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Monday, November 15, 2010

Right and Left Agree: OK To Risk Starvation Of The Poor

(Originally posted on Red Green and Blue, November 22, 2010. For a complete list of Steve Savage's posts on various sites see this link)

The anti-climate-science politicians from the Right and the anti-technology activists from the Left are independently, but quite successfully, increasing the risk of malnutrition and/or starvation for the poorest people of the world.  This may not be their intended agenda, but it is the likely outcome from what they are doing.
Another food price spike looming
There are rumblings today of another "food crisis" like that in 2007/8.  There is every reason to believe that food shortages will become more frequent and severe over the next few decades of overall human population growth. (See map above for where projected population growth will occur).
By 2050 we will need between 50% and 100% more food.  This cannot come from farming new land - it needs to come from producing more on the land we already farm. Fortunately there are a lot of dedicated people striving to make that possible.  However, because of the enormity of this challenge, there will be shortfalls because of weather extremes or pest pandemics.  There will be times that food is too scarce and far more expensive.
For those of us who live in relatively rich countries, the risk is that our lives will be somewhat disrupted, but for the hundreds of millions of the world's poorest inhabitants, the risk is true suffering and even death (not to mention political instability, mass migrations...).
This risk is real and it is increased by the powerful forces that drive the  anti-climate-science agenda from the Right and anti-technology agenda from the Left.
How the right wing is increasing starvation risk
It is no surprise that the science behind something as complex as Climate Change carries some uncertainty and some disagreement among scientists.
Unfortunately, that normal feature of science has become fodder for conservatives who don't like the policy implications that come with the consensus conclusion: we have a problem, and we are likely the cause of that problem.
If climate change is real, we can expect to see a wide range of weather extremes and other basic shifts that will make food production even more challenging than it has always been.  If we do nothing (and the recent election results make that almost certain), we will eventually see exagerated food supply crises.
The greenhouse gas emissions are driven mainly by the rich.  The increased food insecurity will be felt by the poor.  If the anti-science Right is wrong about climate change, the risk isn't so much about "charismatic megafauna" like polar bears - it is about starving kids.
How the left wing is increasing starvation risk
There are a number of very influential environmental NGOs who have been quite successful at impeding the development of agricultural technologies.  They have done this with the aid of many academics, media, bloggers and celebrities.  In Europe this agenda has also been driven in the political realm by the Green Party. Their "achievements" to-date include:
  • Blocking the commercial development of new GMO crops by driving major food companies to reject them purely for reasons of "brand protection." (Potatoeswheat, sweet corn, sugarbeets..)
  • Convincing most developing nations to adopt a European-like regulatory structure for GMOs, so that it is now unlikely that biotechnology will be developed in time to help feed the most rapidly increasing populations over the next 50 years (e.g. virus resistant cassavadrought tolerant corn for sub-Saharan Africa).
  • Convincing most developed world governments to dramatically reduce their investment in agricultural development research that includes any technology component and attacking groups like the Gates Foundation for stepping in to fill that void.
  • Using intensive litigation to make the cost of developing newer, safer and more effective pesticides prohibitively expensive.
  • Pushing the EU to apply the "precautionary principle" to agricultural technology regulation.  This limits crop productivity in the EU at the same time that rich population is doing a "virtual land grab" for food imports that is equal to the land mass of Germany and growing.
All of these actions combine to slow the rate at which food production can be increased, and that increases the probability of shortfalls in the future.  Most of this anti-technology activism is again concentrated in the rich world which will be largely insulated from food insecurity.  The poor people they "protect" from technology will be the ones at risk of insufficient food.
Both sides can probably see how the other one is raising risk for the poor, but they seem to have difficulty seeing how they are doing the same thing in a different way.  In any case, these forces on the Right and Left are succeeding, and there seems to be little we can do about it.
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(Global Population Growth Map from Lauren Manning)