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Grain Production and Population -- Diary II

by ATinNM Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 07:07:14 AM EST

Last June I wrote a diary with the same title.  In the last paragraph I said:

Prognosis:  food prices will rise.

Well, they did.

pat, pat, pat myself on the back.

Now that the 2007 agricultural year is almost over, where do we stand?

Promoted by Colman


One important change from the June diary is my growing awareness of the consequences of the really rather silly¹ divergence of food production to fuel (ethanol, bio-diesel) production:

With the USDA projecting:

Projected U.S. ending stocks of corn [maize, for you furiners] for 2007/08 are lowered 100 million bushels this month as lower production more than offsets reduced feed and residual use. Production is forecast at 13.2 billion bushels, down 150 million on lower yields.

So, total US corn production was lower, feed, and residual (whatever the hell that means) demand was down but the price:

so we can expect to see more of this:

With wheat the situation is disconcerting but not grim.  As the FAO reports:

For most cereals, supplies are much tighter than in recent years while demand is rising for food as well as feed and industrial use. Stocks, which were already low at the start of the season, are likely to remain equally low because global cereal production may only be sufficient to meet expected world utilization. International prices of cereal have risen, fueling domestic food price inflation in many parts of the world.

Wheat, for most people the 'Staff of Life,' the earlier optimistic forecasts have been gradually revised down.

...world wheat output in 2007 is now forecast to rise by only 1 percent from the sharply reduced output in 2006. This relatively insignificant increase in production, coupled with already very low carryover stocks, has resulted in an extremely tight global market situation. As a result, wheat prices have continued rising since the start of the season, reaching record highs in September, and remaining generally strong and volatile in October. High wheat prices have translated into higher food prices in many countries, giving rise to numerous market interventions by governments, in the form of price controls, reduction of import barriers and/or imposition of export restrictions.

As the price for oil, in dollars, has risen countries are being faced with restricting imports.  This has resulted in a strange situation: global trade in grains is expect to contract as the tight supplies, volatile prices, and high fuel costs limit the ability of countries to purchase grains in the open market.  

At US$745 billion, the global cost of imported foodstuffs in 2007 would be some 21 percent more than the previous year and the highest level on record. Much of the anticipated growth would be fueled by higher expenditures on grain based products, in spite of expected net reductions in imported volumes of these foodstuffs.  Soaring prices are to blame, especially for wheat, but also freight costs, which have doubled since last year, putting additional pressure on the ability of countries to cover their import expenditures.

In the meantime the world's population seems have grown another 1% over the last year -- tho' nobody really seems to know for sure.  

So expect this:

to get worse.

There are some things being done.  France, for example, is going to allow farmers to plant on the 10% set-aside land which should boost production from the 2006/2007 36.5 million tons (US tons) which, all things being equal, would boost global production by ~4 million tons.

Whoopie.

Forecasts are suggesting an increase of 5% in 2007/2008 over the 2006/2007 production.  (Wheat is normally sown in the fall.)  But even so (FAO, again):

The ratio of the major exporters' ending wheat stocks to their total disappearance is forecast precariously low at just 10 percent at the end of the 2007/08 seasons. High wheat prices on international markets are already leading to increased import bills for the low-income food-deficit countries and should production not increase significantly in 2008 there could be major implications for the supply/demand outlook.

The "major implications" are:

Excluding China and India, which account for some two-thirds of the aggregate cereal output, production in the rest of LIFDCs would decline by nearly 2 percent after two consecutive years of substantial increases. This, coupled with population increases, is likely to result in several LIFDCs having to resort to larger imports to cover their consumption needs, which, at a time when international cereal prices are at very high levels, will put a heavy burden on the financial resources of these countries.

[LIFDC = Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries, about 1/2 of the countries in the world.]

So let's tot all this up.

