Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The End of the World As We Know It

I don't know what's wrong with me at the moment. Can't seem to bring myself to write about anything much. Perhaps that's because I keep being given assignments about the onset of armaggedon at work which make everything seem a bit pointless.

Last time I checked terrorists were about to cause a clash of civilisations with the muslim world that would result in a Revelations-style fight to the death.

However, unlike the (apparent) majority of my fellow citizens I have never been particularly afraid of this scenario, partly because I think those threatening to destroy Western civilisation are more than usually incompetent and partly because we have most of the money and weapons on our side.

From what I can tell there's a large number of disgruntled 16 year olds from Luton with about 2 GCSE's to rub together looking for their moment in the limelight and a short-cut to credibility with their peers.

The shoe-bomber just made me laugh, as did the jeep 'attack' on Glasgow airport where the only person that got injured was the mujahideen doctor type who set himself on fire. From shame, probably.

True the whole 7/7 London Tube incident was scary but we definitely had more to fear from the IRA than these guys.

Climate change catastrophe and rising food prices is a different story.

The past year has seen startling hikes in the cost of basic foods: Corn has jumped 31%, rice 74%, soya 87% and wheat by an astonishing 130% since March 2007. As a result 100 million people could be pushed into poverty and hundreds of thousands put at risk of starvation according to the IMF and World Bank.

As opposed to the very localised threat of a possible terrorist attack (which can spread fear, but rarely, if ever, total destruction) the current situation is so grave that Ban Ki-Moon has warned it will cancel out all progress toward the Millennium Development goals of halving world poverty by 2015. Now billions of starving and desperate people is not only a humanitarian disaster but the recipe for a real third world war.

We are faced with the threat of a world which is deforested and denuded of its natural resources. Common goods like fish stocks and fresh water are getting rarer and will likely be the trigger for major conflict in years to come. If sea levels rise we'll sea a massive increase in refugee numbers, while natural disasters, salinisation and desertification linked to climate change will ensure harvests go from poor to non-existent in many of the world's poorest areas.

People like to blame biofuels for the current rash of food price hikes and shortages, and to a certain extent they are right since biofuels increase demand for crops, which boosts prices, which drives agricultural expansion, which eats forests, which releases even more CO2, which brings armageddon another step closer.

However, using biofuels as a scapegoat is a little too simplistic. Even if we turned over agrofuel fields to food production , that won't do much to counter world population growth and industrialisation which means people are consuming far more than the world can actually produce.

Take eating habits. The average Chinaman already eats 30 kilos more beef per capita now than he did in 1980. And the average kilo of beef requires 2000 square feet of land and 13000 litres of water. Since the same nutritional content can be gained from soya at 1% of the land and water, the logic of global capitalism, the logic of demand and supply to those who can afford goods, is pretty much responsible for the fact that farmers are growing food for the rich, and leaving the poor to starve.

Not that they have much choice. Agricultural markets are amongst the most restrictive and subsidised in the world, and their distortions trap poor farmers in a cycle of poverty and give them little incentive to increase food production. Likewise, the real culprit in the biofuels saga is the United States government which props up its industry to the tune of $7 billion a year, not including basic farm subsidies, which has a knock-on effect on world food production and prices.

It is the CAP and other subsidies, not biofuels, that are the root cause of this problem. If we really want to feed the world's poor, Europe and America should stop bleating about biofuels and move to end agricultural protectionism and export restrictions; enhance agricultural development in the poorest countries; and ensure the success of the Doha Development Round to encourage free, fair, and sustainable agricultural trade at global level.

Likewise, Europe must use its collective weight at international level to ensure that climate change and sustainability criteria are effectively integrated with trade policy to stop the latter undermining the former, as is currently the case. And that means stopping the Americans, in particular, screwing everyone over with their peculiar definition of 'free market economics' which is all about protecting their farmers, and damning the rest of the world.

It also means everyone becoming a vegetarian, as called for by Paul MacCartney.

It's a long shot. I dont see it happening myself. Armageddon is - sadly - a far safer bet.

1 comment:

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