The new geopolitics of food

by Judith Curry

Pursuant to the issues raised on the previous food (in)security thread, I spotted this article published by Lester Brown in Foreign Affairs.  The subtitle of the article is “From the middle east to Madagascar, high prices are spawning land grabs and ousting dictators.  Welcome to the 21st century food wars.”

The entire article is well worth reading, some excerpts are provided below:

In arid Saudi Arabia, irrigation had surprisingly enabled the country to be self-sufficient in wheat for more than 20 years; now, wheat production is collapsing because the non-replenishable aquifer the country uses for irrigation is largely depleted. The Saudis soon will be importing all their grain.

Saudi Arabia is only one of some 18 countries with water-based food bubbles. All together, more than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling. The politically troubled Arab Middle East is the first geographic region where grain production has peaked and begun to decline because of water shortages, even as populations continue to grow. Grain production is already going down in Syria and Iraq and may soon decline in Yemen. But the largest food bubbles are in India and China. In India, where farmers have drilled some 20 million irrigation wells, water tables are falling and the wells are starting to go dry. The World Bank reports that 175 million Indians are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is concentrated in the North China Plain, which produces half of China’s wheat and a third of its corn. An estimated 130 million Chinese are currently fed by overpumping. How will these countries make up for the inevitable shortfalls when the aquifers are depleted?

Even as we are running our wells dry, we are also mismanaging our soils, creating new deserts. Soil erosion as a result of overplowing and land mismanagement is undermining the productivity of one-third of the world’s cropland. How severe is it? Look at satellite images showing two huge new dust bowls: one stretching across northern and western China and western Mongolia; the other across central Africa. Wang Tao, a leading Chinese desert scholar, reports that each year some 1,400 square miles of land in northern China turn to desert. In Mongolia and Lesotho, grain harvests have shrunk by half or more over the last few decades. North Korea and Haiti are also suffering from heavy soil losses; both countries face famine if they lose international food aid. Civilization can survive the loss of its oil reserves, but it cannot survive the loss of its soil reserves.

Fearing they might not be able to buy needed grain from the market, some of the more affluent countries, led by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and China, took the unusual step in 2008 of buying or leasing land in other countries on which to grow grain for themselves. Most of these land acquisitions are in Africa, where some governments lease cropland for less than $1 per acre per year. Among the principal destinations were Ethiopia and Sudan, countries where millions of people are being sustained with food from the U.N. World Food Program. That the governments of these two countries are willing to sell land to foreign interests when their own people are hungry is a sad commentary on their leadership.

By the end of 2009, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated, some of them exceeding a million acres. A 2010 World Bank analysis of these “land grabs” reported that a total of nearly 140 million acres were involved — an area that exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. Such acquisitions also typically involve water rights, meaning that land grabs potentially affect all downstream countries as well. Any water extracted from the upper Nile River basin to irrigate crops in Ethiopia or Sudan, for instance, will now not reach Egypt, upending the delicate water politics of the Nile by adding new countries with which Egypt must negotiate.

The potential for conflict — and not just over water — is high. Many of the land deals have been made in secret, and in most cases, the land involved was already in use by villagers when it was sold or leased. Often those already farming the land were neither consulted about nor even informed of the new arrangements. And because there typically are no formal land titles in many developing-country villages, the farmers who lost their land have had little backing to bring their cases to court. Reporter John Vidal, writing in Britain’sObserver, quotes Nyikaw Ochalla from Ethiopia’s Gambella region: “The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.”

At the same time, the United States, which once was able to act as a global buffer of sorts against poor harvests elsewhere, is now converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars, even as world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 billion metric tons per year, is growing at an accelerating rate. A decade ago, the growth in consumption was 20 million tons per year. More recently it has risen by 40 million tons every year. But the rate at which the United States is converting grain into ethanol has grown even faster. In 2010, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain, of which 126 million tons went to ethanol fuel distilleries (up from 16 million tons in 2000). This massive capacity to convert grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil. So if oil goes to $150 per barrel or more, the price of grain will follow it upward as it becomes ever more profitable to convert grain into oil substitutes. And it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon: Brazil, which distills ethanol from sugar cane, ranks second in production after the United States, while the European Union’s goal of getting 10 percent of its transport energy from renewables, mostly biofuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops.

The world now needs to focus not only on agricultural policy, but on a structure that integrates it with energy, population, and water policies, each of which directly affects food security.

But that is not happening. Instead, as land and water become scarcer, as the Earth’s temperature rises, and as world food security deteriorates, a dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging. Land grabbing, water grabbing, and buying grain directly from farmers in exporting countries are now integral parts of a global power struggle for food security.

JC comments:  This article highlights the interconnectedness of food, water, energy, population, land use, and politics.  Climate variability and change directly affects water resources, and volatility in weather and climate trends can clearly exacerbate this situation.   Increasing populations, politics, and poor soil and water management policies are the dominant factors contributing to this problem.  The land grab in Africa is particularly troubling.  If the U.N. wants to do something more feasible and probably ultimately more useful than negotiating emissions stabilization targets, dealing with the issues raised here would be a good place to start:

At the same time, the U.S. food aid program that once worked to fend off famine wherever it threatened has largely been replaced by the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), where the United States is the leading donor. The WFP now has food-assistance operations in some 70 countries and an annual budget of $4 billion. There is little international coordination otherwise. 