  •  The US had a lower corn harvest than last year - reducing food production

  •  The US is shifting from food to fuel - reducing food production

  •  Causing a rise in food prices in Mexico, among other place

  •  Oil prices have increased so fuel to move the grain around has increased which has increased the gross cost of importing food

the previous two combined has

  •  Impacted the global economies ability to move surplus to markets to consumers

  •  as the demand goes ever higher

  •  Countries are starting to do 'something'

  •  But not enough

  •  And countries that really, really, need to import food

  •  Can't

Tra-la

Just as a kicker ...

In August the UN held a world forum, in Iceland, on "[The] need to restore and protect soil resources."  Which reported:

To meet the needs of a rapidly rising human population, the planet needs to produce more food over the coming 50 years than it did in the last 10,000 years combined ...

¹  Criminally insane, actually

Display:
The ratio of the major exporters' ending wheat stocks to their total disappearance is forecast precariously low at just 10 percent at the end of the 2007/08 seasons.
What is the "total disappearance" of wheat stocks?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 03:07:54 AM EST
and how do you have a ratio of ending wheat stocks to their total disappearance?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 03:34:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe the forecast is that the stocks are 11 (arbitrary units) now, and the forecast disappearance will be 10 leaving an end-year stock of 1.

???

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 03:39:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but surely a ratio to total dissappearance would be a ratio to 0

???

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 05:29:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Basically, Peak Wheat

At any given month wheat is being harvested somewhere in the world.  Most of this production is consumed locally with purchases, by the country, required to meet the total food demand.  To purchase this wheat they need to go to OWEC -- Organization of Wheat Exporting Countries: Canada, US, Brazil, & etc.  As the wheat stocks available within OWEC for export diminishes the price rises and the countries purchasing the stocks cannot afford to buy what they need.  So they buy less.  But even that less removes stocks so the price rises and other countries have to pay more, for less, but they purchase .... and 'round and 'round we go.

To express this dynamic relationship the FAO chose to express the available wheat to no wheat as a ratio.  

Why?  No idea.  They just did.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 11:02:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
See this diary, Peak Wheat!

Luis de Souza posted a map showing exceptional climatic events (essentially higher-than-average temperatures), which correlated to areas producing less wheat than usual this year (Canada, Australia, Ukraine). Unfortunately it doesn't display any more (hotlinked from NASA, has disappeared since posting). Pity.

My point is that, rather than say Peak Wheat, we should be looking at climate disturbance due to GW for a major cause of the recent fall in yields.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 04:56:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like your style. Doom forecasts in a wrapper of funny.

A quick question for what could be a horridly long answer: when is a country not a Food-Deficit country?

by Nomad on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 05:39:05 AM EST
The list, as of November 2006, can be found here.

In Europe the countries are: Albania, Belarus. Bosnia and Herzegovina

The official definition of a Food Deficit country can be found at the the bottom of the referenced page.  Pretty much the list includes those countries whose GNP is lower than $1,575 (US) nor can the country raise enough food to adequately feed its population.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 09:45:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
stop feeding it to meat-animals, promote vegetarianism, and may be we would have enough left over to make ethanol with.

it would be interesting to crunch those numbers actually!

 pity i'm so dyscalcic (sp?)...

eat meat and stay home (or bike/walk to work), or live on veggies and have some gas in the tank-

cosmic justice will out!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:04:59 AM EST
I read somewhere that going all out vegetarian would not necessarily be a solution. Animals are able to feed off poor soil that is not capable of producing crops. Therefore nutrition based solely on vegetarian foodsource would not be the best solution. Hugely reduced meat consumption, yes.

Have meet once a week, going down to twice a month - maybe every second Sunday a Roast and Fish on Fridays...

by PeWi on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:40:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That would be returning to normal human levels of meat consumption then?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:49:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, my comment with the Sunday roast and fish was meant to be snarky and is really not base on what I had read/ heard. So that is really not based on anything.

Having said that. From a psychological point of view, it is probably easier to ween off meat consumption by slow reduction - as a special treat - that way, rather then a complete ban, it might actually be realised...

