Lester Brown is expert in understanding the stresses placed on the earth and human life because of climate change: more mouths to feed and damage to the land and water resources of the world. His new book is World on the Edge: How to Prevent an Environmental and Economic Collapse
Some sobering facts:
- The U.N. FAO food price index for December 2010 reached an all-time high.
- The United States harvested 416 million tons of grain in 2009. 119 million tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars. This could feed 350 million people for a year.
- The world loses one third of its topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes. This seriously affects food production. Two huge dust bowls are forming, one across northwest China, west Mongolia and central Asia; the other in central Africa. Each of these dwarfs the U.S. ‘dust bowl’ of the 1930s.
World population peaked at 2 percent per year around 1970 and has now fallen below 1.2 percent per year in 2010. But we still add 80 million people each year. So tonight, there will be 219,000 extra mouths to feed at the dinner table, and the same tomorrow. Many of them will be greeted with empty plates. This will tax the skills of farmers and test the limits of the earth’s land and water resources.
Today it is not wars between superpowers that threaten our future. Now food shortages, speculation in grain commodities by greedy people eager to make a profit, rising food prices, and the political turmoil that hunger brings. Our governments must quickly shift priorities from investing in military to invest in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation. Or our future looks bleak.
Our governments must quickly hear and act on US President Dwight Eisenhower’s words in 1961:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies—in the final sense—a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Crop ecologists give us this formula: For each 1 degree Celsius temperature rise above the optimum during the growing season, we can expect 10 percent less in grain yields. As temperatures soared far above the norm in Russia during the summer of 2010, their harvest was decimated.
As people become more affluent they eat more meat; they drive cars that need fuel; grain is diverted to fuel cars and not people. It’s time to push for earth-care to turn back the damage done by soil erosion, depletion of water sources, croplands taken over for non-farm uses; crop-withering heat waves, melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets.
How will our governments hear? What does all this ask of us? It calls us to inform ourselves, to notice, to speak up and call the decision makers in our countries to account. To the disciples, Jesus said “Feed them yourselves” when they reported a food shortage to feed the multitude.
Kevin Dance, C.P.