Books on:Animal Rights
Food and Nutrition
Peace and Nonviolence
Trees and Forests
Facing the Challenge of Food Scarcity
by Lester R. Brown
159 pages, paperback, W. W. Norton, 1996
Tough Choices presents unsettling facts and figures showing that we are entering a new era of food scarcity and discusses the political problems this entails.
"The thesis of this book is that food scarcity will be the defining issue of the new era now unfolding, much as ideological conflict was the defining issue of the historical era that recently ended. Even more fundamentally, Tough Choices argues that rising food prices will be the first major economic indicator to show that the world economy is on an environmentally unsustainable path.
"An early hint of the shift to an economy of scarcity came in late April 1996, when wheat prices on the Chicago Board of Trade soared above $7 a bushel, the highest level in history and more than double the price a pear earlier. Corn was selling for more than $5 a bushel, also a record. And the price of rice, the third of the three grains that provide most of humanity's food and feed, was on the way up.
"Prices were climbing because the world carryover stocks of grain had fallen to 48 days of consumption, the lowest level on record. As grain futures prices surged in the late spring, news coverage moved from the financial pages of newspapers to the front pages, reflecting an urbanized society's deepening concern about the security of its food supply.
"Even though we live in an age of high technology--space exploration, the World Wide Web, and genetic engineering-- humanity was suddenly faced in 1996 with one of the most ancient challenges: how to make it to the next harvest. In the popular media, this worrying turn of events was explained largely by drought in the winter wheat region of the Great Plains. But was weather the cause of the runaway price rises? Or was it the precipitating event, bringing a deteriorating situation into focus? Was the dramatic climb in prices in late 1995 and early 1996 a temporary matter, a blip on the price charts? Or did it signal a fundamental shift from a world food economy dominated by surpluses to one that would be dominated by scarcity?
Overpumping is a way of converting a minor crisis in the short run into a major crisis in the long run. It lets policymakers avoid difficult questions about carrying capacity and population policy, about the need to create water markets, and about the importance of investing in efficiency. In fact, it is a way to defer tough choices to the next generation, leaving them with even more demanding adjustments."
"Draining rivers dry may be rationalized as essential to human food production, but the benefits it confers on one front have to be weighed against the heavy toll it takes on another. Dried-up or diminished outflows threaten the survival of fish that spawn in these rivers. Estuaries that have served as breeding grounds for oceanic species are destroyed. The nutrient flows from the land to the sea that help sustain fisheries are diminished or even disrupted entirely."
"The dilemma is that as population grows, the resulting increases in urban and industrial demand can be satisfied only by diverting water from the very irrigation needed to supply that population's food."