We all know what it’s like to live under a regime of health care rationing (unless of course you’re one of the lucky 1 percenters). Imagine however, that you had to live under conditions of food rationing, because global climate change, drought, worsening water supplies, more expensive fertilizers and the investment in growing crops for biofuels rather than food consumption. Sounds like something out of a B-Grade Sci-Fi movie staring a certain gun nut we all love so well? Well, actually not. In some parts of the world the United Nations is already rationing food supplies, and the prediction is that things are going to get much, much worse by this time next year:


Increasing demand for food from the growing economies in India and China has left global stocks at a historic low. Biofuel production has reduced the amount of food being marketed for human consumption, and high oil prices have increased the cost of transporting food and purchasing fertiliser to improve crop yields.

Add to this weather-related disruptions that have upset delicate food ecosystems, and it is easy to understand how the price of food has risen to the point where people’s ability to feed their families, and our ability to help the hungry, is being severely threatened.

This “perfect storm” of factors means that for those already surviving on one bowl of grain a day, there is no place to retreat. Experts say that the rise in food prices is a structural reversal in the previous long decline in food prices and trends in high food commodity prices are now predicted to stay with us for the long term. […]

What is most alarming is that food price rises are affecting new communities who had previously been protected from the scourge of hunger. This “new face of hunger” is found in the cities, towns, and slums of developing countries. It includes people who might normally have found ways of buying the food they need for their families, but who now find they cannot afford to pay the inflated prices for food, even if it is available in their markets and shops.

This past week, we have seen food riots erupt in the West African state of Burkina Faso. Late last year, there were food riots in Mauritania and Senegal. Communities living in countries where food has to be imported to feed hungry populations are rising up to protest at the high cost of living.

This is only the beginning my friends. The next few decades will see world wide food scarcities the likes of which we haven’t experienced in our lifetimes, as global climate change, water shortages and rising oil prices make the cost of producing and delivering food to those who need it most ever more expensive and unreliable.

The dramatic escalation of grain prices now feeding through into a wide range of other foodstuffs seems to have taken world leaders completely by surprise. This may also explain, though it certainly does not excuse, their almost complete lack of public response to the new danger of a global hunger pandemic. […]

Drought and the switch of land to biofuel output (notably in north America) threaten years of production shortfall. Already, higher food prices have threatened social and political unrest: on a small scale in Italy and a potentially enormous scale in China.

There is no quick fix. But it would help if there was an international agreement to reverse the lunatic commitment to biofuel production.

The truth is, the global warming crisis, the rapidly developing international tensions over energy security and the all-too-possible disaster of worldwide famine are intrinsic parts of the same challenge. For now, we should demand that our political leaders (starting with George Bush) publicly admit the seriousness of the situation. That should be followed by a world summit, called by the UN and relevant global agencies, to launch an emergency plan to deal with the consequences of radical food price inflation and possible mass hunger. In the meantime, we should be grateful that the anti-CAP zealots in this country and others have failed to prevent a return to policies designed to encourage food production.

Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Bush gives a damn about starving people in other countries, because he sure as hell doesn’t give a damn about rising food prices here in the United States, where at least one would think political calculation alone would influence his decision making process. Nor has he taken much of a role in dealing with the drought conditions facing the American Southest. And despite his much ballyhooed “humanitarian” photo-op trip to Africa I don’t see George Bush making food production and famine relief to developing countries a priority in the waning days of his Presidency, where legal protection for telecommunications companies (and his own administration) seem to be the most prominent place he is willing to spend his political capital these days.

Nor do see any of the other candidates on the campaign trail likely to raise this issue either. Yet in the years to come, the growing food and water crises fueled in great measure by the disastrous economic, environmental and energy policies of the Bush administration will come back to haunt us all. Expect more food riots around the world, more “illegal” immigration, more economic hard times and more wars in the coming decades. I don’t envy the next several Presidents (or other world leaders for that matter) because they will be faced with an increasing array of difficult problems for which there are no simple solutions, or perhaps any solutions whatsoever. The storms of the 21st century are merely in their infancy. Soon enough we will be facing their full fury.

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