92 responses to “The new geopolitics of food

  1. What is required to convert seawater into irrigation water? Energy
    What is required to prevent “land grabs?” Property rights.
    What is required to end non-sustainable agricultural practices? Education and information transfer.

    What prevents the above from happening? Free food from well-meaning governments and NGOs and, indirectly, expending resources on de-carbonization that could be used to solve the more immediate and non-theoretical problems.

    Ridding the atmosphere of CO2 is an expensive short term attempt to solve a theoretical long term problem. Low cost desalination, creating property rights (and removing corrupt governments) and education are practical short term solutions to practical short and long term problems.

  2. Good old Lester has been predicting food shortages for 30 years, and has determinedly ignored facts on the ground (so to speak) throughout that period. I couldn’t make it through the entire article–perhaps someone can enlighten me as to what he said about record harvests reported by WHO last week?

    As for land deals, I note that one such in Madagascar was rescinded after popular riots. I think that the real issue is technology transfer–if indigenous farmers get the tools and the training while the Saudis or the Koreans get a lease on the land, why not?

    • There may have been some record crops, but in the last couple of years there have also been some record crop FAILURES! Please catch up on international news then tell us how you can have record crops in drought and flood areas? Also tell us how record sugar cane and corn crops matter when large percentages are being used for biofuels!!

      You apparently have not noticed but food prices have been rising even here in the US.

      We can also blame part of this higher cost on the higher price of energy courtesy of the alarmists!!

  3. Dr. Curry…you have some repeating paragraphs in the post.

  4. Norm Kalmanovitch

    Biodiesel produces the exact same amount of CO2 as petroleum derived diesel. Ethanol only produces 64% of the energy of gasoline, takes 100 units of energy input into the manufacture to achieve 139 units of energy output because of the intense distillation energy requirement, the energy that goes into planting and harvesting the wheat and corn feedstock for ethanol is primarily fossil fuel energy and the fermentation process releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. When the entire process for the manufacture of ethanol as it is currently being produced is taken into account it takes more energy to produce ethanol than the energy produced from ethanol and ethanol produces over 30% more CO2 than the gasoline that it replaces on an energy per litre basis.
    The US has just past the point where more than half the corn produced is being used as feedstock for ethanol production instead of for food production and this is being subsidized by the government resulting in higher food prices that have seen the price of corn rise by over 70% in the last year.
    Globally 6.5% of the world’s grain and over 8% of the world’s food oil is being turned into government subsidized biofuels causing starvation for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people who can no longer afford to eat.
    http://co2insanity.com/2011/05/12/global-warming-fraud-creates-third-world-food-crisis/
    This is truly a crime against humanity because even if government leaders are still ignorant of the fact that there is no current global warming to stop, biofuels produce more CO2 emissions than the fossil fuels that they replace so subsidizing their production serves no purpose other than to make those involved in the carbon credit scam very wealthy at the expense of the the world’s poor.
    In 1970 when the world faced the same crisis of global cooling that we are facing today
    governments funded research into crops that could withstand the cooler shorter growing seasons, and even though the global cooling crisis ended in 1975 with the return of the warming recovery from the Little Ice Age, these improved crops have benefitted the world with the resultant increase in food supply that was helpint to feed the world’s growin population until this global warming idiocy and the Kyoto Accord reversed the process causing this global starvation.
    Yesterday Friends of Science added the May 2011 temperature values to the graph on the front page of their wabsite ( http://www.friendsofscience.org) showing that the world is now cooling at an average rate of 0.03°C/decade, yet the posting above is basing the food problem on the effects of continued global warming! As scientists we have the moral obligation to make the facts public and expose this fraud regardless of our own ideological beliefs about whether or not humans can cause global warming.
    According to all five global temperature datasets ( http://www.climate4you.com ) there has been no warming since 2002, and according to honest scientific studies by solar physicists the current pattern of solar cycles starting with the current solar cycle 24 leads to the conclusion that the global cooling that started in 2002 will likely get more severe over the next 21 years until the end of solar cycle 25 and may last as long as the extension of the Little Ice Age brought on by a similar pattern of solar cycles called the Dalton Minimum.
    Any scientist still promoting the Kyoto Accord as the world continues to cool is complicit in this crime against humanity that has caused this global food crisis.

  5. Thanks for the report.

    “This article highlights the interconnectedness of food, water, energy, population, land use, and politics is better described – in my opinion – as:

    “This article highlights the interconnectedness of food, water, energy, population, land use, propaganda and politics.

    Perhaps the climate scandal left me overly sensitive to scare-mongering.

  6. Jack Maloney

    Freshwater depletion is one of the unfortunate legacies of Norman Borlaug’s Nobel Prize-winning “Green Revolution” – one of the most disastrous enabling agents for continuing uncontrolled population growth. ‘Green’ brainchildren such as corn ethanol and other biofuels exacerbate the problem, as will reduction of atmospheric CO2. Now the CAGW crowd are raising alarms about a warming climate causing increased rainfall! The time is soon coming when they’ll have to change their tune (again), but they’ll find no alternatives to water.

