"A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine" - Revelation 6:6THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: The push for ethanol, and other biofuels, may very well cause a depletion of natural resources third-world people depend on for food. The price of beans in Central America has already shot up over $1/pound. The price of rice has doubled. Mexico has already had riots due to the price of tortillas. Similar trends are being seen around the world. Part of this can be explained by the increased cost of oil, but simultaneously, it's the cost of ethanol that's the real culprit. Nearly a third of U.S. produced corn will be devoured by ethanol refineries just this year. That's more than triple the amount of corn that was consumed by refineries just five years ago. The race toward biofuels in the industrialized world may very well be hurting the poor in the third world - malnourishing them and leaving them desperate for proper nutrition at an affordable price.
Pope Benedict XVI warned us about this very sort of thing (read more here). True environmentalism in the Christian sense, does not harm other people for the sake of the cause. The ends never justify the means.
As Catholics in industrialized nations, there are two things we can do to help the poor in third-world nations....
The first is short-term and will probably generate the most immediate relief. It's simple and any Catholic can do it. Just don't buy biofeuls! Don't buy ethanol, or any type of biofuel that is produced from a plant which could have otherwise been used for food. The difference in price from gasoline will not be that much, and by using gasoline, you're not contributing to the starvation of the poor in third-world countries.
The second is long-term and will generate more lasting relief not only to the poor in third-world nations, but will also help produce energy independence for industrialized nations, as well as help to clean the environment. Support the move toward a HYDROGEN ECONOMY! Hydrogen is the perfect fuel. It comes in abundance in the universe. It's inexhaustible. It's perfectly clean. It produces no air pollution. It's bi-product is water. (You can literally drink the exhaust that comes out of the tailpipe of your car.) It can be used in both fuel-cells for electric cars, and as combustible fuel in regular cars. It's even cleaner on you car's engine, producing no carbon buildup, and consequently giving your car a longer engine life.
The problem with producing hydrogen has always been the amount of energy that's needed to separate it from the water molecule H2O. Traditionally, natural gas is used as fuel to generate the electricity needed, and natural gas costs money. It also pollutes the environment, even though it's cleaner than gasoline. However, there are two ways to solve this problem. The first way is to use geothermal energy, as is being done in Greenland. This produces hydrogen at no energy expense, consequently, Greenland may become the next Saudi Arabia of the 21st century in a hydrogen economy. The second way to do it is with a little help from the US government. If two or three nuclear reactors could be built near an ocean, and dedicated specifically for the purpose of generating hydrogen fuel, it could be done with minimal energy cost, and no air pollution.
This is the kind of transition we really need to be talking about in the United States and Canada. At one time I advocated the switch to hydrogen fuel just as a means of producing better air quality. Now in the wake of the biofuel third-world crisis, it looks like its become a matter of social morality.