Sunday, July 30, 2006

Does Ethanol Solution Hurt or Help the Global Poor?

Heating or food?

That is one dilemma that poverty has created for thousands of Americans during the winter. Any increase in energy expenditures for a low-income family reduces the money available to spend on food.

The average monthly heating bill in 2005-2006 rose by more than 40% from the previous year to a whopping $173 per month. This is the equivalent of 19.4% of the income from a full-time, minimum wage job, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) estimated in a
report published in November 2005. Read report (in .pdf format).

It's hard to tell how high fuel costs will go this coming winter but they apparently will be higher than last winter.

Now, let's take energy vs. food question to the global level.

With the cost of gasoline and other fuels escalating and the concerns about global climate change growing, there is a move to promote increased usage of ethanol as a cheaper energy alternative.

The United Nations has been among the chief advocates of using ethanol and other biofuels to help the global community meet Goal 1 of the UN Millennium Development Goals, which is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.

With around 2 billion people, mostly in rural areas of developing countries, still living without electricity or other modern energy services, increased use of so-called bioenergy can help diversify agricultural and forestry activities, improve food security, contribute to sustainable development and mitigate climate change by replacing fossil fuels that produce global warming greenhouse gases," the UN news centre said in a report entitled Biofuels can cut poverty, provide energy and mitigate global climate change -UN

In fact, one can argue that the logic applies to Goal 7, which is to ensure environmental sustainability.

At the surface, it makes sense. Ethanol causes much less pollution than fossil fuels and is cheap to produce because of an abundance of corn, sugar and vegetable matter to make the material.

In some countries like Brazil, ethanol already accounts for nearly one-half of local fuel consumption. And a growing number of countries are turning to ethanol as one solution to deal with the escalating costs of fossil fuels and address global climate change, said Danielle Murray of the Earth Policy Institute in an article entitled
Ethanol's potential: Looking Beyond Corn, which was published in June 2005. In the article, Murray discusses many pros and cons of ethanol and biofuel production.

So this is a simple answer: Ethanol is the "good guy."

Or is it?

Les Brown of the Earth Policy Institute thinks not. He argues that the competition for the raw materials to make ethanol will drive up the price of corn and other commodities, causing food prices to rise. The higher cost of food, in turn, would have the greatest impact on the global poor.

"This is shaping up as competition between the 800 million people in the world that own automobiles and the 2 billion low- income people in the world, many of whom are already spending over half their income on food," Brown told reporters on a teleconference in July 2006.

Fluctuations in the sugar market are a harbinger of what could happen to grain prices. Says Brown: "Prices for sugar futures in February hit a 25-year high of nearly 20 cents per pound, on ethanol demand and as big money funds came into the market."

Grain prices have not yet risen as much as those for sugar, but Brown warns that even a small increase could hurt the billions of people who depend on grains for food and the farmers in poor countries who use it for meat, milk and egg production. "There could be a real scramble, not only among sectors, but also among countries for available grain supplies," he told Reuters.

Brown does offer a proposal. Instead of seeking to boost ethanol production, he recommends that global policymakers promote better fuel efficiency for existing vehicles and place a greater emphasis on the manufacture of gasoline-electric hybrids.

And he does not advocate abandoning ethanol altogether. He points to emerging high-tech fuel called cellulosic ethanol made from tough woody plants, such as switchgrass and poplar, that grow on land unfit for farming.
Read full Reuters article

[Note: The above illustration comes from the
Environment Society of Australia]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Join ONEAlbuquerque Yahoo Group

Blogs, Yahoo Groups, Text Messaging...They're "The In" Thing for communications these days. (How soon before they're obsolete?)

OK, so you're reading this message on Bread for the World-New Mexico's blog. People use blogs for different things. I use this blog mainly to post local Bread for the World announcements and discuss current events/issues related to hunger and poverty, including The ONE Campaign. I more than welcome comments on any of the posts, but I'm the only one who is able to post. (I do welcome and solicit contributions from others on topics related to hunger and poverty).

