Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Food wars now underway

with one comment

I have blogged before (here and here) about how global warming and climate change will drastically reduce crop yields, which will inevitably lead to food wars—and since war is terrible destructive, that will likely reduce yields ever more.

Paul Krugman sees the unrest in the Middle East as probably the opening salvo in the food wars:

We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn’t so much why they’re happening as why they’re happening now. And there’s little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what’s behind the price spike? American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is “blood on Bernanke’s hands.” Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of “extortion and pillaging.”

But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom: the prices of many raw materials, running the gamut from aluminum to zinc, have been rising rapidly since early 2009, mainly thanks to rapid industrial growth in emerging markets.

But the link between industrial growth and demand is a lot clearer for, say, copper than it is for food. Except in very poor countries, rising incomes don’t have much effect on how much people eat.

It’s true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It’s also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops — as does the subsidized production of ethanol, which consumes a lot of corn. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge.

Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck.

Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that’s about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever.

The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production.

The question then becomes, what’s behind all this extreme weather? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2011 at 10:43 am

One Response

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  1. I agree that the food wars are inevitably driving up the costs of all products we buy at the stores. But here’s a strange thing. I went shopping yesterday at a local discount food place and the prices were amazingly cheaper than I had ever, ever seen. I’m not talking about crappy stuff either. Grapes were $.88/lb compared to $3.89/lb flour was $7.00 for ten kilos compared to $15.00 or more, cereal was $1.97 compared to $3.97, yogurt was $2.87 compared to $7.00, pasta was $.40 compared to $3.00, campbells soups were $.44 compared to $1.09 to $1.69 and so on and so on.

    I live in Canada btw….

    I just don’t get it. Food wars are on the rise yet I shopped so cheaply.


    27 February 2011 at 7:31 am

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