Where is our food supposed to come from?

We are seeing a series of interesting proposals to help combat climate change.  First of all, there are biofuels.  In the US, they are turning increasing quantities of maize into bio-ethanol, used to substitute petrol.  In South East Asia, palm oil is being converted to bio-diesel.  This is a great idea, except that studies show the net saving of CO2 emissions over the whole process is far less than you would think, and in some cases derisory.  Large amounts of diesel and fertilisers go into growing the crop, so the net benefit is limited.  Meantime good agricultural land is diverted to fuel production, and food prices rise.  Worse (perhaps) is the new pressure for more agricultural land, resulting in the clearance of rain-forests in South America and South East Asia.  Ironically, it’s not climate change that’s leading to species extinction, so much as habitat loss caused by our efforts at climate mitigation.
Then there are all the concerns about CO2 and methane emitted by cattle (yes really!).  Apparently we can reduce these real live emissions by switching cattle to a diet with less grass and more grain – so there is yet more pressure to divert human food to alternative purposes.
Across the country (I heard this on the BBC’s early morning farming programme yesterday) salesmen for solar power companies are telling farmers that they can make six times as much money by covering their fields with photo-voltaic solar panels as they can by cultivating food crops.  Not that the electricity generated is worth very much – its value is derisory – but the extraordinary Feed-In Tariffs offered for “renewable electricity” turns a handsome profit.  (I don’t blame the farmers – I blame politicians like Chris Huhne, who created these perverse incentives).  But land covered in solar panels is not growing food for the people.
Of course they tell us that we can help combat climate change by creating carbon sinks.  Trees are the most obvious example, so there are incentives for turning agricultural land into timber plantations.  But sadly, we can’t eat leaves (though bay leaves are good in casseroles).
And finally, also in the name of the environment if not specifically to combat climate change, we have the RSPB buying up tracts of good agricultural land and flooding it, to create new habitat for aquatic and wading birds.  That’s great for aquatic birds, although perhaps less good for the hares, rabbits, field mice, corn-buntings, moles, badgers, and insects which may have lived there before.  And less good for the rest of us, who may have been eating food grown on the land that’s being flooded.
We know that the world’s human population is growing.  We agree that Britain is too dependent on imported food, and that food security is an issue that needs more attention.  Yet we’ve allowed the greens to talk us into taking more and more agricultural land out of production, in the name of climate mitigation.  Food prices rise, creating more problems for low-income families already struggling with energy costs that are rising to pay for “green electricity”.  Food poverty comes on top of fuel poverty.  Yet which is more important – reacting to a media scare about a scientific theory which could (but probably won’t) create a problem in a hundred years’ time, or putting food on the table and filling empty bellies today?

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