Food for thought
As you may have gleaned over the past couple of years of reading my blogs, the venerable Scientific American is a magazine that I urge anyone with a bent towards science to read, subscribe to and recommend unreservedly. The latest reason for this recommendation is the article by Lester brown on Food, in the May (how can it be May already….but that is another blog!). Brown is a global thinker and founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute. He is also the recipient of 24 honourary degees, many prizes and awards and a MacArthur Fellowship. Its worth the time to read the article and hopefully this blog will help move you in that direction.
Here is what Brown has to say. Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos. They become failed states and these failed states can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees. Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production. And without massive and rapid intervention to address these three environmental factors, a series of governmental collapses could threaten the world order. Pretty stunning isn’t it?
To go with these assertions here are some of the facts Brown presents. Let’s look at biofuels, growing corn to fuel our over burgeoning supply of SUVs. One tank full of gas made from grain can feed one person in India for a year. One quarter of all the grain grown in the US is now used for fuels, enough to feed 125-million people. The world’s largest grain crop, China’s, has declined 8 per cent since it peaked at 123-million tons in 1997 and its rice production has fallen 4 per cent. Half of India’s traditional hand dug wells and millions of of shallower tube wells have already dried up. Electricity blackouts are reaching epidemic proportions in Indian states where half the electricity is used to pump water from depths of up to one kilometre.
To go with the water shortages, we also have topsoil depletion. It can take one thousand years to replace a few inches of topsoil, but with the drying climate, poor agricultural methods and increasing land use, topsoil can blow away in a few years, being replaced with barren land.
The crisis in Brown’s mind is no less than civilization is under threat. As the number of failed states proliferate and chaos is exported, the more traditional larger and once robust civilizations face a host of problems.
Here is what Brown is suggesting. We institute a plan, a civilization saving plan, similar to the mobilization of the Western Powers during World War II. Cut CO2 emissions by 80 per cent from their 2006 levels by 2020. Stabilize the world population at eight-billion by 2040. Eradicate poverty and restore the forest, soils and aquifers.
The cost? $200-billion per year, a pittance compared to what we have spent on the current financial meltdown and less than one sixth of the current global military expenditure. Food for thought. I should say so.
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