(Well I luuuuooove me Sausages, don;t I? And wouldn't want to be without them (-: )

by PeWi on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:56:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sausages are a good use of pigs, which are a useful way to process inedible agricultural products into usable protein and potentially useful biomass.

We're getting perilously close to setting me off on a rant about eating habits and no-one wants that.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:59:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
may I  set you off? ej je ej ej

meat once a week is more than enough?...or becom vegetarian now.... :) which one fits you better

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 10:20:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Feel free to rant ;-)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 10:53:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to mention wasting less meat - huge amounts are thrown away - and using cheaper cuts of meat properly. Meat should be a relatively expensive luxury.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:57:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cheaper cuts used not to be wasted away. But then tree-huggers said feeding them to animals wasn't proper. Tsss....

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misŤres
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 09:12:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tree huggers?  Wasn't it Mother Nature who had to remind the agribusinesses that cows and pigs, etc., aren't carnivores?

I'm guessing your comment was snark, though, right?

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 09:18:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, as a PN point, pigs actually aren't picky:

Pig - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pigs are omnivores, which means that they consume both plants and small animals. Pigs will scavenge and have been known to eat any kind of food, including dead insects, worms, tree bark, rotting carcasses, excreta (including their own), garbage, and other pigs.

When you think about it, they're inherently much lower-maintenance than cows.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 09:54:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
they shouldn't be thrown away...the fat should be rendered into biodiesel, blood and bone meal used for bio-adjuncts to soil and compost, and everything else good for petfood.

indians used every part of the buffalo, why can't we?

tsss....i know you were snarkin', linca

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 02:09:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The raising of meat animals needs a series of diary by itself.  

As PeWi wrote, some land is, or should not be, used for cropping but it well suited for the raising of animals.  The criteria is enough rain for the grasses to grow but not enough to support the grasses we eat: wheat, barley, millet, & etc.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 10:40:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know that uplands farming in this area is almost entirely meat based, I don'tknow wether it's down to soil deficiency or difficulty in getting farming equipment onto hillside fields.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 10:56:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Upland agriculture in England, Scotland, and Wales is sheep based because there is too much rain for the slope of the land.  IIRC the rule-of-thumb was no mechanical cropping on land with >10 degree slope.  

This was before the Green Revolutionaries decided destroying topsoil through fence-to-fence planting was a Good Idea.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 11:21:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mechanisation is one aspect. Another is soil type: upland slopes rarely have soils as fertile or deep as those of plains, valley bottoms, etc, that benefit or have benefitted from alluvial deposits. Also a sizeable proportion of flatter (moor) land in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Pennine England, is peaty.

Add to this a positive incentive: a temperate, rainy climate that makes grass grow almost all year round.

Result: a built-in bias towards animal production (sheep and cattle, mostly extensive), even before mechanisation or subsidies came on the scene.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 04:42:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The MOD owns large areas of the UK which were once farmland and probably could be again, after a clean-up.

Turning Salisbury Plain into farmland might add a couple of percent to the UK's self-sufficiency quota.

A combination of reduced meat production, re-farming of MOD land, amateur vegetable growing and lower consumption would very possibly cover everyone's basic needs in the UK.

It might not be very exciting, but not eating crap and getting more exercise might not be a bad outcome.

Of course this only works for the UK. Rest of World is just a little more complicated.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 07:02:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agricultural land in the UK totals about 41,900,000 acres.  The MOD's landholding comes to a total of roughly 750,000 acres

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 07:25:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
MOD?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 08:27:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ministry of Defence.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 08:48:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't the 'meat-baseness' have to do in some measure with subsidies?, ie, through the creation of incentives?

Locals I met while traveling through N Wales assured me that the sheep and farm animal subsidies constituted a real economic and environmental dilemma ...

by Loefing on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 02:24:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the outcomes of the US subsidizing corn (maize) farming was a mountain of corn.  Previously the corn was used-up as cheap animal feed and to make various cheap corn sweeteners.

