From Socialist Voice, June 2007

Fidel on the environment

Fidel Castro, as everybody knows, is recuperating. He is no longer making those marathon speeches for which he is famous; but he is writing about contemporary issues in Granma the Cuban communist party newspaper.
    One of the topics he has written about is bio-fuels, that is, the cultivation of crops, in particular sugar-cane and maize, to produce fuel as a substitute for petroleum.
     “Foodstuffs are transformed into fuels to make viable the irrationality of a civilisation that, to sustain the wealth and privilege of a few, is brutally assaulting the environment and the ecological conditions that made it possible for life to appear on Earth.
     “Transforming food into fuels is a monstrosity.
     “Capitalism is preparing to perpetrate a massive euthanasia on the poor, and particularly on the poor of the South, as it is there that the greatest reserves of the Earth’s bio-mass required to produce bio-fuels are found. Regardless of numerous official statements assuring us that this is not a choice between food and fuel, reality shows that this, and no other, is exactly the alternative: the land is used either to produce food or to produce bio-fuels.
     “The total agricultural land of the European Union is barely sufficient to cover 30 per cent of their present needs for fuel, but not their future needs, which will probably be greater. In the United States the satisfaction of their present demand for fossil fuels would require the use of 121 per cent of all their agricultural land for agri-fuels.
     “Consequently, the supply of agri-fuels will have to come from the South, from capitalism’s poor and neo-colonial periphery. Mathematics does not lie: neither the United States nor the European Union has available land to support an increase in food production and an expansion of the production of agri-fuels at the same time.
     “The deforestation of the planet would increase the land surface suitable for agriculture—but only for a while. Therefore, this would be only for a few decades at the most. These lands would then suffer desertification, and the situation would be worse than ever, aggravating even further the dilemma, pitting the production of food against that of ethanol or bio-diesel.
     “The struggle against hunger—and there are some 2 billion people who suffer from hunger in the world—will be seriously impaired by the expansion of land taken over by agri-fuel crops. Countries where hunger is a universal scourge will bear witness to the rapid transformation of agriculture that would feed the insatiable demand for fuels needed by a civilisation based on their irrational use. The only result possible is an increase in the cost of food and thus the worsening of the social situation in the countries of the South.
     “Moreover, the world population grows by 76 million people every year, who will obviously demand food that will be steadily more expensive and further out of their reach.”

     A report published by the United Nations in May stated that, unless carefully managed, “the global rush to switch from oil to energy derived from plants will drive deforestation, push small farmers off the land and lead to serious food shortages and increased poverty.”
     The major transnational corporations, including the oil corporations, are now involved in bio-fuels. Brazil (sugar-cane) and the United States (maize) are the main producers of ethanol for fuel. Brazil is a country with many landless peasants and a great number of hungry people as well, and land there devoted to fuel production is land taken from food production. Forests have been felled in Indonesia to make way for African palm. This means that the project of growing fuel crops in Ireland is doomed: farmers will find that they cannot compete in price; it will be as unprofitable as growing carrots is now.
     The Green Party have been enthusiastic advocates of bio-fuels but have recently begun to take a more critical view in the light of the dangers mentioned above. In their desire to form part of a new Government they should consider that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are more receptive to big business than to environmental arguments.

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