by Asinus Asinum Fricat
Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 06:37:59 AM EST
The answer is no. Since 1950, the earth's population has risen by more than four billion people, to 6.6 billion and UN projections put world population at 9.2 billion by 2050. The world currently faces a food crisis before the full impact of climate change and a 42% rise in population. The Malthusian vision may yet be vindicated. Most economists today are lucky that their predictions don't even have a shelf life. In this modern age of punditry, brass balls are a lot more important than prescience.
Food and water are essential elements that all human beings should have access to in order to live. Access to the minimum essential food & water are considered human rights. All else pales in significance.
Diary rescue by Migeru
Malthus' gloomy prediction earned him the revulsion of people like his contemporary, writer William Hazlitt, who wrote:
when...that curious divine who surely has done more to discredit Christianity with the poor than all infidel writings put together, published his Essay on Population, he made himself conscience-keeper to the rich and great, especially to those of them who are not of a giving disposition, all in coining or at least popularizing for their use the magical phrase or formula 'surplus' or 'redundant' population.
There was an estimated 1 billion on the planet when Malthus penned his famous essay - up from 310 million in 1000 AD and 300 million in 0 AD. In the period to 1924, when the population grew to 2 billion, there was a remarkable advance in technology and fall in the death rate through improved hygiene. American historian David Christian says that in the last two centuries, humans have learned to tap the huge stores of energy buried millions of years ago in the fossilized bodies of ancient plants and microorganisms, and available today in coal, oil, and natural gas. These statistics indicate the astonishing ecological power acquired by our species in the course of its history.
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who heads the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has warned that potential for danger from the rapidly growing biotechnology industry was increasing exponentially and urged creating global safeguards. Annan says rightly biotech crops are unsafe, untested and likely to enslave poor farmers to mega-corporations and expensive seeds. Annan says:
"We in the alliance will not incorporate GMOs in our programmes. We shall work with farmers using traditional seeds known to them."
Historian David Christian writes that just to keep their bodies functioning:
"humans need about three thousand calories of energy a day. Ten thousand years ago, there may have been six million humans, each consuming at least this much energy, but not much more. Today, there are one thousand times as many humans (more than six billion), so we can be sure that our species now consumes at least one thousand times as much energy as we did ten thousand years ago. At the same time, each modern human consumes on average about fifty times as much energy as our ancestors did ten thousand years ago."
I wrote in another food diary that if these figures are correct, they suggest that, as a species, we now consume about fifty thousand times as much energy as our ancestors once did. They demonstrate a control over energy that no other species can match.
Christian says that increasing human control over the energy and resources of the biosphere has measurable consequences for the entire biosphere. If one organism hogs so much of the energy needed to sustain the biosphere, less will be available for other organisms. So it is no surprise that as humans have flourished other species have withered.
US stocks of wheat are at a 60-year low and world rice stocks are at a 25-year low. Poor weather patterns such as a long drought in the wheat-growing region of Australia, has cut output.
The rise in the price of oil has resulted in the US diverting 20% of its maize/corn production for biofuels and the European Union 68% of its vegetable oil production. The switch has boosted prices, reduced the supply of the crops available for food and encouraged the substitution of other agricultural land from food to biofuel production.
In the long-term biofuel production using non-food crops may be viable, but the use of food crops in the US in particular has been both shortsighted and a cave-in to the farm lobby. President Bush wants the US to produce 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels by 2017. I hope President Obama will rescind this absurdity.
Consider the following: the rise in biofuel production in India and China may lead to shortages of water. A report says that both China and India are focusing on maize and sugarcane, which require large amounts of water, to boost biofuel production. Almost all biofuels used today make global warming worse.
Solutions: In a major speech, World Bank president Robert Zoellick recently called for a "New Deal" to address the world food crisis. He said,
"The realities of demography, changing diets, energy prices and biofuels, and climate changes suggest that high - and volatile - food prices will be with us for years to come."
The food crisis is part of a complex and growing matrix of resource questions. But what we really need is political will, pure political will, not talk, not promises. The world leaders must work together and start issueing policy shifts that can help to ease the current crisis, including relaxation of biomass subsidies and repeal of the grain-export restrictions being imposed by the major grain-producing countries. That's a start.