Jonathon Porritt reviews Famine in the West

June 30, 2007 · Filed Under Peak Food in the News · Comment 

Yesterday the Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathon Porritt, gave this review of Famine in the West:

“As you might imagine, “Famine in the West” doesn’t beat around the bush. The combination of diminishing supplies of cheap fossil fuels plus the rapidly worsening impacts of climate change points to a future of food scarcity and possible famine in many parts of the world. Our un-preparedness in the face of such a threat is startling, and the institutionalised denial on the part of our media, political parties and business leaders defies belief. You would have thought that what is happening in Australia might have sent out a few warning signals. The fact that John Gossop is himself a farmer makes it all the more compelling, providing us with a robust and authoritative antidote to the dangerously irrelevant “business as usual” bullshit that dominates so much of today’s debate about the future of farming.”

The Carbon Cycle and Peak Food

June 29, 2007 · Filed Under Threats to Food Supply, competition from biofuels · Comment 

The following article highlights the problems we face in trying to become less dependent on Middle East oil and at the same time fight climate change. It adds to my conviction that we need radical action by changing the tax system to speed innovation in energy saving technologies and a new crop harvesting system so that we can use the millions of tons of crop residues in a more efficient way.

Nick Louth inThe Daily Reckoning wrote:
“Let’s get back to first principles. The carbon in the atmosphere, which causes climate change, isn’t made or destroyed but liberated or captured by physical processes. It is absorbed by plants during their growth and released when they die and rot. During their lifetime it is stored within them. We humans, like all animals, take in carbon with our food and exhale it as we breathe.Â
The carbon in our cells grows as we do and is released when we die. Carbon in fossil fuel is also stored, but for millennia rather than years, from the ancient algae and bacteria from which it is made. When we use our cars we liberate this ancient carbon, and do so in a microscopic fraction of the hundreds of millions of years that it took to accumulate.Â

“Now the economic underpinning behind biofuels can be expressed like a household budget. The idea is to avoid drawing on our inherited carbon savings (from fossil fuel reserves ) but use our carbon ‘income’ from growing crops to fund our carbon ‘spending’, e.g. motoring, aviation and industry. Clearly that only works when there is a new source of income, i.e. new crops grown, to fund the new
carbon expenditure incurred since the industrial revolution. If you merely divert existing crops into
biofuels, you do not add anything to the carbon income side of the account. We have merely been raiding the kitchen kitty.

“Leaving the world short of grain is merely causing food stocks (a different form of carbon store) to be run  down and prices to rise. The US Department of Agriculture says that world grain stocks have already dropped 5% this year.

“The amount of U.S. corn being turned into bio-ethanol for vehicles has tripled in five years to 50m tonnes in 2006. Corn prices earlier this year reached ten year highs, and at $4 a bushel are 70% above year-ago levels. Wheat prices have now followed suit, reaching an 11-year high in recent days, fanned by bad weather. Because agricultural land can be switched from one crop to another, the demand for corn bio-ethanol has fed inflation right the way through the grains complex.
Soaring animal feed prices are already feeding through to higher prices for meat and milk. The same is beginning to happen in Europe, where edible oils such as rape seed for bio-diesel are the crop of choice. Brewer Heineken has already warned that acreage switched away from barley to
oils is causing prices to rise.

“But surely, for all the expense, we are lowering our reliance on Middle Eastern oils? Not really, because there isn’t enough land to allow us to do so. The OECD has calculated that it would take 70% of Europe’s farmland to supply enough biofuels to save 10% of the oil currently used in transport. The 146.7m tonnes of oil equivalent the IEA expects to be drawn from biofuels by 2030 (on the big subsidy assumption) is just 3.8% of annual global oil consumption.”

Articles like that seem to suggest that the problems are insoluble and we should just admit defeat and let our children face the consequences when, in fact, radical action now is needed.

Three die in Yorkshire Floods 25th June

June 26, 2007 · Filed Under Threats to Food Supply · Comment 

Yesterday three people died in Yorkshire (the county where I live) because of flash floods.  A Hull man died when his foot became stuck while he was in a drain.  A 13 year-old was swept away from a park in Sheffied and a 68-year old man was washed away whilst getting out of his car.


About 100ml of rain fell in Hull over a 24 hour period making over 40 schools close and  thousands of people homeless.  Police struggled to control looters and many people were in a state of panic.  My son (pictuted here sailing a boat outside our house) was sent home from school and I have to take time off work to look after him until school reopens.  The lives of ordinairy people like my friend Sara from Farming Friends were turned upside down.  Crops were damaged and when it comes to harvest time, yields will be less.


As weather patterns become more extreme because of climate change we will see more and more of this kind of chaos.  Thus multiplied, the future effect on food production will be significant.

One Response

  1. farmingfriends Says: