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Food For Thought

By       Message Stephen Pizzo       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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How many things do you figure can go wrong all at once, and still be managed?

I understand that your plate is pretty full already, with the war going poorly, the economy imploding, polar ice sheets collapsing due to global warming and all. Some days it all seems too much. So we avert our gaze and focus on our lives, families and communities, hoping "someone" will deal with the global issues.

When several things go wrong at once the media and politicians seem able to focus on only one at a time. Remember, it was only a few months ago that the war was "issue No. 1," with voters. Then global warming jumped into the lead for a short time. Now the economy is "issue No. 1," which means the war and environment, both of which remain growing problems, have been put back on the shelf -- again.

The "good news" is that these various macro-economic, climate and conflict issues are about to be greatly simplified. They are about to converge and merge into a single, mother of all problems. (For ease of writing I will call her Big Bertha, Inc.) Big Bertha. Inc. is about take over and "fix" things for us -- but we won't like how she goes about it.

I forget the fella's name, but I recall something an veteran Washington DC reporter told his colleagues the day he retired back in the late 60's at the ripe old age of 90. He had seen a lot; a couple of world wars, a depression and more. At the time he retired the world was hostage to the Cold War which threatened to end mankind.

Someone asked the retiring journalist, "Do you think we'll make it? Do you think mankind will survive?"

He thought for second and replied. "Yes...but just barely. The history of mankind is that we walk right up to the edge before we react. Then we do what needs getting done and survive, just barely."

On one hand I found that kind of reassuring. On the other hand he said that half a century ago. Is it still true? Can we still dally right up to the last minute, and get away with it? In his day there were just over a couple of billion humans on earth. Only a fraction of those people were what we'd consider today to be "consumers." Most of them were more like survivors, just scraping out an existence.

Now there's something just over 6 billion of us on Earth, and something more like 4 billion of them are either already consumers or heading fast in that direction. The growing populations in what we used to call "the Third World," are suddenly demanding their share of the earth's resources -- especially -- the fuels needed for heating, cooling, production and transportation.

This sudden surge in demand has begun to crimp the First World's lifestyle. So how do we respond? Do we change our wasteful ways? No. We decide that the best response is to maintain our lifestyle by turn ing food into fuel. Because it's better for the environment? No. It isn't.

"It would obviously be insane if we had a policy to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of bio-fuels that's actually leading to an increase in greenhouse gases,'' said Prof Robert Watson, former chief scientific adviser to the World Bank and now filling the same role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London. But that is the policy, both in Europe and in the US.

We glommed onto the idea of turning food into fuel because we don't want to change the ways we power our lives. Corn-based ethanol burns like gasoline, and that's good enough for us. Don't worry. Be happy.

(And you won't find any of the candidates for president ready to cross America's Mid-East oil sultans -- Midwestern corn farmers.)

Which brings me, (the long way around,) to my point.

Yesterday I was perusing the news and came across this story:

Egypt the pressure cooker
Mar 25th 2008 -- From The Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

Soaring food prices lead to widespread protests.Social unrest has been growing on the back of rising inflation, which is undermining consumers' purchasing power and fueling general dissatisfaction with the fallout of economic reform. This has led to a rising number of demonstrations. Groups such as doctors, nurses and university professors have also threatened to strike, a rare phenomenon in Egypt.

Hmmm. Now what could that be all about? I mean the Bush administration has spent a trillion dollars and the last seven years spreading the cure-all of democracy in the region, and they're still not happy! Why?

The story continues:

Consumer price inflation rose again in February, to 12.1% year on year, up from 10.5% in January. The month-on-month increase was 1.8% in February, compared with 4% in January. Food prices, which account for 40% of the basket of goods used to calculate consumer price inflation, rose by 16.8% year on year in February, similar to the 16.2% year-on-year increase recorded in January.

In addition to soaring food prices, building materials, especially steel and cement, have also seen sharp price increases, driven by buoyant domestic demand which is further boosting inflationary pressures. The price of rebars produced by Al-Ezz Steel, which commands a 65% share of the domestic steel market, rose by $67 a ton at the beginning of March. This was the fourth increase so far this year, which the company blames on global factors boosting input costs. Cement prices also rose in mid-March. Fertilizer prices, which are government controlled, have also risen sharply, by around 90% at the beginning of March...


If that's happening in relatively stable Egypt, you can be assured its happening throughout the region. Meaning that, democracy or no democracy, future unrest in the Middle East is being baked into the cake. And it won't be al-Qaida or Iran or any of Bush's other boogymen, but Big Bertha, Inc. behind it all.

News Flash: Americans are not immune.

Surging costs of groceries hit home
Bread, eggs, milk prices up sharply

Boston Globe -- March 9, 2008--American families, already pinched by soaring energy costs, are taking another big hit to household budgets as food prices increase at the fastest rate since 1990. After nearly two decades of low food inflation, prices for staples such as bread, milk, eggs, and flour are rising sharply, surging in the past year at double-digit rates, according to the Labor Department. Milk prices, for example, increased 26 percent over the year. Egg prices jumped 40 percent. (Full)

Kumbaya baby. Turns out we're all in it together after all. (Duh)

So, while candidates, governments and the governed focus their worries and attentions the "issue No. 1" dejur, be it winning/ending certain wars, and finding new ways to fuel our old ways, Big Bertha Inc. is fixing to fix everything all at once -- by culling our troublesome herd down to a manageable level.

The Coming Food Catastrophe
By Bwynne Dyer

March 27, 2008:
"This is the new face of hunger,'' said Josetta Sheeran, director of the World Food Programme (WFP), launching an appeal for an extra $500 million so it could continue supplying food aid to 73 million hungry people this year.

"People are simply being priced out of food markets....We have never before had a situation where aggressive rises in food prices keep pricing our operations out of our reach.''

The WFP decided on a public appeal three weeks ago because the price of the food it buys to feed some of the world's poorest people had risen by 55 per cent since last June. By the time it actually launched the appeal, prices had risen a further 20 per cent, so now it needs $700 million to bridge the gap between last year's budget and this year's prices.

Last year it became clear that the era of cheap food was over: food costs worldwide rose by 23 per cent between 2006 and 2007. This year, what is becoming clear is the impact of this change on people's lives.

A couple of years ago population scientists tried to figure out just how many humans the earth could sustain at an acceptable standard of living. The answer they came up with was somewhere between 1 and 1.5 billion.

Another group of scientists were asked to calculate how many resources would be needed if everyone currently on earth were able to attain the current American standard of living. (More)

Their answer was that six billion people living like Americans and Europeans would require the food and raw materials of roughly six (6) entire planet earths. (More)

We all know that's not about to happen. Yet, rather than finding new ways, we continue to insist on finding new ways to maintain our old ways. Electric autos? Forget about it. Why when we can burn food instead of gasoline.

(Dyer Continues)

"... the worst damage is being done by the rage for "bio-fuels'' that supposedly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fight climate change. Thirty per cent of this year's US grain harvest will go straight to an ethanol distillery, and the EU is aiming to provide ten per cent of the fuel used for transport from bio-fuels by 2010. A huge amount of the world's farmland is being diverted to feed cars, not people.

Worse yet, rainforest is being cleared, especially in Brazil and Indonesia, to grow more bio-fuels. A recent study in the US journal Science calculated that destroying natural ecosystems to grow corn (maize, mealies) or sugar cane for ethanol, or oil palms or soybeans for bio-diesel, releases between 17 and 420 times more carbon dioxide than is saved annually by burning the bio-fuel grown on that land instead of fossil fuel. It's all justified in the name of fighting climate change, but the numbers just don't add up.


Oh my.

So, will we survive -- just barely -- as we have in the past? Or does Big Bertha Inc. have other plans for us?

 

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a (more...)
 

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