Saturday, December 20, 2003

Lester Brown Tells It How It Is
"In the next one to two years I think the `wake-up call` is going to come, in the shape of sharply increasing food prices. Because of one factor, China is draining its water supply, namely its giant fossilised aquifer that sits underneath its farming regions. As it drains its aquifer for irrigation the water cannot be replaced. As it has less water, and as global temperatures rise, it is getting less and less harvest. It takes around 1000 tonnes of water to make one tonne of grain, so in effect the futures market in grain has become a futures market in water.

So in one or two years it is going to start importing grain, for the very first time. This will be from the United States. Now in the past the idea that the United States would sell huge amounts of grain to China in its hour of need would have been laughed at, even ten years ago. But now America has a trade deficit with China, of $100bn a year. China can buy all America's grain...twice over."

What happens if food prices rise sharply? How will the poor people eat? In the old days, before industrialization and globalization, you relied on your immediate environment for food, and, for the most part, that was probably good enough.

With globalization, less and less emphasis has been placed on local sufficiency, on subsistence farming, in favor of exporting staple crops for raw income. If there is a sharp rise in the price of food, there is little opportunity to assure that everyone gets enough by temporary and local political manipulation of food production and distribution. Instead, political leaders will have to raise taxes in order to subsidize food, as only money will assure that a suitable selection of food is available.

Poorer countries will be hit the hardest, as the tax base is less, and the proportion of income needed for the consumption of essentials, like food, so much greater. In America, we may not even really acknowledge the problem, seeking instead to avoid raising taxes or seriously considering reducing consumption.

In a world of increasing scarcity, a nation of the obese is a revolting image. We need to wake up and recognize that our lifestyles are not sustainable, and that change should begin at home, with the individual and family, by eating less. It's that simple.