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World on the Edge - How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
Category: Food | By RotaryGlobal, 31-May-2011 | Viewed 4333  Comments 0 | Original Source

Review of another treatise from the sapient Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental research organization, by Buck Lindsay

Our early 21st century civilization is in trouble.  Over the last few decades, we have created a food production bubble - based on unsustainable environmental trends, including overpumping aquifers, over-plowing land, and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.   If we reverse these trends, economic decline is avoidable. Our challenge is to think globally and to develop policies that counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. The question is: Can we change direction before we go over the edge?  The answer is:

"We can get rid of hunger, illiteracy,  disease, and poverty, and we can restore the earth's soils, forests, and  fisheries.  We can build a global community where the basic needs of all people are satisfied—a world that will allow us to think of ourselves as civilized." Brown says.

The food bubble is based on the overuse of land and water resources, and it is threatened by the climate stresses from the  burning of fossil fuels.  As temperatures rise, the likelihood of more numerous, more intense heat waves increases.  When the food bubble bursts, food prices will soar worldwide, threatening economic and political stability everywhere. For those living on the lower rungs of the global economic ladder, survival will be at stake. 

Record temperatures scorched Moscow mid-summer 2010.  The average temperature was an unbelievable 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm, and 56,000 people died.  Ecologists estimate that for each degree Celsius rise in temperature above the norm during the growing season, grain yields decline by 10 percent.  The heat shrank Russia's grain harvest from 100 to 60 million tons. This drop and the subsequent grain export ban drove world wheat prices up 60 percent in two months, and raised bread prices worldwide.   

If the 2010 Moscow heat wave had been in Chicago, U.S. grain harvest would have fallen from 400 million tons to 160 million tons. World stocks of grain would have dropped to an all-time low of 52 days of consumption, well below the 62-day reserve that tripled world grain prices in 2007—08.  Grain prices would climb off the chart and food prices would soar worldwide.  Grain-exporting countries, trying to hold down domestic food prices, would ban exports, as they did in 2007—08.  Oil-exporting countries would barter oil for grain, and low-income grain importers would lose out.  The TV evening news would run live footage of food riots in low income grain-importing countries and carry reports of spreading hunger, falling governments, and failing states. With governments collapsing and with confidence in the world grain market shattered, the global economy would start to unravel. 

Depletion of aquifers from over-pumping for irrigation is another threat to global security.  The Middle East is the first geographic region where the grain harvest has shrunk as aquifers are depleted and irrigation wells go dry.  In Saudi Arabia, grain production is collapsing as aquifer depletion has reduced wheat harvest by two thirds in three years.  A World Bank study indicates that 175 million people in India and 130 million in China are being fed with grain produced by over-pumping.  Countries can over-pump in the short run, but not in the long run.  There are signs that trends, including aquifer depletion and the paving of millions of acres of cropland for new cars, will force China to import massive quantities of grain, as it already does soybeans. China will turn to the U.S., the world's largest grain exporter.  Food security has never been a major issue for Americans, but the prospect of competing for the U.S. grain with 1.4 billion Chinese with fast-rising incomes is a nightmare scenario.   

The world is one poor harvest away from global chaos. So it is time to redefine security. Our principal threats are no longer armed aggression, but instead climate change, population growth, water shortages, spreading hunger, and failing states. We must mobilize quickly to reverse these trends by:  reducing carbon emissions,  stabilizing population, and  restoring the economy's soils,  aquifers,  forests, and other  natural support systems.  This demands a reallocation of fiscal resources from military budgets to budgets for climate stabilization, population stabilization, water conservation, and other new threats to security.  Environmentalists talk about saving the planet. Now, civilization is at stake.

This was originally published in the Fragile Earth newsletter by the Rotarian Action Group for Population Growth & Sustainable Development, March 2011 edition. The article was written by Buck Lindsay PDG (D 6910).

The original PDF publication can be downloaded here http://www.rifpd.org/Resources/FragileEarth/2011/FragileEarth_201103.pdf.

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