Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Global Corporations Demand Equally Global Citizens

With world-wide food shortage upon us (see “Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis,” below) we cannot afford the gross stupidity of turning corn and other foods into fuel to power our vehicles. There are many other ways to solve the problem, as Dr. Stover shows below.

We, the emerging “global citizens” must become outraged at this misuse of “our” resources and, I believe, criminal activity on the part of our global corporations. In my opinion, the starvation of millions in favor of powering our BMWs rates as much a crime against humanity as the most heinous acts of history, including those perpetrated during the 30s and 40s by Nazi Germany and expansionist Japan.

In my view it is abundantly clear that the rise of “global” corporations, which are accountable to no authority and driven more by profit than service to humankind, must be balanced by an equally powerful “global” oversight representing the interests of people throughout the world. If we allow the global corporations to go unsupervised, then we have sealed our doom and given away our childrens' future to the newest generation of robber barons. Most assuredly they will grow rich while the rest of us starve.

The world’s highest honor (yet to be created) should be given to Geoffrey Lean for writing his story and to The Independent for publishing it, as well.

On a much more positive note, while I believe hydrogen will ultimately serve as the major inexpensive and renewable energy source to power our vehicles, homes and businesses in the near future, other resources such as solar and wind are finally taking on more of the power-generating burden and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

Dr. Lloyd V. Stover an environmental scientist who assisted in the development of President Carter’s energy proposals during the 1970s, has assembled an excellent, and optimistic, article regarding the current status of solar and wind power, which appeared May 6, 2008 on the Ashville Citizen-Times website. I’ve placed the entire article below. Three cheers for Dr. Stover and for the Ashville Citizen-Times for publishing his work! ... RB

Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis
Speculators blamed for driving up price of basic foods as 100 million face severe hunger
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor, The Independent (UK) Sunday, 4 May 2008

Giant agribusinesses are enjoying soaring earnings and profits out of the world food crisis which is driving millions of people towards starvation, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. And speculation is helping to drive the prices of basic foodstuffs out of the reach of the hungry.

The prices of wheat, corn and rice have soared over the past year driving the world's poor – who already spend about 80 per cent of their income on food – into hunger and destitution.

The World Bank says that 100 million more people are facing severe hunger. Yet some of the world's richest food companies are making record profits. Monsanto last month reported that its net income for the three months up to the end of February this year had more than doubled over the same period in 2007, from $543m (£275m) to $1.12bn. Its profits increased from $1.44bn to $2.22bn.

Cargill's net earnings soared by 86 per cent from $553m to $1.030bn over the same three months. And Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world's largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m to $517m. The operating profit of its grains merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold from $21m to $341m.

Similarly, the Mosaic Company, one of the world's largest fertiliser companies, saw its income for the three months ending 29 February rise more than 12-fold, from $42.2m to $520.8m, on the back of a shortage of fertiliser. The prices of some kinds of fertiliser have more than tripled over the past year as demand has outstripped supply. As a result, plans to increase harvests in developing countries have been hit hard.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that 37 developing countries are in urgent need of food. And food riots are breaking out across the globe from Bangladesh to Burkina Faso, from China to Cameroon, and from Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.

Benedict Southworth, director of the World Development Movement, called the escalating earnings and profits "immoral" late last week. He said that the benefits of the food price increases were being kept by the big companies, and were not finding their way down to farmers in the developing world.

The soaring prices of food and fertilisers mainly come from increased demand. This has partly been caused by the boom in biofuels, which require vast amounts of grain, but even more by increasing appetites for meat, especially in India and China; producing 1lb of beef in a feedlot, for example, takes 7lbs of grain.

World food stocks at record lows, export bans and a drought in Australia have contributed to the crisis, but experts are also fingering food speculation. Professor Bob Watson – chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who led the giant International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development – last week identified it as a factor.

Index-fund investment in grain and meat has increased almost fivefold to over $47bn in the past year, concludes AgResource Co, a Chicago-based research firm. And the official US Commodity Futures Trading Commission held special hearings in Washington two weeks ago to examine how much speculators were helping to push up food prices.

Cargill says that its results "reflect the cumulative effect of having invested more than $18bn in fixed and working capital over the past seven years to expand our physical facilities, service capabilities, and knowledge around the world".

