Thursday, August 9, 2012

The crop is lost...what now?

The truth is, I have absolutely no idea what happens when global food stocks run low.  I am 63 years old and during my entire life, the biggest problem facing USA agriculture has been, How do we get rid of all that food?  I have seen corn piled up in huge mountains next to grain elevators because there was no place to put it.  But shortages?—there is literally no precedent in American history.  This is a country that has really only had to deal with excess.  And most people cannot imagine any other possibility.

One of the reasons many folks in USA cannot believe Peak Oil, even though the concept is widely accepted by the professionals who actually find the stuff, is because they believe in the American Dream of permanent abundance.  If there is a shortage of oil, it is only because bad guys are doing something to disrupt the supply.  I have "liberal" friends who believe that oil companies have bought up the technology for magic engines that get 200 mpg so this technology will not destroy the markets for oil, or that oil companies have capped thousands of good producing wells within our borders to reduce supply.  And when it comes to climate change—a phenomenon that is so widespread most people have to move less than ten feet to encounter more evidence—they simply cannot believe something as big as the sky can be changed by their lifestyles.

America's drought of political will on climate change
With US politics paralysed by the partisan divide on climate change, public concern about extreme weather cannot bear fruit
Naomi Wolf, 8 August 2012

As the US faces record drought and an Old Testament-level pestilential heatwave in the midwest, American environmental denialism may be starting to change. The question is: is it too late?

America has led the world in climate change denial, a phenomenon noted with amazement by Europeans, not to mention thinking people around the world. Year after year, the US has failed to sign global treaties or curb emissions, even as our status as a source of a third of the world's carbon emissions goes unchanged.

It is fairly well-known what has been behind that climate change denial in America: vast sums pumped into an ignorance industry by the oil and gas lobbies. Entire thinktanks to obfuscate manmade climate change have been funded by these interests, as have individual congressmen and women. Entirely typical, for instance, is Louisiana Representative John Fleming, whose campaigns, according to blogger John Henry, accept about $200,000 a year from oil and gas lobbyists, and who uses his social media pages to deny global warming.

It is weird to live inside that US denial about climate change. Last year, for example, as tropical storm Irene approached New York, we duly boarded up windows, put in emergency supplies, and heard endless alarming bulletins from the mayor's office about which neighborhoods were likely to be submerged if the tides surged – without ever hearing from local officials or the media a word connecting rising sea levels with manmade global warming. All the more weird because New Yorkers weren't writing off portions of their downtown neighborhoods to overflowing seawater a century ago.

It is weird, too, to watch the leaves turn red earlier and earlier in the fall in the American northeast and have absolutely everyone say, "the weather is strange" – yet never see mainstream media reflect any interest in the connection between human industrial activity and that strangeness. And this weather map shows how widespread and extensive that extreme weather is in the US.

But could our denial be cracking, this summer, as, in the heartland – that most iconic of American landscapes – broiling temperatures injure humans and cook fish in the water? This summer a crisis has occurred (though one that, again, is seldom reported on in terms of our outsize contribution to the disaster), as midwestern farmers lost vast swaths of their corn crop to scalding heat and drought. In the American unconscious of wishful ignorance, this disaster and loss was to be borne, as usual, by other people far away. more
This reads like a pretty good guess about what may happen this fall.  We are about to find out.

The Hunger Wars in Our Future: Heat, Drought, Rising Food Costs and Global Unrest

07 August 2012
By Michael Klare, TomDispatch

The Great Drought of 2012 has yet to come to an end, but we already know that its consequences will be severe. With more than one-half of America's counties designated as drought disaster areas, the 2012 harvest of corn, soybeans, and other food staples is guaranteed to fall far short of predictions. This, in turn, will boost food prices domestically and abroad, causing increased misery for farmers and low-income Americans and far greater hardship for poor people in countries that rely on imported U.S. grains.

This, however, is just the beginning of the likely consequences: if history is any guide, rising food prices of this sort will also lead to widespread social unrest and violent conflict.