The governments of the world have united in the belief the best agricultural policy is to provide lots and lots of barfitudinous foodstuffs as cheap as possible to the consumer¹ with the minimum amount of labor.  The UK, in particular, has no hope of feeding the numbers of bodies inhabiting the kingdom so the various governments tolerate farmers as kind of messy, but necessary, holders of land soon to a relief road, airport extension, or housing development².  In support of this policy the idea is to prevent, by any means to hand, farmers being able to make a decent living farming.  This is primarily done through a system of subsidies ensuring the maximum amount of ecological damage for the minimum amount of money.

¹  at least as long as the daily requirements of the three basic foodgroups (fat, starch, and sugar) are met.

²  Except for the Fen country, which will soon be under water.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:25:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cutting back meat production would definitely increase the efficiency of the food chain, but I don't think the world has enough biomass to sustain current fuel demands. Continued overconsumption of meat will certainly hasten the demise of the world's poor, though.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 12:48:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think the world has enough biomass to sustain current fuel demands

 people might well have to travel less far, or at least less often.

i don't think absolute vegetarianism would fit every one, but meat-eating has become so out of proportion right now, and causes untold damages down the line, from making people more aggressive, to causing more cancers, heart disease etc.

the pollution to groundwater due to manure lakes from agribusiness factory farming is reason enough to reduce demand, imo.

but the best reason is the effect on one's health of a modulated, practical vegetarianism, and on the health of whole societies.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 02:24:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We'll have to do that gardening diary yet. What do you think about a seasonal approach? If you're still in Hawaii, do you have seasons?

paul spencer
by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 10:32:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
hi paul, no i moved to italy 15 years ago, after that long in hawaii.

here we definitely have seasons, all four of them.

yesterday was the first snow...

i have a lot to learn about gardening, so you first!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 03:53:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Corn isn't an efficient bio-fuel.  It's being promoted because the agricultural establishment makes so much money off of it.  There are better alternatives in bio-fuel, but the choice of corn is about money only.  The farmers are as bad as the oil companies when it comes to greed.

The only solution to the over-arching problem of over-exploitation of resources is to reduce the human population, and there is no way any political, ethnic or religious group is going to volunteer for castration.  I don't see any way we are not totally, completely, absolutely screwed.

PS: I'm a vegetarian.

by Andhakari on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 03:14:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The only solution to the over-arching problem of over-exploitation of resources is to reduce the human population, and there is no way any political, ethnic or religious group is going to volunteer for castration.

and the people who would decide not to breed are those whose values we would probably want to pass onto the next generation.

(says man with pile of furry child substitutes)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 03:33:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And when your furry child substitutes turn 14 you will preparing yourself for their passing, with grief.
And when your children turn 14, they will wishing you were dead, and you'll be wondering why you didn't just get some furry child substitutes.
by Andhakari on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 04:17:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And when your children turn 14

they may be in the time of "granny's death"; whether granny's demise be imminent, imagined, or already happened.  The generation gap, the generational angst is certainly not, I think, a given.  It is a product--heh!  Disagree!--of cognitive dissonance (created by parents and society in contradistinction.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:27:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The current civilization is not the way to live on Earth with 10 or 20 billion people. But there might be a comfortable way... only we would learn it in a hard way.

If the civilization goes downhill, we may be crudely reminded of some ancient selection pressures. Say, how would people go out without modern dentistry? That booming business consumes a lot of energy, and needs a lot of special chemistry. Depending on the degree of decline, we would have to do without anesthetics, or with slower drills, or with no drills at all. Ouch!

Other turmoil could be caused by lesser availability of optics for ever more near-sighted population.

by das monde on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:21:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The only solution to the over-arching problem of over-exploitation of resources is to reduce the human population, and there is no way any political, ethnic or religious group is going to volunteer for castration.

There is another solution: increase the natural resources available.  Meaning, get serious about space exploration, increase funding for Materials Science research, and increase funding for other scientific and technological research.  