    • Jack,
      You might want to rethink and rephrpase what you are writing. As it stands, you caome across as a Malthusian misanthropic kook. I am certain you do not wish to be thought of as a misanthropic kook.

  7. Thank you Dr. Judith: “If the UN wants to do something more feasible and probably ultimately more useful than negotiating emissions stabilization targets, dealing with the issues raised here would be a good place to start (.)” Perfect. Just leave it at that.

  8. Some interesting information about potential problems, but should have more balance in regards to the actual global output being very high.

    Also, it has some problems. From the article:

    “…Useful though this may be, it treats the symptoms of growing food insecurity, not the causes, such as population growth and climate change. ”

    groan.

    The previous food security thread discussed how misleading this type of statement is. Population growth is not something that we can “treat” nor is climate change. If underground water resources are being mismanaged, or land is mismanagement, or there is poor distribution, then those are the causes.

    • Teddy, believing that humans can’t effect climate change does not make it less of a cause of food insecurity.

      It’s rather an academic point, since of course we can effect climate change very directly by changing the amount of greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere.

  9. Could anybody (Judith?) please remind me of any topic where Lester Brown has been shown correct beside reading his digital watch?

    Anybody forecasting resource conflicts around scarcity doesn’t know a thing about history or geopolitics. The last scarcity war was declared by the Huns.

    All subsequent resource wars have been caused by expansionism not scarcity. It makes sense as people missing out on something, exactly because of that scarcity seldom have the strength to go to war. Witness how many wars against Israel because of the river Jordan (zero).

    • I’m not familiar with Lester Brown

      • You might find it useful (if you have time) to become familiar with him. Here’s an article he recently wrote on the Great Food Crisis of 2011:

        http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/10/the_great_food_crisis_of_2011

      • Norm Kalmanovitch

        The Article by Lester Brown which you post includes “Lester R Brown is president of the Earth Policy Institute and the author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.”
        If you check out this book
        http://www.amazon.com/dp/0393071030?tag=commondreams-20/ref=nosim#_
        There is a picture of wind turbines on the front cover and the table of contents shows that Brown is a firm believer in global warming orthodoxy which is why he makes no comment in his article that this food crisis is caused by the removal of 6.5% of the world’s grain for ethanol production in accordance with the dictates of the Kyoto Protocol. This blog is supposed to be about the climate change issue and this article is in support of the global warming fraud that created this food crisis. Perhaps the discussion should be about criticizing the shortcomings of this article in not recognizing that the food crisis is being caused by the his own global warming orthodoxy and the Kyoto Accord in support of this fraudulent premise.

      • Looks to me like he includes biofuels as one cause of the problem:

        “At the same time, the United States, which once was able to act as a global buffer of sorts against poor harvests elsewhere, is now converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars, even as world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 billion metric tons per year, is growing at an accelerating rate. A decade ago, the growth in consumption was 20 million tons per year. More recently it has risen by 40 million tons every year. But the rate at which the United States is converting grain into ethanol has grown even faster. In 2010, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain, of which 126 million tons went to ethanol fuel distilleries (up from 16 million tons in 2000). This massive capacity to convert grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil. So if oil goes to $150 per barrel or more, the price of grain will follow it upward as it becomes ever more profitable to convert grain into oil substitutes. And it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon: Brazil, which distills ethanol from sugar cane, ranks second in production after the United States, while the European Union’s goal of getting 10 percent of its transport energy from renewables, mostly biofuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops.”

      • Norm Kalmanovitch

        He blames global warming first and formost and since global warming is not happening and hasn’t been happening for at least nine years any commentary regarding biofuels is meaningless.
        It is truly remarkable that a paper by Lindzen and Choi and comments regarding peer review brought out all sorts of comments including mindless comments about Will Happer who has spent his life’s work on thermal spectra criticized for not being properly knowledgeable and even a comment that I was incorrect in my assertion that CO2 only affects a narrow band centred on 14.77microns; yet this paper written by someone who has no clue about climate and still thinks that CO2 emissions are causing potentially catastrophic global warming is never even questioned and in fact his comments are justified by this answer that you just gave.
        We are in this mess because the academic community has ignored the basic principles of science and have supported this global warming idiocy without ever seeing a single piece of physical evidence that justifies this ludicrous hypothesis.
        The challenge is out to provide a single piece of physical evidence that supports the conjecture that increased CO2 concentration is causing any of the claimed effect on global temperature. There is no increase in the rise of sea level so there is no net melting ice causing causing this increase and all five global temperature datasets show that the world is currently cooling in spite of the increase in CO2 concentration. By contrast when over half the corn produced in the US is turned into biofuel to serve carbon trading initiatives there is a direct effect on the price of food because the price of corn which has risen because of ethanol production affects cattle feed prices which affects the price of meat as well as the price of corn as a food staple. This is what happens in the real world and is easily demonstrated by the physical evidence of prices in the supermarket,

      • What they are trying to say, Dr. Curry, is by using a windmill as a cover illustration, Lester Brown has shown himself to be one of the evil warmists, and you, as a good skeptic, should not consider anything he might say as a matter for serious reflection.

