UN, Oxfam Reports: Brace for Impact.

Oxfam volunteers demonstrate for non-readers the combined effects of rising seawater (climate change) and rising food prices. (AFP Photo/Alexander Joe)

The drumbeat of dire warnings continues about the inevitable and imminent collapse of the world’s food supply before the combined onslaughts of industrial agriculture and climate change. Despite the increasing number of scientific reports documenting ever more ominous conditions and prospects worldwide, the response from the people who could conceivably do something about it has been a collective yawn. The two latest cries of “fire” in our crowded theater came this week:

The British charity Oxfam told the UN conference on climate change beginning today in Durban that extreme weather events triggered by climate change during the past 18 months have caused the prices of food commodities to skyrocket, plunging tens of millions of people into extreme poverty and famine. Moreover, says Oxfam, this catastrophe is merely a “grim foretaste” of what lies ahead.

Among the evidence cited by Oxfam:

  • In 2010, a heatwave in Russia and Ukraine sparked a rise of 60 to 80 percent in global wheat prices in three months, reaching 85 percent in April 2011;
  • In July 2011, the price of sorghum was 393 percent higher in Somalia, while corn in Ethiopia and Kenya was up to 191 and 161 percent respectively compared to the five-year average, because of drought in the Horn of Africa;
  • Rainstorms and typhoons in Southeast Asia, meanwhile, have driven up the price of rice in Thailand and Vietnam. In September and October, the cost of this staple was 25-30 percent higher there than a year earlier.

“More frequent and extreme weather events will compound things further, creating shortages, destabilising markets and precipitating price spikes, which will be felt on top of the structural price rises predicted by the models,” Oxfam said.

Meanwhile, also released today for the UN climate conference, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization announced the results of its first assessment of the world’s land resources. It found that one of every four acres of arable land on the planet is “highly degraded” and that water available for agriculture is becoming more scarce and more polluted. This, the FAO did not dare to say, is the legacy of industrial agriculture and the grotesquely mis-named “green revolution” that spread petrochemical, biotechnical monoculture around the world.

What the FAO did dare to say, although it was couched in the calm, detached tone of scientists documenting the extinction of a species of ant, was that “farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world’s expected 9 billion-strong population. That amounts to 1 billion tons more wheat, rice and other cereals and 200 million more tons of beef and other livestock.”

No one who believes that statement could make it without experiencing spontaneous combustion of the hair. It says that billions of people are going to starve unless agriculture not only stops degrading land, but starts immediately to improve land, and unless world food production that has been falling behind demand for years suddenly expands by 70 per cent. In the face of the heretofore mentioned global climate change.

FAO director-general Jacques Diouf managed to remain calm in announcing today in Durban what his agency has found: “The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable,” he said. Indeed.

No one expects the conferees at Durban to do anything substantive about reducing, let alone reversing, the human contributions to climate change. No one expects the US Congress, or the next President of the United States, or anyone else, to do anything substantive anytime soon about climate change, food supply, peak oil, water shortages, desertification or any of the myriad other real and present dangers to the survival of industrial civilization..

If the consequences, as the understatement goes, are “unacceptable.” how come it’s acceptable for people with responsibility for the welfare of their people to do nothing? Is it because we have cloaked the imminent arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with the benign label of unacceptable future consequences? Perhaps it’s time to talk more bluntly.

Brace for Impact.

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