Population Control is a non-starter.  Too many people with rocks in their heads and axes to grind, e.g., Benny-with-the-Beanie-on-Top in Rome, eliminate the potential for rational discussion.

Either we get off the dime or we can expect the next 100 years to get gruesome.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 07:31:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we have to accept a world population approaching 14 billion--or catastrophies or ameliorations, but no more than 14 bilion--that's everyone alive making a copy of his or her self, while he or she stay alive.  So we have reproduction and no death!  Okay!  But that's the end of it.  We start dying, and two plus two (minus the original two) equals two, so the population settles...

I think (I humbly think) that renewable resource policies should (and I think they do) understand the basic dynamic:

We are many and we reproduce
We can find an upper limit
We can reproduce effectively

Strange times!  No humans have them this with the tools we have.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 08:16:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The more I think about it the more a one-child-per-woman policy seems necessary. I'm trying to work out the ethical, social and legal implications. It might make for good background for a science-fiction story. For instance: under such a policy rape becomes the ultimate crime, punishable by castration.

What? Not a liberal paradise? And who thinks the world in the next 100 years is going to be a liberal paradise if we allow population to keep growing at its current pace, and add a helping of resource wars, famine due to crop failure, and natural disasters?

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 05:19:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So what's wrong with a one-child-per-man policy?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 05:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Harder to pin down.

Note: when I say one child per woman it has serious implications for me personally, as "my" child is not biologically mine. Over to you.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 05:28:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well look, if we're going to go to all the trouble of running around checking on the fertility status of all the ladies, performing (one assumes) mandatory sterilizations and/or administration of birth control, or at least fining and/or imprisoning female offenders, what's wrong with a little DNA bank and screening system to determine which men should be rounded up and sent off to the repeat-procreator prison camps?

Don't get me wrong, I'm an avid proponent of zero population growth, and I do not intend to have children myself.  I think people should be encouraged to have smaller families, but I don't think we can or should be in the business of enforcing it, especially not in a gender-discriminatory manner.

Hey, though... if we used a carbon-credits approach, maybe I can sell off my "childbearing right" to a woman who wants to have a second one, for the right price....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 05:38:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is shaping up to be a really fun science-fiction novel.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 05:41:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, we shouldn't want to be in the business of managing folks' families, but the reality is that as population increases the regulation, explicit and implied of ALL of our activities becomes increasingly certain.  But I don't believe that society will regulate family size until it's too late to preserve what we recognize as civilization.  China managed it, and that's about the only worthwhile thing that government's managed to do.  Maybe it could be argued that they did it too late to help.
Catholicism and Islam and all the other militaristic religions are committed to making more babies to fill the armies to do god's dirty work.  As population increases, individual worth declines.  Self-reliance declines.  Median relative income declines.  Exploitable resources decline.  But organizational power increases.  Government power increases.  And the wealth of the very rich increases, too.
No politician is going to stick his neck out for population controls.  Even sympathetic listeners have your `moral' qualms about regulating family size.  And where the hell did we get the idea that big families aren't the concern of society.  Society promoted big families to provide cannon fodder for ages, but some nations are getting past that now.  It may be time to recognize that a big family is more than a little selfish.
by Andhakari on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:23:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
China still has a fertility rate of 1.73 and a growth rate of 0.6%. So it hasn't succeeded in enforcing one child per family (the resulting fertility rate would have to be at most 1) nor in estabilizing its population.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:41:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:41:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, I wasn't concerned with meeting an arbitrary ratio goal.  One child per couple is fine, but I was thinking more of long term, non-precipitous general population decline.  As long as the fertility rate is less than 2.0, population control is achievable in the long run.
I don't know if that's good enough in the short term.  Someone mentioned sustaining 14 billion as doable.  No thanks.  I'd like us (the world) to think about what the IDEAL human population on the planet might be and come up with a plan to achieve that over many years, with sensitive frequent re-evaluation, and respect for all cultures, races, nationalities, etc.  Nobody needs to get screwed.
But that's not going to happen.  The pope wants more catholic souls, the Muslims want more Islamic soldiers, etc etc.  Everyone will push for more than can be sustained.  Everyone will be looking for the exception to the rule (as in China).  And eventually (tomorrow, next year, next decade -- but not too long now) something's going to crack and world's guts are going to spill out.
And all our moralizing about abortion and compulsory family planning -- and maybe even global warming -- is going seem like a bad joke from the good ol' days.
I live in an under-populated country at the edge of the world, and you couldn't drag me back into thick of humanity with a whale harpoon -- present company excepted, of course.
by Andhakari on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 08:10:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't the replacement rate 2.1?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 08:14:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but mortality is still lower than birth rate and the one-child policy has only been in place for about 30 years.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 04:19:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nobody is arguing that it isn't serious business.  My original point, however, was about the idea of restricting the number of children a woman could bear without also restricting the number of children a man could father.