      • Lester Brown has a long record of making false predictions. Here is a piece by the late Julian Simon setting out details

        http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Articles/POPSOCIE.txt

  10. Jack Maloney

    “The last scarcity war was declared by the Huns. All subsequent resource wars have been caused by expansionism not scarcity.” omnologos

    Scarcity and expansionism go hand in hand. Witness German’s scarcity of oil and lebensraum, and Japan’s desperate shortage of oil and mineral resources in the 1930s, which precipitated the world’s most deadly war. The northward expansion of Mexican labor is largely driven by scarcity of opportunities in local agriculture, due again to Norman Borlaug’s ‘Green Revolution’ which is destroying small farming south of the border.

    • Indeed, access has contributed to many conflicts. Some additional examples: the invasion of Denmark and Norway in WW2 to secure access to Swedish ores, Napoleon’s invasions of both Spain and Russia in order to deny Britain access to continental markets, and WW1 had roots in colonial competition.

    • Japan still has no natural resouces and yet is a wealthy country. Why? Free trade, respect for property rights, education, etc. It was the governments of Japan and Nazi Germany which caused the problem, not the “scarcity” of resources.

      • THE problem is almost always a gross oversimplification, particularly when dealing with human interactions. Of course the governments of Japan and Germany were a major factor. That hardly exonerates access to resources and markets as a precipitating factor.

        Oh, and you might also want to consider the fact that Japan’s access to free trade is guaranteed by the US military as a contributing factor to their wealth and freedom. Remove that prop, throw in an expansionist neighbor and you might find their political scene shift back to a more militaristic one.

      • No, it reduces to government crippling of production and trade capabilities. Any competent society can (demonstrably) earn access to all the resources it wants. The oil-rich countries generally are are poisoned by the Devil’s Excrement, and fail their populations.

        Resource access is easy. Good governance is hard.

      • “Any competent society can (demonstrably) earn access to all the resources it wants.”

        No one has as yet succeeded in demonstrating this. In fact, the Austrians were so frustrated with the failure of reality to conform to their theories that they officially broke with empiricism early on. Since then, free-market absolutism has officially been a creed of faith and devotion, not evidence or reason.

  11. Worth noting is that corn-based ethanol is a shining example of a “low/no regrets” policy for CO2. While I don’t agree with the doom and gloom of the cited article (ever hear of a thing called trade?), I do agree that ethanol subsidies are such a bad policy that we would have done better to have no energy policy at all.

    In general, it looks better if we take an engineering viewpoint when we use public policy to solve a problem. Proceed from clear problems, find clear solutions to them, and act on those solutions. Even when all three of those steps are done to the utmost of our collective ability, we will still screw it up to some degree. To contrast, if we start from an unclear problem, proceed with a highly problematic solution, and then halfheartedly act on them, then there’s no real chance of success. Yet, this problematic pattern is exactly what you get from a “no/low regrets” point of view.

  12. The CAGW tail wags the global environmental dog. Aquifer depletion and nutrient loading from agriculture are the biggest environmental problems facing the US. Food shortages may become a reality once the Ogalalla Aquifer is depleted. (BTW, has anyone calculated the GHG effects of the evapotranspiration of irrigation water?)

    This is the legacy of the environmental activist movement. No major water projects since the 1970’s while focusing on the trivial and popular environmental issues is leading to the brink of a water crisis tipping point. This is based on the activist theory that if you trash primary infrastructure, growth will not happen and utopia emerges. The politics of CAGW is taking this strategy to the next level of idiocy.

    • Dear Howard:

      Yes, I did the calculations to see the impact of GHG effects on evapotranspiration: There is no effect. Moisture content in the Troposphere has not increased and cannot increased based on mathematics. For more, please see Earth’s Magic on my website http://www.global-heat.net. However, land is presently experiencing a reduction in rainfall of about one (1) millimeter annually, which is significant for ground-water inventories in arid countries.

  13. Higher levels of CO2 cause green things to grow bigger with less water.

  14. Pooh, Dixie

    A modest proposal: Train the one whose feet and interests are on the ground (the farmer).
    Further, train the farmer for the event of too much water just in case the climate cools and wrings the water out of the air.
    Train the farmer to manage his own land; for the “big” problem, “many hands make light work”. (That is not to say that it is light work for the individual farmer.)

    Meanwhile, a partial response to dust bowls:

    Sykes, Frank. 1946. Humus and the Farmer. London: Faber and Faber limited.
    Subjects: Agriculture, Agriculture –Great Britain, Soils, Manures, Humus.
    xix, 288 p. plates, group port., 2 fold. maps, diagrs. 23 cm

  15. And bigger and bigger and bigger.

    Eventually, we will be able to use pumpkins for houses.

  16. “That the governments of these two countries are willing to sell land to foreign interests when their own people are hungry is a sad commentary on their leadership.”

    Selling land out from under native/local ownership and use is just one way that hunger is exacerbated by governments and the “International Community”. Loss of local agricultural capacity is a direct effect of food aid. No farmer or seller can compete with “free”.

  17. Reading the linked article about how we add to the CO2 in the atmosphere just by exhaling gave me an idea on how we could prevent falling water tables and water shortages.

    It’s so simple I’m surprised no one thought of it before. Just urinate more. “OK, smarty, you may be thinking, “how do we do that?

    DRINK MORE BEER !

    http://www.political-politics.com/

  18. Anybody taking seriously a guy pontificating about the fourth version of his Plan B should have a Plan B for his or her own sanity first. Brown is at Chomsky level, a prophet for some, a fool for most.

