bush brought up again for the zillionth time this week, is not a good idea because it damages one of our last pristine ecologies while doing nothing about our fuel prices. (Even in the best scenario, gas doesn’t get moving down the pipes for at least ten years.)

Another bad idea for dealing with the fuel crisis, which fuels the food crisis, is the idea of giving a fuel tax break this summer. First, as the NYS governor expresses, unless the oil companies pass on that gas tax break on to their customers YOU WON’T SEE A BREAK IN GAS PRICES. But, even if the oil companies do pass on that gas tax break on to us, it would still be the wrong response to a global energy and food crisis. A gas tax break this summer would send the wrong message to the public that in times of troubles America’s first response is to make sure we don’t suffer the consequences of our fuel choices. For a long time now, the message from the world is loud and clear: There’s climate change going on because of human activity. One of those activities is the use of global warming gases. Unless a major wholesale change is made towards reducing our use of these gases, our planet will heat up and (as we are now seeing) people will starve.

A summer gas tax break says Americans do not want to be inconvenienced by their continued reliance on global warming gases, and that is what the world will hear. Wouldn’t it be a far more reasonable response to the rising fuel costs to conserve our energy today, not screw up our local economy with a tax break (hey, with a tax break the people who fix our infrastructure are not getting their money), make a change towards renewable energy and immediately help the starving?

I know, I’m an idealist: saving people, saving the planet, what next?

BTW, this story this month kind of hints at the future we are moving towards if we don’t clean up our act: Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears When push comes to shove, as it has over human history, there is going to be a major urge to do the most convenient and selfish thing—keep doing the wrong-headed things that got us into this state, a planetary collapse. To get the big picture on this fatal flaw in human thinking, read “A New Green History of the World” by Clive Ponting. Here’s what it says on the back jacket: “Human beings prosper by exploiting the earth’s resources until those resources can no longer sustain the society’s population, which leads to the decline and eventual collapse of that society.”

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