Posted by Exile on April 19, 2008
We won’t have to worry about global warming much longer. The political focus is shifting to another more worrying and more pressing problem. Food. Or the lack of it. Not to mention the cost. I’ve been reading a lot lately about rising food prices coupled to rising oil prices and the growing demand for ethanol. In short , it is more lucrative for some suppliers to sell their grain to ethanol distillers than millers and bakers. The demand is growing so quickly that some exporters of grain products have set a limitation on exports. For example, China, India, Pakistan, Cambodia and Vietnam have curbed rice exports to ensure that there is enough food for their own people. America has also cut its exports and is diverting corn to fuel distillation. The sad truth is, according one source I read, we could send the entire corn production of the USA to fuel distillation and only cover 18% of our oil needs. Even now, with the present production of bio fuels, we are only covering 3% of our oil needs. As we all know, supply is related to demand, and the common denominator is the price. Oil prices go up, so food prices go up. But now, for the first time in history, the relationship between food and oil is direct simply because we are looking for solutions to both demands from the same supply. And our food reserves are at an historic low.
This will hit the third world hard. Not simply because they can’t pay for imports, but because there will not be anything to import. Both France and the USA have agreed to raise their foreign aid to compensate for the price rise, but if things continue as they are doing, then there will soon be no excess corn in the world to buy. Some countries have felt the effects of this dilemma already. There have been food riots in Egypt. Rising food costs have been blamed for violent unrest in Haiti, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal. Protests have also occurred in Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia, Mexico, Italy and Indonesia. This will spread. People will perhaps be able to avoid filling the tanks of their cars, but cannot avoid filling their bellies.
Predictably, this has been blamed on the present rise in oil prices and is being compared to the oil price rises in the last two years. Actually the trend goes back longer than that. The UN and Agricultural World Food Price Index closed on december the 31st 2007 at 186,3. In the middle of the year 2002, the index was 90, having fallen steadily since 1996. Prices have risen steadily since then but have accelerated drastically in the past two years. Doubled, in fact, since 2002. That trend is going to continue. Undiminished.
Add the growing population of the earth to this and one has a cocktail for catastrophe of biblical proportions. At the moment there have only been sporadic outbreaks of food related unrest in isolated countries. Wait until an entire continent is starving.
Maybe Einstein was wrong. He said that he did not know how a third world war would be fought, but he knew that the fourth would be fought with bows, arrows, sticks and stones. I suppose he assumed we would have enough oil to keep modern armies rolling, aircraft flying and ships at sea as we removed the greater part of mankind from the earth with nuclear weapons.
It may just be that the third world war will be fought with spades and pitchforks. It will not be countries fighting each other. They will not have the fuel resources to do that. It will be neighbours fighting over corn fields in their attempts to feed their families. The eradication of half of mankind will be by starvation, not radioactive poisoning.