  19. John Harris

    It’s interesting to note that in arid Saudi Arabia, irrigation had surprisingly enabled the country to be self-sufficient in wheat for more than 20 years but now,wheat production is collapsing .This area exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. World consumption is driven by economic growth, weather conditions and and increased production. As an investor in commodities, it can all be a bit confusing. Generous wheat production can make increase your financial portfolio, but it is still important to do your research before getting started. .Agriculture.com is a great first step. Though I do work for them, the reason I use them myself is they honestly have all of the useful information I need. I really find the marketing strategies, expert commentaries, marketing and farming forecasts, and other useful data, you can download from their site to be helpful. I highly recommend them.

  20. Scariest thing to hear – “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” (in a virtual tie with – “We’re from the UN, and we’re here to keep the peace.” Upon hearing which, your first response should be to hide your daughter.)

    The last thing the poor farmers of the world need is a bunch of progressives sitting around trying to figure out how to help them. There is nothing the west can do, short of a renewal of imperialism, to change the economic systems that prevent them from joining the modern world farm economy.

    We could build Ag schools everywhere, send tons of seeds, and give each farmer a spanking new John Deere tractor, and their kleptocratic socialist would take everything they grow, or implement some brilliant centrally planned boondoggle that would render any such aid worthless.

    The best we can do is open our own markets, increase our own freedoms as an example of what proper governance can lead to, and keep innovating information technology so they can see how the rest of the world lives. The Lord helps those who help themselves. So does the free market.

  21. We had a free market back in the 19th Century, and it led to robber barrons, monopolies, child labor in mines and mills, hazardous working conditions, contaminated food, and snake oil medicine. I doubt many people want all that again.

    • so your’e saying nothing good came from the 19th century?

      • I’m saying laissez faire is antiquated.

      • from the 19th century?

      • Teddy,
        Don’t bother trying to corner a socialist. They will never concede. The rest of us realize that the capitalist system is self correcting. That is how the poor labor and safety practices of the past got fixed: people complained and protective regulations were enacted. Socialism did not rush in to save the day. Robber Barons? They provided a fun story line but hardly the controlling force in the economy of the time.

        The problem is that socialism is seductive as a concept. However, it is counter to human nature. Marx was a romantic. He assumed giving everyone a house, a job, and adequate food would end world strife. The problem inherent in the system is central control. Central control is by its nature myopic. It does not allow for diversity and creativity in solving problems. Once a solution to a problem is chosen, it will always be pushed past it ‘sell by’ date. That is how we have a grain for fuel system in place and codified that we now know solves non of its original goals.

      • Being a realist has helped me become a successful capitalist. As a realist I know that laissez faire (government hands-off) model of capitalism is a thing of the past. Idealist who advocate a return to this model are going to be disappointed, because the voting public will not accept the ills that go with it.

        No developed nation has an economy based on the laissez faire model of capitalism, and the rapidly developing Chinese economy has State-directed capitalism, taking a lesson from Japan’s success. State-directed capitalism obviously isn’t the “government hands-off” kind of capitalism advocated by Libertarians and many conservative ideologues.

        Capitalism is here to stay, but the laissez fair variety is long gone, and isn’t likely to return.

      • you wrote “No developed nation has an economy based on the laissez faire model of capitalism” you should have wrote that – No developed nation has ever had an economy based on the laissez faire model of capitalism.

        How can something that never was, “return”? You are arguing about nothing.

      • Better tell this libertarian organization we never had a laissez faire economy. They think we had one, and it’s gone.

        http://mises.org/media/category/217The-American-Economy-and-the-End-of-LaissezFaire-1870-to-World-War-II

      • Rob Starkey

        M. carey

        Debating the relative levels that various nation states regulate their generally capitalistic economies is really not relevant to the issue of climate change. The more relevant issue is what actions that individual nations are willing to take that are not in the best interests of their citizens for the next generation (or more).

      • You think how nations regulate their economies isn’t relevant to climate change. Are you kidding?

      • Rob Starkey

        No I am not. Your point is meaningless to the issue.

        How any individual nation regulates the relative capitalism of their economy will have no significant impact on the implementation of climate policies in the world today. What will matter is if the leaders of nations believe that the long term potential harm of potential climate change will be of such harm to THAT NATIONS citizens to justify that nation taking specific actions.

        Generally the economic “case for action” has not been met on climate change. For countries like the US it will be overly costly, with a very low probability of having a significant positive impact on the overall issue/problem (temperature change). For currently less developed countries that want energy production, the most cost efficient means to get electricity/personal transportation is via emitting CO2. This is unlikely to change for many years.

      • No one is talking about that. You are just throwing out straw men that are illogical and your thoughts are convoluted.

      • “Don’t bother trying to corner a socialist. They will never concede.”

        Whereas the free market absolutists on this site are so notably open to consider the limitations of their theories and accept it gracefully when they are shown to be wrong.

        An example to us all.

      • Yes, laissez faire is the worst thing in the world, except for all the rest of the systems, blah blah blah.
        But none of us are talking about unfetterd l-f.
        So you can keep running up that red herring, but it is getting a bit smelly.
        By the way, I will counter your stories of robebr barons and child labor and raise your bet with stories of the pernicious xenocides of 20th century statists.

