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Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

Finally someone is listening to Lester Brown and his warnings of a collapse in our food supplies, as a new article reveals in Scientific American.
 
 
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We desperately need a new way of thinking, a new mind-set. The thinking that got us into this bind will not get us out. When Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, asked energy guru Amory Lovins about thinking outside the box, Lovins responded: "There is no box."

There is no box. That is the mind-set we need if civilization is to survive.

It's not news that Lester Brown is warning about our unsustainable approach to feeding the planet.  But it is news that Scientific American has run a major article by him on how " The biggest threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries to cause government collapse."

Brown's "Key Concepts":

  • Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos.
  • Such "failed states" can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees.
  • Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production.
  • Without massive and rapid intervention to address these three environmental factors, the author argues, a series of government collapses could threaten the world order.

Brown's warnings, ignored for too long, are now being repeated at the highest levels.  For instance, I previously blogged on the UK government's chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, who laid out something very close to this collapse scenario in his speech yesterday to the government's Sustainable Development UK conference in Westminster (see " When the global Ponzi scheme collapses (circa 2030), the only jobs left will be green"):

You can see the catastrophic decline in those [food] reserves, over the last five years or so, indicates that we actually have a problem; we're not growing enough food, we're not able to put stuff into the reserves….

I am going to look at 2030 because that's when a whole series of events come together….

I will leave you with some key questions. Can nine billion people be fed? Can we cope with the demands in the future on water? Can we provide enough energy? Can we do it, all that, while mitigating and adapting to climate change? And can we do all that in 21 years time? That's when these things are going to start hitting in a really big way. We need to act now. We need investment in science and technology, and all the other ways of treating very seriously these major problems. 2030 is not very far away.

Brown's whole piece is worth reading.  I'll excerpt the key points, trends and quotable facts here:

Failing states are of international concern because they are a source of terrorists, drugs, weapons and refugees, threatening political stability everywhere. Somalia, number one on the 2008 list of failing states, has become a base for piracy. Iraq, number five, is a hotbed for terrorist training. Afghanistan, number seven, is the world's leading supplier of heroin. Following the massive genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, refugees from that troubled state, thousands of armed soldiers among them, helped to destabilize neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (number six).

Here is the full list of 20 countries in the world that are closest to collapse, from worst to better, ranked in 2007 by the Fund for Peace and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace based on "12 social, economic, political and military indicators of national well-being."

Somalia
Sudan
Zimbabwe
Chad
Iraq
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Afghanistan
Ivory Coast
Pakistan
Central African Republic
Guinea
Bangladesh
Burma (Myanmar)
Haiti
North Korea
Ethiopia
Uganda
Lebanon
Nigeria
Sri Lanka

 
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