Monday, August 6, 2012

Drought, food price spikes, global warming and still we sleep-walk into our own furnace

The Financial Times of London has detailed these changes: panic buying in China, Europe and Mexico, a rise in U.S. and Canadian wheat prices as livestock are fed wheat instead of corn, and massive planting of corn and soybeans in South America....
Average corn yields have doubled since 1970 but this can’t go on forever, no matter how peppy Monsanto gets about its seeds improving year-over-year until yields double again between 2000 and 2030, as the FT reports. (From Heather Mallick's column on U.S. drought, exerpted below.)

Will 2012 be the summer when North America finally wakens to the truth, the unequivocal, irreversible and uncontrovertible truth that man is slowly but surely committing global suicide through global warming and climate change? Will the extensive pattern of 100 + Fahrenheit degrees in U.S. cities, in the mid-west, the "farm" for much of the world, and the resulting failure of crops that feed millions around the world, and the inevitable spike in food prices be enough to convince more than the most recent physicist, a former skeptic on global warming and now an avid convert, to start putting effective, relentless and unconventional pressure on North American governments to implement a carbon tax, to demand conversion of many coal-fired electricity-generating stations to natural gas, along with many automobiles and finally, to sustain long-term research in alternative energy supplies, like wind, solar and biomass?
Don't hold your breath!
Governments on both sides of the 49th parallel seem to be sleeping through the crisis, more interested in micro-managing, in the U.S. Republicans doing all manner of obstruction to defeat Obama, and in Canada, fretting over the hurdles to the Northern Pipeline, another agent of dirty heavy crude from Alberta.
And while there are small pockets of animated conversation, even a little hint of political activism here and there, mostly the humungus corporations, oil and seed, auto and pharmaceutical, continue to truck their profits onto ships to foreign bank accounts, where they hide from legitimate taxes. And the drum-beat of daily, nightly newcasts beats an ear-deafening and mind-numbing note of despair that we will all have to pay several percentage points more for food in the coming months...and farmers on both sides will suffer extensive losses to their incomes, their herds and their crops.
Talk about a cognitive dissonance!
It's as if the "leaders" are asleep at their desks, while the fire-fighters rush to put down the rampages that erupt from both arsonists and nature, and the police and criminal investigators rush to mass murder scenes and the commodities markets panic purhase raw food products as a hedge against what looks like a perfect storm of drought, carelessness, greed and another front of the 99 vs 1% battle. The Donald, for example, plants his ugly footprint on the sand dunes of Scotland with a mega-golf course, interrupted only by the hiccups of a few home owners who would not sell to the money-maniac, while the dumbest honorary degree ever is handed to "the Donald" by Aberdeen University for his "commercial vision."
Is this latest tragi-comedy in Scotland a sign of the indifference, the absolute stupidity and the narcissism of allegedly "smart" people in the face of real eco and economic choices? Seems so.


By Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, August 5, 2012 Commodities brokers notice climate change, though, because it quickly links to profit or loss. The U.S. midwest, dry as powder, grows a third of the planet’s corn and soybeans and exports 40 per cent of what is traded around the world.

Could there be any word more boring to the general public than “commodities?” No, but try “food prices” and ears will perk up. People’s ears, that is. Corn ears are stumps right now, two months after predictions of a warm spring and one of the finest crops in recent years. Then came the drought.
There is a long rolling effect as big crops — corn and soybeans — die. The Financial Times of London has detailed these changes: panic buying in China, Europe and Mexico, a rise in U.S. and Canadian wheat prices as livestock are fed wheat instead of corn, and massive planting of corn and soybeans in South America. Agricultural centres will switch around.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper got a lucky reprieve from the consequences of killing the Canadian Wheat Board. Wheat prices will be strong in the short term, but in the long term — when the drought moves north — farmers will suffer. Without the board, they will suffer alone.
As for corn prices, remember that high-fructose corn syrup is what feeds poor and middle-class Americans cheaply. The 99 per cent won’t be happy.
Grass-fed beef? Cattle need grass, hay and water. They have little and so they’ll be hustled to the slaughterhouses, a cull that will be difficult to repair. “Bulls don’t breed in 105-degree weather,” Missouri cattle farmer Matt Hardecke told the FT flatly. And that kind of heat is in Missouri to stay.
Unlike grain and food prices, ethanol use has been debated. It was always madness to make gasoline out of corn — corn is food for animals and people — but now the U.S. government may have to stop mandating ethanol content in fuel.
We used to assume science would take care of farming, the Green Revolution that relied heavily on expensive fertilizer having boosted farming in the Third World. Average corn yields have doubled since 1970 but this can’t go on forever, no matter how peppy Monsanto gets about its seeds improving year-over-year until yields double again between 2000 and 2030, as the FT reports.
But Monsanto can’t predict the ravages of global warming.
Rising food prices are part of the second warming wave, although all such classifications are obviously arbitrary. Was the spruce pine beetle eating Canadian forests part of the first wave or the second? Rising sea levels — for which Britain, New York City and Florida, to name only three sites, are noticeably unprepared — are coming but when?
Freak storms are already here. Extreme heat may or may not be causing glass to fall out of some Toronto condo towers, the glass not being adaptable enough. We can partly attribute a lack of blackouts to Ontario factories shutting down, which is not exactly great news.
What’s the upside, people ask. There is no upside because we are global now. We import and export, we rely on each other, we hope to be able to flee the heat. We won’t suffer equally, but we will all suffer.





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