      • They murdered extraterrestrials? Those bastards!

    • “We had a free market back in the 19th Century, and it led to robber barons, monopolies, child labor in mines and mills, hazardous working conditions, contaminated food, and snake oil medicine.”

      Only a muddle headed, propagandized, public school educated progressive would actually believe that robber barons, monopolies, child labor, hazardous working conditions and “snake oil medicine” originated in the 1900s, let alone were unique to nascent capitalist societies.

      It is only in free societies that such practices are at least fought.

      • Monopolists like Rockefeller were free-market advocates?

        HA HA ! Well, going in they were. But when they got to the monopoly stage, and “sewed-up” the market, then the market was no longer free for others to entry. Restricting competition and market-entry is the whole point of having a monopoly.

      • So…. what does your answer have to do with GaryW’s comment?

        And why are yo objecting to Rockefeller’s “monopoly if your ambition was also to be one?

      • As a realist, I never had allusions about becoming a Rockefeller. If Rockefeller or anyone else’s monopoly benefited me, I would be for it. Otherwise, I would be against it.

        A free (unregulated)market) leads to monopolies, and then you no longer have a free market. The voting public lacks tolerance for monopolies. So we have regulated markets.

      • Are all progressives economic illiterates?

        “A free (unregulated) market leads to monopolies. A free market is not an unregulated market. Never has been, never will be. There is a word for such a system – anarchy. No conservative has ever advocated such a system, because then he/she would be an anarchist, not a conservative.

        But the admission of total selfcenteredness is welcome. (“If Rockefeller or anyone else’s monopoly benefited me, I would be for it. Otherwise, I would be against it.”) Most progressives claim their positions are based on “social justice,” “fairness,” and “for the children.” It is refreshing to see the rank callousness toward others that is truly central to progressivism on such brazen display.

      • Before patting me on the back too much, you might want to know I never complain about paying taxes and government. Being successful, I have nothing to complain about. Perhaps if I had never amounted to much, I might be tempted to blame my failings on taxes and government. I know some people do.

      • No offense, but if you think I was patting you on the back in the above comment, one of us doesn’t grasp the notion of sarcastic irony.

      • In Soviet Russia markets regulate you!

      • “Only a muddle headed, propagandized, public school educated progressive . . .”

        We get it; your teachers gave you bad grades, not because you were slow but because they were evil progressives and you were a True Conservative. They all sucked, except for the Final Five.

        We’ve already covered this fantasy of yours today.

    • M. carey –
      You DO have a jaundiced view of history, don’t you.

      The “robber barons”, for example, gave us the railroad system that opened the continent and the steamships that opened the sea lanes. And unlike their heirs (literally), they gave vast amounts of money to the poor, to found colleges and universities, not to mention giving us vast tracts of land for places like Glacier National Park. It’s ironic that you should diss the “robber barons” since their motivation was exactly that same as yours – money. Perhaps your problem is that you’re envious that they were better at it than you? Just askin’…

      Monopolies? Yes, they were part of the growth of the US – and other countries, as well. And they built much of the infrastructure that the US still uses. And through the 1930’s depression they provided stable employment for tens of thousands of people. And then provided the industrial base that we used to win WWII. Or would you rather be speaking German or Japanese?

      Child labor was not one of our finest accomplishments. But you can’t blame that on the laissez faire market – it was an extension of the culture that built the US on “unfree” (slave and indentured) labor and was not unique to the US. Nor has it ended in all parts of the world even yet. It was not a “market” force, but a “cultural” phenomenon that, like slavery, should have ended sooner. But it DID end.

      Hazardous working conditions – still exist – and always will. There will always be jobs that NEED to be done and are dangerous. Commercial fishing, firefighters, police, trucking, mining and more. Be happy there aren’t as many of them as there were.

      Contaminated food is also still with us – witness the recent E Coli outbreak in Germany – which, IIRC, came from a “green” enterprise – NOT a “market problem.

      And snake oil medicine – wonderful stuff – peddled by the people who today would sell you the “recreational drugs” that are so freely used. And bought by the ignorant who, like the poor, will always be with us. IOW – we still have it with us – so the 19th C is not unique.

      Every age has it’s own problems, it’s own culture – and judging past ages and cultures against ones own is simple ignorance. But it will continue to be done by future generations as it has been by this and past generations. How do you expect this – OUR – time period will be judged in the future? :-)

      • Jim,
        Trying to bring a contextual view of history to m. carey is a nice example of pearls before swine.

      • hunter –
        I know that but I don’t always write for the person i address, so it’s sometimes useful – as troll bait, if nothing else. :-)

      • “And bought by the ignorant who, like the poor, will always be with us. ”

        Based on your account of the 19th century, I’d say you are speaking from experience here, and I ain’t saying you’re poor.

  22. Oklahoma Farm Report, May 9, 2011

    Western Oklahoma, an area know for its wheat,  experienced an early heat wave with many localities reporting temperatures above100F.

    Is hot weather good for wheat? Nope!

    The Report says ” For wheat that has been on the edge in recent days- these hot temps will help drive those fields to the end of the road. ”

    http://www.oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2011/05/01529_TripleDigitTemps05082011_063112.php

    • “The highest temperature recorded in Oklahoma is 120°, Fahrenheit. This record high was recorded on July 26, 1934 at Tishomingo.”