China managed it

China "managed" it thanks to a policy that, in part, involved forced abortions.  No, thanks, I'd rather not take the Chinese path.

Look, if we aren't talking about dragging people off to prison camps and forced-sterilization centers (which I hope we're not) then we're talking about a system of fines or other (probably financial) disincentives for people to have children.  In which case we develop a two-tiered system in which the rich can afford to pay the consequences and do as they please, while the poor would be the ones really restricted.  "Fine," I can hear some people saying, "the poor are the ones who shouldn't be breeding so much anyway."  And that sort of eugenics argument is really chilling.  Extend it out to brown people, those who practice a certain religion, etc.... Sorry, I can't envision a way in which enforcing such restrictions wouldn't be a nightmare.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:54:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Alternatively we can all have as many children as we can muster in the hopes of increasing the odds that one of them will survive WWIII.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 07:01:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The odds of getting this to work in a way which would be even marginally acceptable morally are much, much lower than persuading the governments and people of the world to work together to build a sensible and sustainable economy in which fertility rates would drop below replacement pretty naturally.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 07:05:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not that the odds of persuading the governments and people of the world to work together to build a sensible and sustainable economy are particularly high.

It comes down to this - either you enforce birth control, humanely if at all possible, or a lot of people die of starvation and war.

I suppose it sorts itself one way or another, but humans at this stage are pretty much one big roiling ball of stupid, and expecting sensible behaviour doesn't seem very realistic.

Or rather - if all the sensible people got together and decided to stage simultaneous coups in many countries, resulting in some kind of decentralised but unified world government, and they really were sensible enough not to allow that to turn into the usual bloodbath that follows coups, and civil wars didn't break out everywhere, then some kind of sustainable planning might be possible.

But otherwise - where is the leadership going to come from? Western governments are rotten through with an infestation of free market and security-state drones. Eastern governments suffer from the same problems, with an added dose of violent authoritarianism.

We can have our intelligent conversations here, but we have to remember that most of the population doesn't agree with us, even in the West, and the leaders believe we're entertaining idiots - to the extent that they take environmentalism seriously at all, sui generis, without seeing it as an exercise in marketista droning.

Aside from a few windmills here and there, and some tentative edging into other sustainables, not only is no one doing the right thing, but our beloved leaders are aggressively doing exactly the wrong thing, combining a 19th century resource war with a 12th century crusade.

Turning this around is not going to be easy.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:55:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry.  That's an interesting point (question?).  I have no idea how one achieves that or if anyone anywhere has tried.  I suppose you could certify fatherhood and give the culprit a vasectomy...
It doesn't sound unreasonable to me, but I think the unwashed masses will be more accepting of the 'heir and a spare' goal: a maximum fertility rate of 2.0, with reductions from infertility, childless couples by choice, early death, etc.
by Andhakari on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 08:22:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, though... if we used a carbon-credits approach, maybe I can sell off my "childbearing right" to a woman who wants to have a second one, for the right price....

