The Geopolitics of Food Scarcity
One of the toughest things for us to do is to anticipate discontinuity. Whether on a personal level or on a global economic level, we typically project the future by extrapolating from the past. Most of the time this works well, but occasionally we experience a discontinuity that we failed to anticipate. The collapse of civilization is such a case. It is no surprise that many past civilizations failed to grasp the forces and recognize signs that heralded their undoing. More than once it was shrinking food supplies that brought about their downfall.
Does our civilization face a similar fate? Until recently it did not seem possible, but our failure to deal with the environmental trends that are undermining the world food economy -- most importantly falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures -- forces the conclusion that such a collapse is possible.
These trends are taking a significant toll on food production: In six of the last eight years world grain production has fallen short of consumption, forcing a steady drawdown in stocks. World carryover stocks of grain (the amount remaining from the previous harvest when the new harvest begins) have dropped to only 60 days of consumption, a near record low. Meanwhile, in 2008 world grain prices have climbed to the highest level ever.
The current record food price inflation puts another severe stress on governments around the world, adding to the other factors that can lead to state failure. Even before the 2008 climb in grain prices, the list of failing states was growing. Now even more governments in many more low and middle-income countries that import grain are in danger of failing as food prices soar. With rising food costs straining already beleaguered states, is it not difficult to imagine how the food crisis could portend the failure of global civilization itself
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