Regular readers of The Secret Of Life will know that I believe that the various problems facing the world are so complex that a wholesale upgrade in human consciousness is needed if we're going to sort them out. But that doesn't mean to say that we just have to sit back and twiddle our thumbs in the meantime. There are times when action is needed.
The current preoccupation with the world financial crisis has been drawing attention away from something which is far more critical: a world shortage of food. There have been food riots in Haiti (where people are having to eat mud cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening instead of the food they can't afford to buy) and unrest in a string of other countries including Egypt, Mozambique, Senegal and Indonesia. There are warnings that more than a hundred million people worldwide could be plunged into hunger.
The reasons for this are complex. They include the growing popularity of meat in some emerging nations and the effects of recent poor harvests due to climate change, but they also include the biofuels policy of western governments.
Biofuels seemed like a really good idea; reducing reliance on fossil fuels by growing plants and putting those in your car instead. This would be a source of renewable energy and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
Biofuels have therefore become an important part of the strategy for cutting carbon emissions worldwide. The European Union's Biofuels Directive, for instance, states that biofuels should comprise 5.75% of traffic fuel by 2010 - and 10% of it by 2020. In the US, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires American fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022.
The only trouble is: the leaders haven't done joined up thinking. The farmers who are being encouraged to grow biofuels are no longer growing food, which is why the use of these new fuels is one of the most important factors which is pushing up global fuel prices. Put crudely and simply (and only a little over-simplistically) people are starving and literally having to eat mud because we're putting their food in our cars.
I don't think we should be too hard on our leaders here. The drive to biofuels has come from perfectly sensible intentions. But clearly things are going wrong. The situation is proving to be a lot more complex than they realized. Quite apart from the food problem, it turns out that the growing of biofuels is not always environmentally friendly after all: not when trees are being cleared away to produce them. Of course it is vital to address the problem of carbon emissions, but it seems like a lot more serious thinking is needed before we make some terrible mistakes.
Sometimes petitions have little chance of making a real difference. They serve little purpose except perhaps to make us feel a bit less bad about whatever is happening. But this is a different situation. It is vital that we the people make it plain that we will not stand for this, that we are not willing to let people in other parts of the world starve to death so that we can run our cars. It is vital that we let our leaders know that they have to think again about this one. Please consider signing this petition, which will be brought before the leaders at upcoming global summits.
This seems like a good time to mention that there's a big 'free food' button on my sidebar - it should be easy to spot. Click on that and you can give food to the needy for free. And from that site you can follow links to other sites about breast cancer, child welfare, saving the rain forest etc. They all allow you to give to worthy causes for free. I try to click through them every day. It takes very little time and every little helps.
But don't forget to sign that petition...