food politics

‘Unprecedented Harvest Shortfall’ Poised to Ruin Civilization at Any Moment

This could happen if we keep eating KFC Double Down sandwiches.

This could happen if we keep eating KFC Double Down sandwiches.Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

At least that's what the new book World on the Edge, written by Earth Policy Institute president and MacArthur Fellow Lester R. Brown, says! Basically all of the things we're doing as a civilization — depleting natural resources, eating more grain than we can realistically produce (and turning a bunch of it into fuel for our cars), overpopulating the planet — are leading to a "perfect storm" that will "drive food prices off the top of the chart" and throw society into chaos. The scary statistics, straight ahead.

We are liquidating the earth’s natural assets to fuel our consumption. Half of us live in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry. Soil erosion exceeds soil formation on one third of the world’s cropland, draining the land of its fertility. The world’s ever-growing herds of cattle, sheep, and goats are converting vast stretches of grassland to desert. Forests are shrinking by 13 million acres per year as we clear land for agriculture and cut trees for lumber and paper. Four fifths of oceanic fisheries are being fished at capacity or overfished and headed for collapse. In system after system, demand is overshooting supply.

Moreover, Brown says we're going to run out of grain sooner rather than later. And obviously, it's the Americans, who do stupid things like invent sandwiches that use fried chicken instead of buns, that are really contributing the problem: "An American living high on the food chain with a diet heavy in grain-intensive livestock products ... consumes twice as much grain as the average Italian and nearly four times as much as the average Indian." It's basically a KFC Double Down Doomsday scenario.

It goes on! Brown cites a study that says "humanity's collective demands first surpassed the earth's regenerative capacity around 1980. By 1999, global demands on the earth's natural systems exceeded sustainable yields by 20 percent ... it would take 1.5 Earths to sustain our current consumption."

So what's going to happen? We're going to run out of food, duh. Well, actually, we're going to run really low on food, then prices will spike and cause the global economy to collapse. This is what we get for letting Starbucks introduce Trenta-size coffee.

World is 'one poor harvest' from chaos, new book warns [AFP]
World on the Edge [PDF]

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