Thursday, July 21, 2011

Christian Parenti on a World in Which Bread Grows Scarce

What will our future be, when areas of the U.S. (and other areas of the globe) that once produced food consumed locally can no longer grow that food?  How will the earth support its population when food commodities grow scarcer and scarcer, if the global warming continues?

I suspect food shortages--and severe climate change--could happen far more quickly than many of us realize, and those without the resources to purchase expensive food shipped in from someplace else (which is to say many people in the developing nations) will experience serious hunger.  And I'm not sure there's any master plan at all to handle these eventualities, except the usual plan of greed, hoarding, and me-firstism of those who have the resources to manage while others go without.

And so I'm interested to read Christian Parenti's prĂ©cis of his new book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence today at Truthdig and TomDispatch.  Parenti notes that the price of grain doubled worldwide in the past year, as unprecedented drought in Russia and floods in Australia prevented the production of wheat, while rains pounded the American Midwest and Canadian plains, affecting corn and wheat crops.  This summer again, there has been significant, and in some cases record, flooding in grain-producing areas of Canada, the United States, and Australia, and a damaging spring drought in areas of northern Europe in which grain is grown. 

Parenti's summary of his book doesn't mention the current protracted heat and drought through a significant portion of the U.S.  In my view, this is yet another pointer to the validity of his thesis: namely, that the global community is facing unprecedented stress on its food supplies, which will lead to social chaos for the foreseeable future, particularly if the trajectory of climate change continues on its present path.  Parenti writes:  

And this, the experts tell us, is only the beginning.  The price of our loaf of bread is forecast to increase by up to 90% over the next 20 years. That will mean yet more upheavals, more protest, greater desperation, heightened conflicts over water, increased migration, roiling ethnic and religious violence, banditry, civil war, and (if past history is any judge) possibly a raft of new interventions by imperial and possibly regional powers.

And how are we responding to this gathering crisis? Has there been a broad new international initiative focused on ensuring food security for the global poor -- that is to say, a stable, affordable price for our loaf of bread?  You already know the sad answer to that question. 

Instead, massive corporations like Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trading company, and the privately held and secretive Cargill, the world’s biggest trader of agricultural commodities, are moving to further consolidate their control of world grain markets and vertically integrate their global supply chains in a new form of food imperialism designed to profit off global misery.

This should, I think, should concern all of us.  Now.  Before the need becomes imperative.  Before we begin making life-or-death triage choices as a human community that will, as they predictably do, favor those who already have bread and cut loose those who lack the means to sustain life.

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