Thursday, April 17, 2008

May you live in interesting times! (part 37)

Attribute: Justin Mott for The New York Times

Sheep in their march behind a herd of lemmings across southeastern Australia's drought
stricken countryside on their way to certain death by drowning themselves in the Bass Strait.

In an updated echoing of history in which Marie Antoinette is said to have allegedly muttered to her fellow countrymen during a bread shortage, "Let them eat cake!," Australia seems to be saying to riotous Haitians and increasingly more violent protestors in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen, "Let them eat wine!"

Extreme drought conditions have caused Australia's rice production (which requires much water) to decline by 98%. As a result, the largest rice mill in the southern hemisphere there has shut down. Former rice producing land is being converted to the production of wine grapes which demand far less water.

In the US, the growing hordes of hungry are being further agitated by that country's suggestion, "Let them eat biofuel!" as more and more of crops produced there are going into gas tanks instead of tummies. Even Americans are feeling the pinch with the resultant dramatic price increases in food (which, thankfully, along with soaring energy costs, are not included in the US core inflation price index).

It's gotten to the point where the World Bank has become concerned. Exploitation of masses of starving, poor, sick and dying populations globally has always been considered acceptable so long as those pesky throngs don't get violently unruly. But with increasing unrest in the Third World, the World Bank is now urging "major agricultural nations to overhaul policies to avoid a social explosion from rising food prices."1

It's all part of the curse of "interesting times" in which we live. The niche mankind has enjoyed and thrived within for thousands of years is shriveling up. How many will have to perish to accommodate the newer more austere niche remains to be seen but some estimates are between 50-80% of us must perish.

At least we more fortunate than those poor Third World bastards will be able to cruise around, despite our growing hunger pangs, in our cars fueled with corn while getting high swilling good Australian wine as millions or billions of the world's impoverished perish.

Interesting times, indeed!

1 NY Times


D.K. Raed said...

Interesting to find out that "Let them eat cake" might translate to "Let them eat garbage"!!! This is exactly the remark I have been looking for to sum up the imperious attitude of the priviledged, for that is exactly what the poor are doing in many bustling cities like Tijuana. The garbage dumps are full of the poor, swarming like ants to find their dinners among all the plastic, styrofoam, glass & baby diapers (not to mention old tires to contruct their houses).

That corn lobby must be powerful. Besides pushing high fructose corn syrup down our throats in every conceivable food product, thus increasing to our obesity rate, now they will be converting otherwise edible corn to biofuel? Food vs driving-around fuel doesn't seem like a good trade-off to me.

Reminds me somewhat of the rice growers in Imperial Valley CA, a desolate desert turned green w/water from the Colorado River. Originally barley & vegetable crops, it turned out rice was more profitable since they could grow it with the unlimited & almost free ($25/per farm) colorado water they had been granted back in the dark ages. So the more water intense rice made sense to them. Plus it was right in line w/our unstated mandate that "not one drop of Colorado River water shall reach Mexico, if at all possible." With this cheap, but highly evaporative water, being spent on rice, well you can see why big cities like San Diego are now paying the Imperial Valley rice farmers million$$$ for "their" water. Finally, they found a more profitable "crop" than rice!

(sigh) ... Arthur C. Clarke once said 10% of the current human population would be correct number, since we tend to suck up 90% of the resources ... (sigh, again).

eProf2 said...

Yesterday on NPR there was a report on the inter-relationship between bio-fuels and food production for humans. Wheat has gone up in price three fold from one year ago with the greatest impact on developing nations where people spend the highest percentage of their incomes on food. Soy production is way down around the world as is rice as corn displaces these crops due to the price demand. Germany uses up to 30 percent of their arable land for bio-fuels. The US around twenty percent. England only about two percent thus far.

One of the most interesting things I heard, though, was humans should only be using the discarded portions of their ag crops for bio-fuels instead of using the complete crop.

Perhaps, we learning as we go about these new ag uses but the transition could be very painful.

dada said...

eprof: I absolutely agree...the learning process for the "new world" we're about to enter (out of necessity) will likely be very, very painful.

"Another round of Advil for everyone!"

D.K. - I confess, I was being conservative in my estimates of the number of us that might make it through the transition. (I like Clarke's figure better. It'd give us more time to increase arable land as the fwys and shopping centers revert to farmland.

dada said...

“Achieving the 15% (Bush) goal (to replace 15% of domestic gasoline with biofuels in 10 years) would require the entire current U. S. corn crop,
which represents a whopping 40% of the world's corn supply.”
- Colin Carter, Ph.D., UC-Davis

"Researchers at Cornell University and the University of California -Berkeley say it takes 29 percent more fossil energy to turn corn into ethanol than the amount of fuel the process produces. For switch grass, a warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent.

"It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel and more than double the energy produced is needed to do the same to sunflower plants, the study found."

D.K. Raed said...

figures, the only way the bushgang would be interested is if there's money to be made for the (former?) oil men. an added benefit for them is the reduction of the much of the pesky human population who can ease their hunger pangs by smoking switch grass. better convert your backyard into a 'victory garden' and hope my pathetic tomato crop last yr isn't indicative of the normal rate of production.