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Killing people with “concern”? Biofuels led to nearly 200,000 deaths (est) in 2010.

The precautionary principle is exposed again for the insidious mindless posturing that it is.

Biofuel policies push more people into poverty as food prices rise and the poor are forced to spend more of their income on food. In a study  published in  Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Indur Goklany calculated the additional mortality burden of biofuels policies and found that nearly 200,000 people died in 2010 alone, because of efforts to use biofuels to reduce CO2 emissions.

Bad Government is a killer.

“Could Biofuel Policies Increase Death and Disease in Developing Countries?

Goklany (2011) estimated that the increase in the poverty headcount due to higher biofuel production between 2010 and 2004 implies 192,000 additional deaths and 6.7 million additional lost DALYs in 2010 alone.

He compared this death tally to the WHO figures for deaths attributed to global warming and finds that the biofuels policies are more deadly. (And he is not including any increase in poverty due to other anti-global warming practices).

1. Biofuel policies are retarding humanity’s age-old battle against poverty.

2. Since according to the World Health Organization’s latest estimates, 141,000 deaths and 5.4 million lost DALYs in 2004 could be attributed to global warming (WHO 2009), biofuel policies may currently be deadlier than global warming, especially since the inertia of the climate system means little or no reduction in these numbers from any slowing of global warming due to any increase in biofuel production from 2004 to 2010.

How many times do we hear that “it can’t hurt to reduce ‘pollution’ (sic)”?

Even if CO2 was a form of pollution there is little justification for trying to reduce it.

There are many ways that poverty kills:

In order to identify diseases of poverty, Goklany calculated for each risk factor, the ratio of its burden of disease per capita for low-income countries compared to that of lower-middle-income countries. In order to develop a conservative (lower bound) estimate for the effect of biofuel production on death and disease, it was assumed that if the ratio exceeded 5, then the risk factor was poverty dominated. Six risk factors met this criterion: global warming; underweight (largely synonymous with chronic hunger); zinc deficiency; Vitamin A deficiency; unsafe sex; and unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. These six factors accounted for 7.7 million deaths and 268 million lost DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Years) worldwide for 2004. Of these, more than 99.3% of the deaths and lost DALYs were in developing countries.

Using a less restrictive criterion for the ratio of 2 would have added four more risk factors to the above list, namely: unmet contraceptive needs, indoor smoke from solid fuels, sub-optimal breast feeding and iron deficiency. Many consider these to be poverty-related (Brundtland, 2003). Including these in the list would increase their cumulative toll of poverty-dominated risks in 2004 to 11.3 million deaths and 384 million lost DALYs. However, to err on the side of conservatism, the more restrictive definition of “poverty-dominated” was used.

The methodology used by Goklany (2011) is as follows:

  1. Obtain estimates of the increase in the current headcount for absolute poverty in the developing world due to increased biofuel production.
  2. Develop the relationships (or “coefficients of proportionality”) between the poverty headcount on the one hand, and the global burden of death and disease attributable to “diseases of poverty” on the other hand. The headcount and the burdens of death and disease should be for the same time period.
  3. Apply the coefficients developed in step 2 to the increase in poverty from step 1 to estimate the increases in death and disease from the increase in biofuel production.

For more information see NIPCC

Goklany, I.M. 2011. Could Biofuel Policies Increase Death and Disease in Developing Countries? Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 16: 9-13. [PDF]

UPDATE: Richard Courtney writes to add —

‘Waffle’ (#1) disputes this post by claiming excess corn in the EU and US is mostly used for biofuel production so there is little or no effect on food production.  But the Golkany study is right and he is wrong.

I investigated the matter a few years ago.  The latter of my two papers was published in 2008 (at the Science and Public Policy Institute).

Its synopsis says:
This paper reviews effects of large use of biofuels that I predicted in a paper published in August 2006 prior to the USA legislating to enforce displacement of crude oil products by biofuels. The review indicates that policies (such as that in the EU), subsidies and legislation (such as that in the USA) to promote use of biofuels should be reconsidered. The use of biofuels is causing significant problems but providing no benefits except to farmers. Biofuel usage is a hidden subsidy to farmers, and if this subsidy is the intended purpose of biofuel usage then more direct subsidies would be more efficient. But the problems of biofuel usage are serious. Biofuel usage is:

• damaging energy security,
• reducing biodiversity,
• inducing excessively high food prices, and
• inducing excessively high fuel prices, while
• providing negligible reduction to greenhouse gas emissions.

All these effects were predicted in my paper on the use of biofuels that was published in August 2006.

My 2006 paper also predicted objections from environmentalists if large use of biofuels were adopted although this then seemed implausible because many environmentalists were campaigning for biofuels to displace fossil fuels. But this prediction has also proved to be correct.

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