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If Climate Change and Population Growth Are Going to Push Food Prices Up by 50%, What Happens When you Add in Peak Oil?

If Climate Change and Population Growth Are Going to Push Food Prices Up by 50%, What Happens When you Add in Peak Oil? thumbnail

From the Japan Times:

Former Irish President Mary Robinson’s foundation for climate justice is hosting a major conference in Dublin this week. Research presented there said that rising incomes and growth in the global population, expected to create 2 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, will drive food prices higher by 40 to 50 percent.
“We must prepare today for higher temperatures in all sectors,” said Gerald Nelson, a senior economist with the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
All of the studies suggest the worst impacts will be felt by the poorest people. Robinson, Ireland’s first female president, said: “Climate change is already having a domino effect on food and nutritional security for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Child malnutrition is predicted to increase by 20 percent by 2050.”
But from Europe to the U.S. to Asia, no population will remain insulated from the huge changes in food production that the rest of the century will bring.
The intersections between food and politics, population and agriculture, economics and climate are incredibly complex, and very hard to sort out.  The truth is that while we all know nothing good will come of them, the exact implications are complex to model.  But there is something else truly critical missing from the models – any understanding of how energy and food prices have become so tightly intertwined, and what peak oil will do to these models.
While at this point climate change is not reducing overall grain yields (although it is expected to begin doing so in the 2020s by most models I’ve seen), in a way that’s still troubling – because our last global food crisis came during a period of record yields.  Ultimately, yield is hugely important, but cost and distribution are what really matter most, and the complicated ways in which we’ve tied food prices to the price of oil mean global hunger can skyrocket EVEN IF yields don’t fall.  If they eventually do fall, which pretty much everyone expects, that’s a recipe for disaster.
The problem is that at this point, no one is providing a clear and complete modelling picture of the intersections of energy, food, population, economics and climate – and yes, that’s one hell of a complex modelling problem.  But it also may be the most critical modelling problem of our times:
I’ve taken the UN to task for not adding peak energy into their modelling programs, but the UN  is just a starting point – although a critical one:
Peak Oil changes the world food picture entirely – agro ecological responses to our food crisis, endorsed by several UN reports in the last few years, become not just a good idea but an absolute necessity when you have to reduce the amount of energy and in particular liquid fuels, consumed in agriculture. The UN has been a consistent leader in recognizing the ways that biofuels drive up the price of food for the world’s hungry poor, but has failed to grasp the ways that without a conscious untangling, food and energy prices will become even more tightly bound together – potentially leaving billions hungry.
Peak Oil is fundamental to nearly every issue that the UN addresses. Understanding why energy shortages tempt us to burn coal – and how to avoid it is critical to our climate picture. The UN’s emergent focus on women’s impact in reducing poverty and improving lives must continue – but must move in areas that aren’t fossil fuel dependent. We must prepare for a less-globalized, not more globalized, society and one struggling with new poverty in new places as climate change and Peak Oil come together. Human rights of all sorts will be affected by the changes that are coming. If we do not wish to lose gains because we are surprised by depletion, we must prepare to hang on to them in a lower energy society.
There is, at this moment, as far as I know, no comprehensive UN study on energy resources and their future. This is both a shame and a scandal – we are preparing for the coming century without a clear picture of the real problems that beset us. Every nation on earth relies on UN research and material to make decisions – and that material is becoming increasingly irrelevant. It is time for the UN to come into the 21st century and recognize that finite resources are truly finite – and that a clear picture of our limits is essential to our human future.
Nearly everyone is failing to take into account the role of geology, oil and energy limits in their predictions – and we’re racing towards disaster.

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9 Comments on "If Climate Change and Population Growth Are Going to Push Food Prices Up by 50%, What Happens When you Add in Peak Oil?"

  1. moli on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 11:04 am 

    CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL WARMING ARE BLAME INSTRUMENTS FOR A CATASTROPHIC FAILING IN GLOBAL POLICY DURING THE DAYS OF OIL AFFLUENCE.. the one percenters may try to hide behind these and many other blame instrumrnts but the 99 percenters will radicalise under the stress of austerity and then no one percenter will be safe.

  2. moli on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 12:08 pm 

    looking to the un for solutions is like not really knowing what the un is or the mind of the ppl who run it. . they are removed from reality slow and as incompetant as their masters. . who are all self serving cowardly villans.

  3. Kenz300 on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 12:22 pm 

    Endless population growth is the problem.

    The elephant in the room that no one wants to address.

  4. J-Gav on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 1:11 pm 

    Financial turmoil, climate change, population growth, the energy crunch and war will usher in the mother of all discontinuities soon enough … Whatever comes out the other side of that dark tunnel probably won’t bear a very strong resemblance to our present Western civilization.

  5. GregT on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 2:23 pm 

    QUESTION: “If Climate Change and Population Growth Are Going to Push Food Prices Up by 50%, What Happens When you Add in Peak Oil?”

    ANSWER: Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death.

  6. BillT on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 2:43 pm 

    “I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest… Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other… The third horseman of the Apocalypse refers to a great famine that will take place, likely as a result of the wars from the second horseman… The fourth horseman of the Apocalypse is symbolic of death and devastation.”

    I am not religious, but doesn’t this sound familiar? Look around at the world today. The Bible lands have seen these horses close up and personal for years. Soon, I think, we all will.

  7. Arthur on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 4:50 pm 

    “Endless population growth is the problem. The elephant in the room that no one wants to address.”

    The only way to ‘address’ that elephant is to shoot it. I am not surprised nobody wants to address this elephant and prefer to let mother nature do the ‘addressing’. Or alternatively to have a semi-totalitarian state like the Chinese have to impose birth control from the top. But problem areas like Africa, India and Arabia don’t have the organizational talent and discipline to erect a totalitarian state in the first place.

    So what’s a peaker from a 1.2 child/woman western society to do? Close the doors of your own society and refuse to import the problems caused by other societies, that’s what. Not doing so in the name of humanitarian values (cowardess in reality, a leftover of affluent times now rapidly disappearing) means pushing off the problems to your children and transforming your society in the killing fields of the future.

  8. Plantagenet on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 5:09 pm 

    Most people are going to see prices rise while their salaries don’t—i.e. they are going to get poorer.

  9. GregT on Wed, 24th Apr 2013 6:13 pm 

    Yup, people are going to get much poorer and food is going to become less available, and far more expensive.

    What happens when there is no longer pharmaceuticals for everyone? When insect borne diseases move further away from the temperate regions? PESTILENCE

    What happens when resources become scarce, and there isn’t enough energy left for all countries to extract them? WAR

    What happens when there are not enough chemicals, fertilizers, and fossil fuels for modern agriculture? When climates become unstable? FAMINE

    What happens when you add all of the above together? DEATH

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