The Egyptian Crisis’ Green Roots

Rich Trzupek is a veteran environmental consultant and senior advisor to the Heartland Institute. He is the author of the new book Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry (Encounter Books).


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So, how did we get here? Why isn’t there enough food to go around any longer? Part of the answer is that Norman Borlaug’s “green revolution” has lost a great deal of momentum over the last ten years. Crop yields continue to increase, but not by nearly so dramatic a rate as we have seen previously. The larger answer involves what crops we have been growing and why we have been growing them.

Between 1999 and 2009, the amount of cropland used to grow wheat in America dropped by over 3 million acres, or almost 5 per cent. That’s the good news, for it gets worse as we drill down. The amount of land used to grow rice dropped over 15 per cent; for oats, over 30 per cent; for rye, over 20 per cent; for peanuts and edible beets, over 25 per cent; and for sugarbeets, a shade under 25 per cent. These are some of the commodities that are used, directly and indirectly, to produce the food that once fed the world. And, those statistics are just a few highlights, or lowlights if you will, of the overall trend. Farmers are growing less and less crops used to produce food, in deference to government-subsidized energy crop production, chiefly corn and soybeans. Overall, the amount of United States cropland used to grow basic food commodities — crops other than corn and soybeans — has decreased by over 22 million acres since 1999.

Do some of the corn and soybeans produced enter the food chain? Sure they do. But the reason that more and more American farmers are switching to growing these crops has nothing to do with feeding the world, it’s all about making more money, courtesy of the American taxpayer, who ultimately pays the bill for the bio-fuel incentive programs that make growing energy crops more profitable than providing nutrition to the globe.

But don’t take my word for it, consider instead the viewpoint of the organization that has been pushing global warming hysteria harder than anyone this side of Al Gore: the United Nations. According to the UN, almost 10 per cent of world grain production – that’s about 100 million metric tons per year – goes for bi-fuel production. They expect that number to double by 2018. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says that “competition between the three Fs (food, feed and fuel) is expected to intensify,” which is probably about as close in tone to criticism that one branch of the UN is going to use about another branch: the International Panel on Climate Change. Lord Christopher Monckton told me, quite privately, that one UN official associated with the former agency called the bio-fuel craze an abomination, because of the effects that it has had on the poor.

It’s amusing to note that the left roundly criticized Glenn Beck for predicting that food shortages would lead to rationing and civil unrest. Yet, if anything, Beck was behind the curve. We’re only beginning to pay the piper of the left’s pursuit of green energy fancies. The Egyptian crises – however it turns out – could have been and should have been avoided, if only our leaders could have been troubled to think a little bit ahead of the game. Instead, both parties have bet the farm on the proposition that nothing would ever go wrong and thus there was no need to insure the national interest against the possibility of disaster. Thanks to foolish policies and amazing hubris, the world is slowly starting to crumble around us. The question that remains is a simple one: will we – can we – wake up in time to deal with the crisis?

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  • sflbib

    The world is becoming one big "Animal Farm".

  • StephenD

    Excellent post Mr. Trzupek. Being the cynic that I am I can't help but wonder if in fact that those that "bet the farm" as you say on this proposition have hedged their bets and are somehow in a position to make money out of this crisis anyway. I'm thinking of the "carbon credit" scam. How long before they own outright the land that produces the food and then the prices really go up since such land would be so drastically reduced. IT seems that he who has the water, fuel and food makes the rules, yes?

  • Dan

    What is not mentioned here is that reducing the population can help the food problem. In Syria, Assad has worked to raise the age of marriage, and Syrians earn more than Egyptians per capita. Left and right labels are irrelevant here. It was under Bush that the corn subsidies went crazy. I agree that government should not subsidize this (nor give millions to people "not to farm." Many people involved with alternative energy do not agree with ethanol as a solution, this idea of avoiding using land negatively to grow biofuel has been brought into consideration in Europe. Politicizing the alternative energy issue is self-serving and short-sighted. There are conservatives and Christians who are beginning to be more involved in the issue of alternative energy. There are many poor people who have suffered under the current system of food production, see suicides of Indian farmers etc. In southern African people could start to use the native millet instead of corn, it is more nutritious and easier to grow, it just needs a marketing campaign to change colonial-induced habits (I am from there, in case you want to say I am leftist and don't know anything). This subject is too big to be treated here, but Mr. Trupek does not really cover so many important aspects. I feel that he is just trying to make political points using the issues and statistics he quotes, which is shallow.