Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilisation?

Published on IPS, by Lester R. Brown, Sept. 29, 2009.

Linked with Lester Brown – USA, and with Earth Policy Institute.

ENVIRONMENT: Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilisation? Commentary by Lester R. Brown*, Sept 29, 2009.

In early 2008, Saudi Arabia announced that, after being self-sufficient in wheat for over 20 years, the non-replenishable aquifer it had been pumping for irrigation was largely depleted.

In response, officials said they would reduce their wheat harvest by one-eighth each year until production would cease entirely in 2016. The Saudis would then import virtually all the grain consumed by their Canada-sized population of nearly 30 million people.  

The Saudis are unique in being so wholly dependent on irrigation. But other, far larger, grain producers such as India and China are facing irrigation water losses and could face grain production declines.

Emerging Trends Threaten Food Security: …

… Mobilising to Save Civilisation

Plan B aims to stabilise climate, stabilise population, eradicate poverty, and restore the economy’s natural support systems. It prescribes a worldwide cut in net carbon emissions of 80 percent by 2020, thus keeping atmospheric CO2 concentrations from exceeding 400 parts per million.

Cutting carbon emissions will require both a worldwide revolution in energy efficiency and a shift from oil, coal, and gas to wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

The shift to renewable sources of energy is moving at a pace and on a scale we could not imagine even two years ago.

Consider the state of Texas. The enormous number of wind projects under development, on top of the 9,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity in operation and under construction, will bring Texas to over 50,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity (think 50 coal-fired power plants) when all these wind farms are completed. This will more than satisfy the needs of the state’s 24 million residents.

Nationwide, new wind generating capacity in 2008 totaled 8,400 megawatts while new coal plants totaled only 1,400 megawatts. The annual growth in solar generating capacity will also soon overtake that of coal. The energy transition is under way.

The United States has led the world in each of the last four years in new wind generating capacity, having overtaken Germany in 2005. But this lead will be short-lived. China is working on six wind farm mega-complexes with generating capacities that range from 10,000 to 30,000 megawatts, for a total of 105,000 megawatts. This is in addition to the hundreds of smaller wind farms built or planned.

Wind is not the only option. In July 2009, a consortium of European corporations led by Munich Re, and including Deutsche Bank, Siemens, and ABB plus an Algerian firm, announced a proposal to tap the massive solar thermal generating capacity in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Solar thermal power plants in North Africa could economically supply half of Europe’s electricity. The Algerians note that they have enough harnessable solar energy in their desert to power the world economy. (No, this is not an error.)

The soaring investment in wind, solar, and geothermal energy is being driven by the exciting realisation that these renewables can last as long as the earth itself. In contrast to investing in new oil fields where well yields begin to decline in a matter of decades, or in coal mines where the seams run out, these new energy sources can last forever.

At a Tipping Point: … (full long text).

(Lester R. Brown is founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute. “Plan B 4.0: Mobilising to Save Civilisation” can be downloaded for free at Earth Policy.org).

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