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Must The Poor Go Hungry Just So The Rich Can Drive?


I don't blame Mo Farah, Pele and Haile Gebrselassie, who lined up, all hugs and smiles, outside Downing Street for a photocall at the prime minister's hunger summit. Perhaps they were unaware of the way in which they were being used to promote David Cameron's corporate and paternalistic approach to overseas aid. Perhaps they were also unaware of the crime against humanity over which he presides. Perhaps Cameron himself is unaware of it.

 

You should by now have heard about the famine developing in the Sahel region of west Africa. Poor harvests and high food prices threaten the lives of some 18 million people. The global price of food is likely to rise still further, as a result of low crop yields in the United States, caused by the worst drought in 50 years. World cereal prices, in response to this disaster, climbed 17% last month.

 

We have been cautious about attributing such events to climate change: perhaps too cautious. A new paper by James Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, shows that there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers. Between 1951 and 1980 these events affected between 0.1 and 0.2% of the world's land surface each year. Now, on average, they affect 10%. Hansen explains that "the odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small". Both the droughts in the Sahel and the US crop failures are likely to be the result of climate change.

 

But this is not the only sense in which the rich world's use of fuel is causing the poor to starve. In the United Kingdom, in the rest of the European Union and in the United States, governments have chosen to deploy a cure as bad as the disease. Despite overwhelming evidence of the harm their policy is causing, none of them will change course.

Biofuels are the means by which governments in the rich world avoid hard choices. Rather than raise fuel economy standards as far as technology allows, rather than promoting a shift from driving to public transport, walking and cycling, rather than insisting on better town planning to reduce the need to travel, they have chosen to exchange our wild overconsumption of petroleum for the wild ove