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Have you heard of jatropha? I admit it: I hadn’t. But I read something recently about how jotropha was the hot new biofuel. So I did a little googling today and discovered I must be living under a rock because jotropha is everywhere.

In case you’re like me and not so current on hip biofuels, jatropha is a tree that produces seeds that are packed with oil and are potentially very efficient sources of diesel fuel. Here are some of the reasons it’s attracting so much interest:

  • It grows well in marginal soil
  • It can survive for months without water
  • It burns quite cleanly and the jatropha trees capture carbon, so it’s comparatively good for the environment
  • It can potentially produce a lot more fuel per acre than other biofuels like corn and soy
  • It is a perennial tree and therefore doesn’t have to be replanted each year
  • The seed pulp left after the oil has been pressed can be used for fertilzer and formed into briquettes for other uses
  • Unlike corn, jatropha is not edible and therefore is not diverting the food supply into fuel
  • It can grow in places like Africa, India, Mexico, and Central America, creating a possible industry for places that badly need it and allowing diverse fuel suppliers

Sounds fantastic, right? But there are some downsides:

  • While it can live in marginal soil and without water, it won’t necessarily produce well in those conditions
  • Parts of the plant are highly toxic and there is concern over harvesting and processing it safely
  • Currently, harvesting would have to be done by hand, making it a labor-intensive fuel.
  • While it doesn’t directly divert a food crop, if it proves profitable, people might replace crops with jatropha (see Burma)

So, nothing is certain, but it appears jatropha is well worth more study, and investors are on board. Especially since Air New Zealand used a blend of jatropha and diesel to fly a Boeing 747 jet last year. In my mind, even if jatropha doesn’t turn out to be the best new fuel source on the planet, the research and experimenting that’s going on is really encouraging. It take us farther along the path of finding fuel sources that are relatively inexpensive, clean, renewable, and accessible for some of the poorest places on Earth. What can be more hopeful than that?

If you’d like to know more, here are some of the places where I learned about jatropha today:

Reuters UK

Back to Beef

I just read an interesting report from the Global Policy Forum that makes important connections between food and finance. One little factoid that struck me: more than half of U.S. grain and nearly 40% of world grain is being used to feed livestock. The author of the report cites a 1997 news release from a Cornell ecologist who suggests that the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat. Granted, not all the grain that cattle eat is suitable for human consumption (thank you Mark Goetz for pointing that out to me), but again this underscores for me how lowering our own meat consumption could be an effective way to lower food costs and perhaps improve food distribution (to say nothing of the amazing environmental benefits of consuming less meat).

On a related note, Lent is just nine days away (and yes, as you may have already guessed, it is my favorite church season). One way to experiment with consuming less meat would be to practice the ancient and venerable tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays (and Wednesdays if you wish!) for the six weeks of Lent. Or if you’re adventurous, you could fast from meat for the whole 40 days. I am tempted to do just that, and I would probably succumb to peer pressure if I heard from enough people who would join me…

David Creech

How Should I Respond?

Last night while perusing the New York Times online, I ran across this little article. It outlines just how difficult it would be for those poor Wall Street executives to live on a measly $500,000 a year. The article spells out the cost of maintaining an executive lifestyle: the cost of a nanny, private school, personal trainer, summer houses, European vacations, charity galas, and so on. The article concludes that at least 1.6 million dollars a year is needed to live comfortably as an executive.

What is troubling to me is that we find ourselves in very difficult circumstances due to (at least in part) the greed of Wall Street. As I noted in a previous post, by the time we begin to emerge from this downturn, as many as 50 million people in the U.S. could be living below the poverty line. That’ll be nearly one-sixth of the U.S. population dealing with the stresses of basic needs like food, housing, and health care.

So, my first reaction to this article is less than empathetic. I think that watching the Catholic Charities Poverty Tour offers a far more compelling case for fair compensation (if you’ve not seen it yet, take five minutes to do so now).

But is my response fair?
David Creech

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas… (drum roll, please)

With the Christmas season winding down and the routine of the new year slowly settling in, I thought it would be a good time to introduce some of the issues that ELCA World Hunger will be especially focused upon in 2009. Over the next couple of weeks, I will briefly highlight in four posts each of our focus areas: Food, Fuel, and Finances; Climate Change and Hunger; HIV/AIDS and the Lutheran Malaria Initiative; and Intentional Living: Food Practices. I invite you to offer your own reflections and/or resources you have found particularly helpful in thinking about these topics.

Food, Fuel, and Finances

The three F’s are deeply intertwined and of late extremely volatile. In 2008, the price of many staple foods (such as wheat, rice, and corn) rose globally as much as 130% ( The spike in food prices culminated in riots in about 30 countries. This spike in food prices is related to (among other things) a sharp rise in gas prices, which peaked nationally in June and July at about $4.15 a gallon ( The rise in gas prices affects the price of food because modern production and distribution of food is heavily dependent upon petroleum. Moreover, in the quest to find alternatives to gasoline, farms previously used to grow food now are used for the production of biofuels. As 2008 drew to a close, global financial markets tumbled as the subprime lending mess reverberated throughout many financial sectors.

Each of these hardships is particularly devastating to those who are poorest. This year we will engage the food, fuel, and finance crises from their perspective, raising awareness and advocating on behalf of those who are most vulnerable.

-David Creech