Food -- affordable food -- is essential to human survival and well-being. Take that away, and people become anxious, desperate, and angry. In the United States, food represents only about 13% of the average household budget, a relatively small share, so a boost in food prices in 2013 will probably not prove overly taxing for most middle- and upper-income families. It could, however, produce considerable hardship for poor and unemployed Americans with limited resources. "You are talking about a real bite out of family budgets," commented Ernie Gross, an agricultural economist at Omaha's Creighton University. This could add to the discontent already evident in depressed and high-unemployment areas, perhaps prompting an intensified backlash against incumbent politicians and other forms of dissent and unrest.

It is in the international arena, however, that the Great Drought is likely to have its most devastating effects. Because so many nations depend on grain imports from the U.S. to supplement their own harvests, and because intense drought and floods are damaging crops elsewhere as well, food supplies are expected to shrink and prices to rise across the planet. "What happens to the U.S. supply has immense impact around the world," says Robert Thompson, a food expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. As the crops most affected by the drought, corn and soybeans, disappear from world markets, he noted, the price of all grains, including wheat, is likely to soar, causing immense hardship to those who already have trouble affording enough food to feed their families. more
This is written by a brave women.  Generally speaking, it isn't a good career move in USA to suggest that there are limits.  "Finite" has never been a popular word here in 'Merika.  This article is a pretty good list of the big problem areas—except for the problems of overexploited oceans.

How To Survive As The World Reaches Its Natural Limits

Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World | Aug. 8, 2012

We live in a finite world. At this point, we seem to be reaching limits in several different areas:

Cheap oil. Our economy runs on cheap oil, but there is a limit to the amount of cheap oil that can be pulled out of the ground. There is still a lot of expensive-to-produce oil left, but this is not a substitute for cheap oil.

Fresh water. Fresh water is used for drinking, for growing food, for producing oil and gas, and for creating electricity, among other things. In many parts of the world, we are using fresh water faster than aquifers can replenish.

Climate Change. Our agricultural system depends on relatively constant climate. Changes to climate, whether caused by humans or not, are a problem. It is possible that this year’s hot summer is caused by climate change.

Soil fertility. Soil fertility depends on adequate depth of top soil, adequate humus content, suitable bacteria in the soil, and proper mineral balance. We have been able to hide soil fertility problems through greater use fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, but these are not permanent “fixes”.

Pollution. There are many types of pollution that are problems, from excessive carbon dioxide, to mercury in food sources, to endocrine disruptors, to algal blooms.

Human population. The number of humans on earth is out of balance with world ecosystems and keeps growing, year after year.

Financial system. Our financial system depends on growth, but growth in a finite world system cannot continue forever. High oil prices tend to lead to recession, and reduced economic growth–hence the need for cheap oil, rather than expensive oil.

The question then becomes, “What can we do?” Are there any solutions available, even if they are only partial solutions, as high oil prices and other limits squeeze the economy? more

1 comment:

  1. I equate this crop failure to last summer's gov't shutdown, how pretty much it was all just political games UNTIL someone realized the alcohol beverage license to sell booze at Twins games was expiring and all the gov't bureaucrats needed to renew it were laid off...and the shutdown was settled immediately so the beer could flow.

    This is how food shortages will one will care (oddly even the poor will quietly endure it, the starving will quietly die...maybe they all will welcome release from this worldly torment), but no one will care about it until it hits beer and liquor prices.

    Then when they jump in their 15mpg pickup truck to drive their $4/gallon gas away to the bar to pay $5 for a bottle of Bud Light to wash down their $10 bar burger...or even worse if they are faced with staying home every damn night eating WallMart mac n cheese staring at the lame-stream local TV programming because they can no longer afford going to the bar or the casino or cable TV or the internet...well, then it will get biblical in the heartland, won't it. There aren't enough winning sports teams to drown out the sounds of the grumbling, eh?