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12.21.2010

The Geopolitics of Hoarding: Biofuels and Resource Scarcity


Source: www.biomassintel.com

In an era of increasing food, energy, land, and water insecurity, nations are increasingly turning to hoarding. Sitting at the nexus of all four, biofuels are playing a complex role in geopolitics.

Biofuels — whether grown domestically or abroad — sit at the nexus of not only food and energy, but also land and water. As all four become more scarce, developed and developing nations alike are hoarding more and more.

Combined with hoarding, biofuels can hasten land, water, and food scarcity, but the situation is far more complex than the current debate over issues like indirect land use change suggest.

Writing for the UK’s Financial Times in February 2010, Gedeon Rachman described the UK’s increasing reliance on securing food as well as energy security as, “No mere national eccentricity.”

On the contrary, he writes:

[T]he fact that even the free-trading British are worrying about food and energy supplies is indicative of a much broader global trend. Across the world, the major powers are moving to secure access to energy, food and, in some cases, water. Faith in a trade-based system of globalisation – in which nations can always buy what they need on the open, world markets – is giving ground to an effort by individual nations to secure supplies. Like survivalists, hoarding tinned food in the basement, individual nations are preparing for the worst.

The evidence is in the pudding. Increasing oil prices and fears over peak oil are driving a global push for renewable energy. Take China as an example, which is sending state-owned oil companies abroad where they are engaging in ferocious bidding wars with western energy companies as they go after access to the same oil and gas fields, particularly in Africa. Middle Eastern investors, in particular the Saudis and the Gulf Arabs, have been leasing huge tracts of land in East Africa, in an effort to grow food that is reserved for their own nations. In the US, domestic ethanol production has led to disruptions in the global food markets. In Europe, supporters of the protectionist Common Agricultural Policy are freshly emboldened.

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