I don't know as you could even begin to justify it moraly, but there might be good money in those "Right to life" people who find themselves pregnant.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 07:32:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I seem to remember that theres figures from DNA studies stating that a significantly larger percentage than were expected proved to be unknowingly of different paternity than was claimed. somewhere in excess of 10%

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 07:37:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why is rape the ultimate crime? And why is castration the ultimate punishment? Surely neglecting to abort an unsanctioned pregnancy is the ultimate crime, regardless of how the pregnancy started?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:42:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because rape forces someone else to give up their quota involuntarily for your sake. And the threat of castration is the only thing I can think of as enough of a deterrent.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:44:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No it doesn't: abortion fixes that. It may force someone to undergo a medical procedure but that's no worse than any other serious assault (WITHIN THE FRAME WE'RE DISCUSSING).
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 06:47:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by dmun on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 10:46:19 AM EST
1 - does your first graph shows an increase (so far) of both corn exports and ethanol production? If it does, the impact of US ethanol policy on corn prices is based on future expectations. Or did the graph had a double Y axis?

2 - do you know someone (person, institution) who has studied deeply the effect on the increase of oil price in external acquisition of food? if it takes more than a few  seconds to remember and write back, I'm not sure if you should answer. I don't want to burden you.

by findmeaDoorIntoSummer on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 04:45:29 PM EST
  1.  The graph was stolen researched from the website given in the cite.  My reading was a double Y axis reflecting independent datasets.  What I liked was the way it showed the use of food for fuel is right up there with the use of food for food.  

  2.  I'm ashamed (intellectually) to say, "I don't."  DeAnander may know an expert in the field.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 07:21:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bananas were about $.33 to .39 per pound on sale last year. This year I can find them for $.49, but not often. Grapes from Chile could be found on sale for $.99 last year, this year more like 1.49 minimum. I should add that my reference location is the Pacific NW.

Some of that may be exchange-based due to the declining dollar, but these items come from Central to far-South America, and I don't know if they are still somewhat aligned or not.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2007 at 10:44:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The chart shows US corn exports rising over the last few years at the same time as corn-to-ethanol rises, the two now being at a similar level. (On the same y axis, in millions of metric tons). Total production of maize in the US ran from 168 million metric tons in 1980 to 282 m MT in 2006 (FAO statistics).

Here's another (ugly, sorry) graph showing what US corn is used for:

Ethanol transformation makes up most of the industrial uses, others being cornstarch, corn oil, polymers, etc. The main use is still for animal feed (and the very mysterious residual, which I'm the only person in the world to understand, and I'm not saying.)

From the same page:

U.S. Grains Council | Barley, Corn & Sorghum | Corn

The United States grew 42 percent of the world's corn in during fiscal year 2006, producing 282.3 million metric tons (11.1 billion bushels). Other major corn producing countries in 2006 included:

  • China -139.4 million metric tons (5.5 billion bushels)
  • Brazil - 41.7 million metric tons (1.64 billion bushels)
  • European Union - 48.3 million metric tons (1.9 billion bushels)
  • Mexico - 19.5 million metric tons (767 million bushels)
  • Argentina - 15.8 million metric tons (622 million bushels)
  • India - 15 million metric tons (590.5 million bushels)

Your point about prices: yes, these are futures markets, and there's a certain amount of speculation taking place. But world demand is exceeding supply, even if the US is keeping up its export level. (China, for example, had to import grains this year in spite of its food self-sufficiency doctrine, because ethanol distilleries were buying up local production).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 04:09:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It may be time to recognize that a big family is more than a little selfish.  -- Andhakari.

And it´s time it becomes socially unacceptable through responsible pressure.  Governments, like Spain, should not subsidize reproduction, nor give any tax deductions for more than two children.  It is unsustainable and makes all of us pay for people´s overgrown egos, or religious beliefs.


Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 02:15:50 PM EST


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