      • May be, but the article is talking about a spring record, not the record for the year.

        “The Oklahoma Mesonet site at Altus reached a high temperature of 108 degrees on Sunday. A quick search finds that is the highest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma this early in the year.”

      • But wait, look at this “Floods bring bumper wheat harvest in Pakistan”

        here

        “Pakistan is headed for a record wheat harvest this summer after last year’s widespread flooding apparently helped the crops to prosper. ”

        That’s good news right? but wait, there is no open market so

        “However, an export ban on wheat in place in the country since 2007 will limit the farmers’ profits.”

      • Oklahoma wheat farmers would love a glut of Pakistani wheat to drive down wheat prices? HA HA !

      • so your’e a protectionist? or you just don’t like people from other countries?

      • When it comes to my interest, I’m a protectionist. When it comes to the other fella’s interest, I ain’t.

  23. Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive, said: “The food system is pretty well bust. All the signs are that the number of people going hungry is going up.”

    This is a fascinating statement – if the food system is ‘pretty bust’, how come we have a problem of plenty in India – in Andhra, farmers are dumping rice into the river because the price is not remunerative enough. We cannot store the surplus – not enough godowns. See: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-05-30/news/29598798_1_rice-crop-cotton-prices-food-shortage

    Oxfam’s credentials in eliminating hunger are highly suspect. It is only now that Oxfam categorically come out against biofuels. Till recently, Oxfam has encouraged biofuels, creating hunger in developing countries. Arable land is diverted for biofuels, reducing net agricultural production in a country that creates food scarcity, food inflation that ultimately leads to hunger. Even in its latest report, Oxfam attributes agriculture as contributing to 30% of all greenhouse emissions and its primary objective remains on slashing this. How can this be brought about? Presumably arable land is diverted for forestry (non-biofuels), reducing net agricultural production in a country that creates food scarcity, food inflation that ultimately leads to hunger.

    My post: OXFAM morphs into a Paul Ehrlich clone: Claims world faces mass starvation you will find the detailed critique in this link:
    http://devconsultancygroup.blogspot.com/2011/06/oxfam-morphs-into-paul-ehrlich-clone.html

    You find that temperature rise will thwart rice production critique on this link:
    Increasing temperatures will take a toll on rice production in Asia: Rogue “Peer Review” Study
    http://devconsultancygroup.blogspot.com/2010/08/increasing-temperatures-will-take-toll.html

  24. Judith,

    Food scarcity, water scarcity, land scarcity, fuel scarcity? Yes, they are all predictable consequences due to an ever expanding world economy.

    So too are potential climate problems due to the GH emissions created by an ever expanding……..

    But would it really be “ultimately more useful” for the UN to negotiate on the former to the exclusion (if I interpret the implication of of your comment correctly) the latter? Aren’t they all part of the same problem?

    • Tonto, after these very insightful posts about food security or Arctic sea ice, Dr. Curry always slips in a sentence at the end about how cutting greenhouse gas emissions is bad. It’s pro forma. Her fans expect it.

  25. Filbert Cobb

    I don’t see any mention of risk-spreading in the biofuel vs food comments. I think governments are using the climate argument to screen the real agenda: much of our energy supplies are under the control of nations which do not like us. Development of transportable real-time biofuels and the associated technologies helps neutralise the economic weaponry such states have pointed at us.

    • Thank you Fred. All I can add is Precisely.

      When the food ethanol process enables the USA to produce vaste quantities of cellulose ethanol, your point will become even more valid.

    • They may not like us, but other than the brief embargoes in the 1970s, they have called us every single day to find out of we want some more.

      • Filbert Cobb

        True enough. How long before they will take payment with wheat? Or, as I am in the UK, with grass. Which, in its natural state, is 90% water …

  26. Dr. Curry,
    The geopolitics of food has not really changed in the last 6000 years or so, since agriculture became a serious enterprise and trade started up.
    It has only changed in technology and degree.

  27. “the U.S. food aid program that once worked to fend off famine wherever it threatened has largely been replaced by the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), where the United States is the leading donor. The WFP now has food-assistance operations in some 70 countries and an annual budget of $4 billion”

    In fact, bailing out banks has been deemed more important by the government in recent years than the pittance it actually involves to feed the world’s poorest people; and since many western corporations have historically undermined the sustainable development and labour rights of the poorest countries around the world, their donations are more along the lines of compensation payments.

    But Brown is right to highlight the inter-connectedness of the issues. I agree, for example, that there are many inconvenient truths about biofuel policies, and two of the more obvious ones are that without food security and poverty reduction strategies, it allows richer countries to ignore the need to reduce oil consumption and dumps the bulk of negative impacts on poor people in developing countries.

    “If the UN wants to do something more feasible and probably ultimately more useful than negotiating emissions stabilization targets, dealing with the issues raised here would be a good place to start”

    It is not obvious why this would be seen as an either/or situation: the issues are inter-connected, so the responses should be integrated.

    • Progressives show their concern for the poor by whining on blogs about how little other people are taxed for the purpose. When conservatives want to show concern for the poor…they give money to them.