The revelations are bound to increase outrage over multinational companies following last week's disclosure that Shell and BP between them recorded profits of £14bn in the first three months of the year – or £3m an hour – on the back of rising oil prices. Shell promptly attracted even greater condemnation by announcing that it was pulling out of plans to build the world's biggest wind farm off the Kent coast.

World leaders are to meet next month at a special summit on the food crisis, and it will be high on the agenda of the G8 summit of the world's richest countries in Hokkaido, Japan, in July.

Additional research by Vandna Synghal

The end of the world as we knew it is upon us
by Dr. Lloyd V. Stover, Guest Commentary, Ashville Citizen-Times, May 6, 2008

The oil age began in 1860. By 2006 the world’s oil rigs pumped oil at a rate of 85 million barrels a day. They haven’t come close since, even as prices have risen to more than $100 per barrel.

Breaking our fossil fuel dependency will require plugging into the grid instead of pulling up to the pump. And there are some interesting energy options — and others are doing a lot more about developing them than Americans.

Germany leads the world in its installed capacity of renewable energy sources (25 percent), and is the third largest producer of solar panels after China and Japan.

The share of electricity generated from renewable sources exceeded 14 percent in 2007, an increase from 11 percent in 2006. This means that Germany has already met the European Union’s target that 12.5 percent of electricity should come from renewable sources by 2010.

Enercon, a major wind equipment maker, claims that the renewable-energy business will become a major part of the country’s manufacturing business, alongside cars and machine tools. Employment in the renewables industry is now 250,000 ands expected to double by 2020. Throughout Germany, around 160 technical institutions are doing research on alternative energy.

Ireland has a created a unique research and development center at the Dundalk Institute of Technology. The project is part of a European Union program to encourage clean energy projects. The others are in Austria and Switzerland. By 2010 solar and wind energy will account for 20 percent of the heat and electricity for the city, industrial park and college. They also plan to install self-powered streetlights, as is being planned in China.

Denmark is already generating 20 percent of its electricity by renewable resources. Even though our standard of living is relatively the same, the average American consumes nearly three times as much energy as the average Dane. And the per capita greenhouse gas emission is more than double in America.

American efforts
What are we doing about it? This year wind farms will generate more than 1 percent of our electricity. The industry grew 45 percent last year. If present trends continue wind could provide 20 percent of our power by 2020.

American solar industry grew nearly 60 percent last year. Wal-Mart and Google made headlines by their plans for solar installations on their facilities. California accounts for a third of the demand for solar and has a stated goal of solar cells on over a million roofs by 2020. Cities provide subsidies from $3,000 for homes and $10,000 for businesses.

Within five years nano-engineered materials should make solar panels lighter, more efficient and cheaper. This should make them able to power homes and make hydrogen fuel cells available for our cars.

Two solar thermal power plants, one in Spain and the other in Nevada, have been operating for a year. They use large mirrors to concentrate solar power and generate steam to run turbines that generate electricity. The advantage is that the solar plant can provide power round the clock, by storing energy in the form of molten salt or compressed air.

Eight additional solar thermal plants are under construction in Spain, Algeria and Morocco and nine others are in various stages of design in Israel, Mexico, China and South Africa.

Wind power
Installed wind capacity in the United States grew 45 percent last year, and a comparable increase is expected this year. It already supplies 1 percent of America’s electricity. More than $9 billion was invested last year.

In 2006 Texas surpassed California by generating 3 percent of its electricity from wind power, enough to supply power to a million homes. Texas has approved upgraded transmission lines and anticipates five times the wind power generated in the state today. One of the anticipated wind farms will become the biggest in the world, and will cost more than $10 billion.

Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and Oregon already get more than 5 percent of their power from wind farms.

The beginning of the end of the oil crisis is upon us, and with foresight we will be able to cope with it to our — and the planet’s — benefit.

In time we will be able to look back at high oil prices that motivated us to take advantage of conservation and alternative energy. We are fortunate that the energy issues of the future are no longer essentially geological, as they are technical, financial and political. Now innovation, creativity, and the desire to improve the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants, human and otherwise.