Global environmental challenges
Feeling hungry? Maybe that’s because of all the news, from around the world, about food today — how much people produce, how much more they need, how much it’s going to cost, how much of an effect it will have on climate change, and vice versa.
Starting in Washington, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported that American stockpiles of corn and soybeans will shrink to surprisingly low levels this year, which sent grain prices soaring to 30-month highs. Bad weather in places like Australia and rising world demand led by China are partly responsible for cutting crop inventories around the globe.
There’s actually encouraging news on the food front from south Sudan, where citizens are voting now to become an independent nation. While much of Africa is under intense pressure to provide food for its people, the U.N. World Food Programme says south Sudan could become a food exporter and end its chronic food dependency within a decade. But immediately after the vote, this area is likely to need more food aid, according to the U.N.
In India, food inflation rose for the fifth straight week to the highest level in more than a year, part of a trend of rising food prices across Asia. In India’s case, the price of staples like onions and tomatoes have political heft and are a major voter issue in advance of state elections there.
Hundreds of companies and laboratories are racing to find an economical way to make “green crude” from algae. The biofuel industry is grappling with a series of hurdles, which players readily recognized at a summit this week in San Diego and we cover in this story.
One question asked by one of the sector’s early leaders is will biofuel from algae look like Big Oil or Big Agriculture.
Shares in the suffering utility Pacific Ethanol shot up over 8 percent on Tuesday, reaping the rewards of cheaper ethanol prices, thanks largely to what is expected to be a bumper crop year for U.S. corn. Units of Pacific Ethanol that owned four ethanol plants filed for Chapter 11 protection last month, stung by volatile prices for corn, low fuel demand and the credit crisis.******A senior company official at India’s Suzlon Energy said the wind power company was looking at selling assets and shares to lower its debt, dealing a major blow to its shares, falling 11.44 percent in Tuesday trading.
At last year’s American Petroleum Institute conference, Bill Klesse, CEO of leading U.S. oil refiner Valero, slammed federal policymakers who push subsidies and mandates for production of ethanol, saying that using corn to make it would make food so expensive it would cause more misery than global warming.
“All of these programs are just a huge transfer of wealth from our industry (oil) to the Midwest farms,” Klesse said in March 2008 speech.