Thursday, April 17, 2008

Global Food Shortage: What Can We Do About It?

From the NYT:

The collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world’s largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

From the International News Network:

KABUL: World Food Programme (WFP) and the Afghanistan government are concerned over increasing food prices and dearth of basic food. . . . Only 30,000 tons of 88000 tons food WFP had demanded of the donor countries for Afghanistan had been provided, he said. . . . Wheat prices in Afghanistan have risen by an average of 60% over the last year with certain areas seeing a rise of up to 80%, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said.

First, I don't understand why this isn't a bigger story.

Secondly, and more importantly, what are we going to do about this? Scientists have linked the shortage (at least in part) to climate change. I know that several people don't believe in climate change—or don't believe that human activity has any effect on climate change—and get fussy at the thought of changing their behavior to slow global warming. But, as I've said before, improving energy efficiency and producing less waste—aside from their effects on climate change—have obvious immediate benefits such as improving air and water quality, lessening our dependence on foreign oil, slowing the growth of landfills, and so forth. So, regardless of your views on global warming, turn off the lights, use fewer shopping bags, avoid unnecessary car trips, and all that; maybe you'll have a positive effect on climate change and, by extension, the food crisis.

We also need to forget about corn as a source of energy. Again, from the NYT:

The global agricultural crisis is threatening to become political, pitting the United States and other developed countries against the developing world over the need for affordable food versus the need for renewable energy. Many poorer nations worry that subsidies from rich countries to support biofuels, which turn food, like corn, into fuel, are pushing up the price of staples.

I'm not sure that anyone who doesn't grow corn for a living (or represent in Congress thousands of people who do) thinks that corn is a good source of fuel. And our obsession with ethanol is keeping millions of people in developing nations from eating. So let's forget about corn fuel and look at types of renewable energy that don't cause starvation.


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