22 Agrofuels in the Food Regime (2010)

Philip McMichael


The recent explosion of biofuels (a questionable response to the energy/climate crisis) is a blunt reminder of the extent to which capitalism externalises its costs. Cost externalisation is one clear consequence of commodity fetishism: wherein the social and ecological impacts of commodity relations are obscured by the price-form. Assigning a price to biophysical processes (as ‘natural resources’) objectifies them and conceals their socio-ecological relations. As indebted Southern governments compete for biofuel investment finance and Northern governments champion this ‘green fuel’, the social and ecological consequences of converting crop land and forest into a new profit frontier are hidden behind a façade of market environmentalism. What elsewhere I have called the ‘agrofuels project’ (McMichael 2008) is at the same time approximating a food-for-fuel regime. Through the lens of food regime analysis, the rush to agrofuels1 can be seen to be the ultimate demystification of capitalism’s subjection of food to the commodity form: deepening the abstraction of food through its conversion to fuel, at the continuing expense of the environment.

Recognition of the contribution of agrofuels to the 2008 food crisis,2 and the claim that a ton of palm oil produces 33 tons of CO2 – ten times more per ton than petroleum (Rainforest Action Network 2007), emphasises the socio-ecological impact of agrofuels. Not only ...

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