      From the notoriously conservative propagandists at ABC:

      “Arthur Brooks, the author of ‘Who Really Cares,’ says that ‘when you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more.’ He adds, ‘And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.’

      And he says the differences in giving goes beyond money, pointing out that conservatives are 18 percent more likely to donate blood. He says this difference is not about politics, but about the different way conservatives and liberals view government.

      ‘You find that people who believe it’s the government’s job to make incomes more equal, are far less likely to give their money away,’ Brooks says. In fact, people who disagree with the statement, ‘The government has a basic responsibility to take care of the people who can’t take care of themselves,’ are 27 percent more likely to give to charity. ”
      http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2682730&page=1

      One of the best things about being a progressive is that you can keep your own money, maybe even get a job making money off the welfare state, then claim to be morally superior because you vote to take other people’s money, funnel it through the government, and give a small bit to the poor.

      • “Progressives show their concern for the poor by whining on blogs . . .”

        Would that make you, what, a thirty-third-degree progressive?

        None of these threads are about right-wing politics or left-wing politics or the incredible lies right-wingers are expected to parrot as history.

        I suggest we all try and stay on the topic of food.

    • Rob Starkey

      Martha

      You continually propose that those who have things in the world should give up those things to those who have less. It is an unrealistic simple minded approach

  28. As we see some of these conflicts over soil, water, and food start to take shape, I think it’s important to recognize that the adaptive capacity of our civilization to crisis, a capacity that economists assume and futurists glorify, depends greatly on optimal, far-sighted decisions by political and economic actors, whereas in a crisis (and even without a crisis), frequently people make foolish, short-sighted decisions.

    The cost of climate change is reckoned as if trade will be free, when in reality food shortages like the failure of Russia’s wheat harvest, which triggered an export ban, usually lead to government intervention. Food price spikes may lead to price controls. Depletion of key resources may lead to smart conservation (as with some fish stocks) or an accelerated race to the bottom as people struggle to exploit what remains (as with many other fish stocks, old growth timber, and “use it or lose it” water rights.)

    This behavior is not desirable. We should try and put in place measures to discourage it. But we when debate how far into the rabbit hole of food insecurity we want to go, we should remember to include in our mental models the destructive things that people often do in the face of want.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Robert,

      Regulations from the government has made the farmers in my area pull all their apple trees as now the government want the workers to wear hard hats and work books and to be covered by the farmer for workman’s compensation at 15% of salary paid.

      Makes competition with other countries impossible.

  29. John from CA

    Dr. Curry,
    With respect, “Land Grab” to some is development to others. The benefits from development far out way the ownership issues and in most cases the lack of development is an intentional aspect of the Monarchy’s interest (control). This isn’t a carpet bagger issue, its simple pragmatism.

    Example: The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System is the largest in the world. It spans four countries in north-eastern Africa; Sudan, Chad, Libya, and Egypt. It contains an estimated 150,000 km3 of groundwater yet the regions are largely underdeveloped. The same is true for central Africa.

    Its not a lack of resource, its the lack of insight and honest development!

    • John from CA

      The Long View of Feeding the Planet
      WUWT Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
      source: http://wattsupwiththat.com/page/2/

      “The recent radical rise in food prices from 2005 to 2008 is often cited as if it were climate related. People claim that the prices of basic foods doubled in that time period and that climate played a part.”

      There isn’t a climate signature in commodity pricing and the Street is far more insightful about pricing than the Climate Science community.

      Scarcity isn’t the true cause of the problem!

  30. John from CA

    Sorry, Bad Robot link here’s the correct one:
    source: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/09/41401/

  31. Mankind needs four items to survive.
    1 / He needs and MUST have clean water
    2 / He needs and MUST have food.
    3 / He needs energy.
    Even the poorest of poor with their cow pat fires use energy and that deliberate, controlled use of energy is the defining difference between man and animal.
    4 / He needs shelter, secure shelter at various stages in his life time and for various reasons.
    But Mankind [ and womankind ! ] will spend much of his/ her wealth on shelter whether housing or clothing. And he will do so to demonstrate and cement his status and position in the culture and society in which he resides.

    Given energy, cheap reliable energy in sufficient amounts and the world can be fed quite satisfactorily for as far into the future as we can see. Our technological prowess both now and into the future will be such that energy in sufficient and unlimited amounts can be used to transform much of our presently available and so far under-utilised resources into alternatives that will replace any resources that are becoming limited.
    And this applies to food production just as much as it does to minerals, fossil fuel or any other products.
    Fresh water from sea water is just one such example where cheap energy in unlimited amounts from a whole phalanx of some old, some new, some still to be born technologies would enable the world’s agriculture in it’s most critical regions to never experience water shortages again.
    But energy is the very item the the global warming cult ideologists are trying to make as scarce, expensive and inaccessible as they can to as much of the global population as they can inflict their ideology and dogma onto.
    Until we rid ourselves and our scientific and political structures of this crippling and fanatical global warming ideology then the western world at least will remain in a period of technological, political and social stagnation .

  32. So CO2 warming is a driver of:
    * diverting food production to biofuels for the benefit of advanced/western economies and their fuel security
    * making cheap carbon-based energy more expensive for the benefit of advanced/western economies who want to sell nuclear technology to developing nations
    * a Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore