… our civilizational crisis, part 3: The end of the world as we know it? – a Special Report
Published on Online Journal, by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Jan 7, 2008.
An excerpt: … 3. Food scarcity:
The convergence of these two global crises, climate change and peak oil, threaten to undermine global food security over the next few years. The effects of this are already being felt.
At the British Association?s Festival of Science in Dublin in September 2005, US and UK scientists working at the Hadley Centre described how shifts in rain patterns and temperatures due to global warming could lead to a further 50 million people going hungry by conservative estimates. ?If we accept that broadly 500 million people are at risk today, we expect that to increase by about 10 percent by the middle part of this century.?
Then toward the end of 2006, a study by Met Office?s Hadley Centre funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, predicted that if global warming continues, drought that already threatens the lives of millions will spread across half the land surface of the Earth before 2100, and extreme drought making agriculture impossible will affect a third of the planet. The world-scale drought would undermine the ability to grow food, the ability to have a safe sanitation system, and the availability of water, pushing millions of people already struggling in conditions of dire deprivation over the precipice.
The grim truth is that we are already pushing the limits on world food production within the existing structure of modern corporate agriculture. According to new maps released in December 2005 by scientists at the Centre for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Navin Ramankutty, ?Except for Latin America and Africa, all the places in the world where we could grow crops are already being cultivated. The remaining places are either too cold or too dry to grow crops.? The maps thus show that the Earth is ?rapidly running out of fertile land? and that ?food production will soon be unable to keep up with global population growth.?
World food prediction probably peaked shortly before the new millennium. Lester Brown, a former international agricultural policy advisor for the US government who went on to found the World Watch Institute and Earth Policy Institute, reports that since world grain consumption has exceeded production since 2000, such that 2003 saw a deficit of 105 million tones. On that basis, Brown predicts a global grain deficit within the next few years. In 2003 he noted that ?World grain harvests have fallen for four consecutive years and world grain stocks are at the lowest level in 30 years.? This is partly why world grain prices are steadily rising.
This is not centrally about population, but about modern intensive agricultural methods as practiced by the globalized corporate food industry, which are simply unsustainable. US structural geologist Dave Allen Pfeiffer points out that while it takes 500 years to replace 1 inch of topsoil, in soil made susceptible by modern agriculture, erosion is reducing productivity up to 65 percent each year. Former prairie lands, which constitute the bread basket of the United States, have lost one half of their topsoil after farming for about 100 years. This soil is eroding 30 times faster than the natural formation rate. Soil erosion and mineral depletion removes about $20 billion worth of plant nutrients from US agricultural soils every year. Every year in the US, more than 2 million acres of cropland are lost to erosion, salinization and water logging.
Already, populations in the South are suffering from the grim reality of these crises. Near the end of last year, The Guardian reported:
?Empty shelves in Caracas. Food riots in West Bengal and Mexico. Warnings of hunger in Jamaica, Nepal, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa. Soaring prices for basic foods are beginning to lead to political instability, with governments being forced to step in to artificially control the cost of bread, maize, rice and dairy products. Record world prices for most staple foods have led to 18 percent food price inflation in China, 13 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan, and 10 percent or more in Latin America, Russia and India, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Wheat has doubled in price, maize is nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago and rice is 20 percent more expensive, says the UN. Next week the FAO is expected to say that global food reserves are at their lowest in 25 years and that prices will remain high for years.?
Peak food will be exacerbated beyond all proportion in the context of peak oil. Modern intensive agriculture that produces most of our food, is industrialized, mechanized. It needs oil. Without oil, modern agriculture dies, and so then will our ability to mass-produce food.
… (full long text).