Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Visions of a Biofuel Future

Indentured servitude, a workforce confined to the borders of the plantation by armed guards, being "paid" by being allowed to live in unlit huts and drink water from the pig trough. Violations punished by summary execution and burial in an unmarked pit.

This sounds like a historical account of life on a colonial plantation of the 18th century, but is actually the description of the sugar industry, today, in the Dominican Republic. The new film "The Price of Sugar," about the abuses of Hatian migrant workers on a Dominican sugar plantation, tells the story of a Catholic priest trying to organize the workers. (IMDB, NPR story)

Of course, the larger issue here is that biofuel production is dependent on exactly this industry. As long as biofuels are an over-subsidized boondoggle, then industrially raised corn is fine. Well paid farmers driving their John Deere tractors don't present a human rights problem. But as EROEIs decline and we increasingly turn to human labor for biofuels, classical plantation problems will likely resurface in force.

It may be quite some time before Americans are enslaved in the production of fuel for other Americans' cars, but are we so racist/nationalist/blind to accept the enslavement of others to these ends?


Jeff Vail said...

I should clarify that "well paid farmers driving their John Deere tractors" don't, in themselves, represent a human rights problem--the human rights of the farmers aren't being violated. Industrially raised ethanol does, however, endanger the availability and price of food to the world's poor.

"Human Rights" as a concept is also problematic--a "right" only exists to the extent that there is physical power and political will sufficient to enforce it. Otherwise it's as useful as a unicorn. Sure, we could digress into a lengthy conversation about the normative rule of international law, but none of that changes the fact that norms only influence what people are willing to use their physical power to enforce--norms, "rights," in and of themselves have no force, they are but a place to put a lever.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Jeff!

Hope all is well with you.... sorry I have not emailed you yet... life has been rather crazy these last few months. But eventually things will settle down and I WILL drop you a line :-)


Big Gav said...

I second the 'welcome back" sentiment - it seems like a long time between posts.

Big Gav said...

No seriously, I smell it. Who farted?

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