Okay, okay, so I can be bit of a smart alec these days because
I drive a Smart car. But believe me, three years ago when I first got the
thing, I felt more like an eco-evangelist, touting its safety, its fun factor,
its low emissions and fuel efficiency to anyone within ear-range, but not
really convincing them.
In 2005, when I got Smart, the Stern report on climate change
and the costs to the economy and the report released by the UN’s
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Peace Prize by
basically stating that human-caused climate change was irrefutable — at
least according to 280 of the world’s top scientists, and hey, I’m not one to argue
with them — had not been released.
So three years ago, those of us non-scientists who ascribed to
the fact of climate change and were desperate for something to be done about it
felt like hands on the deck of the Titanic before it tilted, trying to get
everybody out of their cabins and to safety. Anything to keep the planet
afloat, in tact, on course, solid-state, stable as a maple table — even
I confess: Before the huge increase in fuel prices we are
seeing today, before the food riots in the streets of Haiti and Bangladesh, I
thought the idea of making fuel out of veggie material was a good thing.
Reduction in carbon emissions? Yes. Five per cent biofuels in every Canadian
gas pump? Bring it on. Those prairie farmers will be lovin’ it and lord knows
I’ve got more than a few relatives back there.
Boy, was I a sucker. And not the only one.
Fast-forward to today, and, ironically, the two inextricably
intertwined issues — food and fuel — culminated in high level
international talks held separately but almost simultaneously over the past two
weeks, namely the UN climate change talks in Bonn, Germany (where 2,400
negotiators are trying to hammer out an agreement to be signed by the end of
next year to replace the Kyoto plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), and
the UN food summit held in Rome (to which Canada, embarrassingly but tellingly,
only managed to send its ambassador to Italy to represent us amidst the
presidents and prime ministers of major world players).
The jury is still out on exactly how much negative impact
biofuels are having on food supply. For instance, the president of Egypt, where
food riots have also spilled to the streets, called for an end to biofuel
production, Predictably, the president of Brazil, where biofuels are produced
from sugar cane, not corn, which has so many critics up in arms, said it was an
over-simplification to tie food shortages and rising food costs to biofuel