Thursday, September 27, 2007

Grain Stockpiles Shrink to 30 Year Low

For most of this decade, grain production has failed to keep up with demand. Climate change, the growing affluence of the developing world, and, more recently, the demand for biofuels have all combined to steadily shrink stockpiles.

This year wheat production has taken a blow from bad weather that has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in the expected crop in Australia, and a 6 percent drop in Canada, two of the world's major exporters. As a result, wheat prices have climbed past $9 a bushel for the first time ever.

India which was self sufficient in wheat until 2006, expects to import 5 million tons this year.

The situation is likely to get worse in coming years. According to the World Bank, 15 percent of the world's food supplies, feeding 160 million people, depend on water being drawn from rapidly depleting underground sources or overused rivers that are drying up.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that climate change could cut the output from rain dependent agriculture in half by 2020. A study by Dalhouse University projects that present fishing levels will deplete all commercial species by 2048.

All of this will be aggravated by shrinking oil production and ever increasing energy prices.

"Less and local" will likely be forced upon us as the only sustainable path we have.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Less and Local

A week ago, the International Forum on Globalization put on a three day teach in entitled "Confronting the Global Triple Crisis - Climate Change, Peak Oil, Global Resource Depletion & Extinction" in Washington, D.C. The teach-in also introduced the "Manifesto on Global Economic Transitions" by the IFG and the Institute for Policy Studies.

The Manifesto's theme was "less and local," stressing the need to turn aways from the consumer society; buy fewer things and buy locally made things.

"Less and local" is a direct challenge to the globalized economic system, rooted in continual, exponential growth, combined with unrestrained exploitation of natural resources. Globalization has given us a near universal culture of consumerism while destroying traditional societies that practiced more sustainable ways of living.

The corporate response to these growing concerns has been to market "green consumerism," selling items that pedal an environmental appeal by donating money to environmental groups which will offset the greenhouse gasses created in making the product.

The problem is that this solution does nothing to slow the exploitation of natural resources with its consequent devastation of the land.

In Europe, a new production analysis is gaining hold, called "life-cycle assessment" which examines the materials and processes that go into making a product to gain a true picture of its environmental footprint, and hopefully to reinvent the production cycle as a zero waste process.

The "less and local" philosphy is an important first step toward a powered-down, zero waste economy. It is a necessary replacement to the shopping mentality that reigns today.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Competition for Increasingly Scarce Resources

The global warming induced effort to increase production of biofuels is helping to push grain prices to record highs. The International Monetary Fund recorded a 23% rise in world food prices during 2006 and the first half of 2007.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is predicting a record cereal production this year, up by 5% over last year, however the largest portion of this increase is due to increased maize production "reflecting increased plantings in response to strong demand for ethanol production."

In Nebraska alone, an extra million acres of maize have been planted this year. The state expects to produce 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Across the US, 20% of the whole maize crop went to ethanol last year, even though that contributed only 2% of the fuel for US automobile use.

This picture is mirrored around the world. Indian government expects to plant 35 million acres of biofuel crops, Brazil as much as 300 million acres. Southern Africa already has as much as 1 billion acres of land ready to be converted to crops such as Jatropha curcas (physic nut), a tough shrub that can be grown on poor land. Indonesia has said it intends to overtake Malaysia and increase its palm oil production from 16 million acres to 65 million acres by 2025.

The demand for agrofuels is hitting the poor and the environment the hardest. The UN World Food Programme, which feeds about 90m people mostly with US maize, estimates that 850 million people around the world are already undernourished, and that this will only increase with the present soaring food price. Indian food prices have risen 11% in a year, the price of the staple tortilla quadrupled in Mexico in February and crowds of 75,000 people came on to the streets in protest. South Africa has seen food-price rises of nearly 17%, and China was forced to halt all new planting of corn for ethanol after staple foods such as pork soared by 42% last year.

The world's big farmers are pulling out of producing food for people and animals, while global population continues to rise by some 80 million people a year. At the same time developing countries such as China and India are switching to meat-based diets that need more land and more grain, and climate change is starting to hit food producers hard. Deserts are advancing while food sources are being depleted.

Recent reports in the journals Science and Nature suggest that one-third of ocean fisheries are in collapse, two-thirds will be in collapse by 2025, and all major ocean fisheries may be virtually gone by 2048. "Global grain supplies will drop to their lowest levels on record this year. Outside of wartime, they have not been this low in a century, perhaps longer," according to the US Department of Agriculture.

As alway the poorest are the canaries in the coal mine-- they will feel the affects of the food shortage first; but the developed world will not be long behind them.