My news today is that Laura Casselman, our estwhile and extremely motivated DATA (Debt Aids Trade Africa) volunteer and "mover-in-chief" behind The ONE Campaign in Albuquerque, has created the ONEAlbuquerque Yahoo Group. [Laura is pictured above with Bro. Jim Brown of Santa Fe at The ONE Campaign booth for Peace Day in February 2006].

This is one of many ONE Yahoo Groups that have been created around the country, with the support of The ONE Campaign. Click here to see the partial list. OK, The ONE Campaign has been slow in adding us to the list. But as of this morning (July 20), we already had 11 members joining the group.

How does it work? Well, after you join the group, you will be able to post messages related to The ONE Campaign or comment on messages that have already been posted. Laura will also be using the Group to post announcements. And unlike the BFW-New Mexico blog, anyone who joins the group will be able to initiate discussion on any topic related to The ONE Campaign and Make Poverty History.

To join simply click here

We hope this group will enhance our local communications and discussions related to The ONE Campaign.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Eradicating Global Poverty One Church at a Time

Christ has no body on earth but yours, no feet but yours, no hands but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ is to look out on a hurting world.

Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless all now.

-St. Theresa of Avila

Those of us who are involved with
Bread for the World or The ONE Campaign are already very familiar the Millenium Development Goals. They are, of course, a blueprint developed by the all of the world's countries and the leading development institutions to eradicate global poverty and disesase.

The actions targeted by the
Millenium Development Goals (MDGS) range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015.

As a local grassroots leader for Bread for the World, I have been invited by many churches to talk about this year's Offering of Letters, One Spirit, One Will, Zero Poverty, which is very much tied to The ONE Campaign and the MDGS. We are urging our congressional representatives to increase poverty-focused development assistance by $5 billion in the 2007 budget, which would go a long ways toward meeting our country's commitments to help reduce global hunger and poverty.

In speaking to these congregations, I discovered that the vast majority of those writing letters or simply asking about the campaign have never even heard of the Millenium Development Goals.

Our offerings of letters have two goals: to get as many letters as possible to our elected officials on a particular issue and to provide information/education to members of a congregation about a particular issue.

The materials that Bread for the World offers in its Offering of Letters kits are very useful in creating a greater awareness about the issue in a congregation. They include a short videotapes/DVD, charts/figures, maps, worship ideas, bulletin inserts and much more. These materials were designed to be used in the context of worship or in an adult education or Sunday School class.

The National Council of Churches has created another beautiful resource relevant to our Offering of Letters this year. The resource, called Eradicating Global Poverty: A Christian Study on the Millenium Development Goals, is published by Friendship Press, ecumenical publisher for the National Council of Churches.

This is not only an informational publication, but a workbook that takes a comprehensive look at
the Millenium Development Goals both from a practical and a faith perspective. The workbook is divided into six separate lesson plans, allowing participants to take time to really study the issues surrounding each of the goals. (Goals 2 and 3 dealing with Universal Primary Education and Gender Equity have been grouped into a single session, as have Goals 4 and 5, dealing with child mortality and maternal health).

Each lesson plan contains personal stories, scriptural-based reflections, related scripture passages, practical information on how the goals are to be achieved, discussion questions, proposed actions and much more. In addition, there are three Appendices, one that deals with questions about Sub-Saharan Africa, another with advocacy, and a third that offers a comprehensive list of resources.

I wholeheartedly recommend this guide, which puts all the issues in very simple terms and yet is very comprehensive in its approach. Copies of the guide can be obtained from Friendship Press:
Click here to access an order form in .pdf format.

This wonderful resource was put together by Lallie B. Lloyd, an independent consultant on ecumenical solutions to global poverty. Ms. Lloyd, who serves on the board of
Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, urges churches to get more involved in fighting global poverty. "Christians need to take action. We can't solve all the world's problems, but our power can save lives. We need to build relationships across boundaries of income, nationality and distance, and we need to give of our own for the eradication of poverty," she said in the introduction to the guide.