“Demand is very strong. Supply is constrained. It’s as simple as that.”

Posted March 29th, 2008 in Blog 3 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Sorry for not posting all week — some emergencies that had to be dealt with. You know how life is, what John Lennon once sang: “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Not a bad lesson for us to learn as we confront the multi-layers of our ecological crisis.

Sometimes bad news can be the avenue towards hope, towards that moment of awakening when we see, really see, something we have not seen before and it shakes us out of our complacency.

Mostly, the people of our society are good people. Change may come hard for us, and we don’t like our consciences bothering us about the way we live our lives, the choices we make that impact the lives of others, for good or ill.

But I believe rising world hunger can wake us up. I believe that if we find that the way our economies are constructed, if we find that the ways in which we hope to solve our energy crisis, if we find ourselves deeply enmeshed in a way of life and way of doing business that are leading to growing populations of hungry people, many of us, many of us, will change course.

If that suffering could just get through the veils of the consumer society and mass media and touch our hearts…

I write this today because of the latest reports of how production of ethanol, growing demand for basic foodstuffs, higher energy prices, and strains along the supply lines are combining to deepen world hunger. For one thing, the demand on basic grains, like corn, soybeans, and wheat and rising costs of production and transportation are leading to spiking prices and the poor are finding themselves less and less able to meet their daily caloric needs.

Check out this Associated Press article from early in the week, Food Prices Soaring Worldwide. This is stark stuff and it suggests some of the decisions we need to make in our personal lives, but more importantly, in our societies, our economies, our politics. How we consume, and all the energy choices that go with that, are directly related to world hunger. We may not want to hear that, but it is now unavoidable.

This ought to bring out the best in us, and it ought to suggest where our politics need to go in this most momentous political year.

Hear, please, the plea this week from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations: The New Face of Hunger.

The price of food is soaring. The threat of hunger and malnutrition is growing. Millions of the world’s most vulnerable people are at risk.

An effective and urgent response is needed…

The prices of basic staples — wheat, corn, rice — are at record highs, up 50 percent or more in the past six months. Global food stocks are at historic lows. The causes range from rising demand in major economies such as India and China to climate- and weather-related events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts that have devastated harvests in many parts of the world. High oil prices have increased the cost of transporting food and purchasing fertilizer. Some experts say the rise of biofuels has reduced the amount of food available for humans…

Inevitably, it is the “bottom billion” who are hit hardest: people living on one dollar a day or less. When people are that poor, and inflation erodes their meager earnings, they generally do one of two things: They buy less food, or they buy cheaper, less nutritious food. The result is the same — more hunger and less chance of a healthy future. The U.N. World Food Program is seeing families that previously could afford a diverse, nutritious diet dropping to one staple and cutting their meals from three to two or one a day.

You know, our western religious traditions do not shrink back from the moral requirement that has to do with food and hunger, the moral requirement of sharing not just from our excess, so that all have what they need. This is not about charity, but justice. At the same time, we must do this now in a world groaning under the pressures of growing population, growing economies in developing countries, stresses on land and water, and our reliance on fossil fuels that are becoming either increasingly scarce or more expensive to produce, especially expensive for the Earth’s ecosystems.

We are not allowed to shirk this responsibility if the roots of our faith are in the traditions of the Hebrew scripture and/or the gospel story. We are all in this together, bound by connections to which we are finally awakening. We are deeply embedded within a fabric of life that is rapidly fraying. And we are responsible for one another in a world of shrinking resouces, degraded ecosystems, on the verge of a catastrophe beyond imagining.

Yes, this ought to call out the best in us.

[tags] world hunger, ban ki-moon, rising energy prices, rising food prices, moral obligation to address hunger[/tags]

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3 Responses

  1. Steve Salmony

    If people want to begin looking for at least one of sources of the problems currently looming before humanity, perhaps there may be some point to looking at the way the global political economy is operated. It is not difficult to see that most of the wealth flows upward as it naturally does in any pyramid scheme. Is the global economy the most colossal pyramid?

    http://video.aol.com/video-detail/the-long-johns-the-last-laugh-george-parr-subprime/483770241

    A “sub prime” example of how the wealthy are destroying the world we inhabit???

    Buddy, Can You Spare a Billion?
    By Dana Milbank
    The Washington Post
    Friday 04 April 2008

    Meet Alan Schwartz, welfare recipient.

    As the chief executive of Bear Stearns, he’s getting rather more public assistance than your typical welfare mom – specifically, $30 billion in federal loan guarantees to help J.P. Morgan Chase take over his firm. But then, Schwartz has had rather more than his share of suffering of late.

    As his firm collapsed, he was forced to forgo his entire 2007 bonus, leaving his compensation for the past five years at a paltry $141 million, according to Business Week. Things have become so bad that, the Wall Street Journal discovered, Schwartz has had to rent out his 7,850-square-foot home on the ninth green of a suburban New York golf course – leaving the poor fellow with only his 17-room, seven-acre home in Greenwich, his condo in Colorado and the athletic center he built for Duke University.

    Schwartz’s tale of woe tugs at the heartstrings all the more because he and his colleagues at Bear Stearns were, he believes, blameless for the bankruptcy of two hedge funds and the subsequent collapse of the 85-year-old investment bank. “I am saddened,” Schwartz told the Senate banking committee yesterday. He was saddened that Bear Stearns was undone by “unfounded rumors and attendant speculation,” despite its impeccable balance sheet.

    “Due to the stressed condition of the credit market as a whole and the unprecedented speed at which rumors and speculation travel and echo through the modern financial media environment, the rumors and speculation became a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Schwartz told the senators. “There was, simply put, a run on the bank.”

    Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) asked the corporate-welfare recipient whether he shares any blame for his indigent circumstances. “Do you believe that your management team has any responsibility for the company’s collapse?”

    Schwartz could think of no missteps – not even his decision to remain at a conference at the Breakers in Palm Beach while his firm was imploding. “I just simply have not been able to come up with anything, even with the benefit of hindsight,” said the blameless chief executive, escorted into the hearing room by superlawyer Robert Bennett.

    Fortunately for Schwartz, he had a sympathetic audience in the banking committee, whose members have received more than $20 million in campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. “I want the witnesses to know, and others, that as a bottom-line consideration, I happen to believe that this was the right decision,” Chairman Chris Dodd (D-$5,796,000) said before hearing a single word of testimony.

    “You made the right decision,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-$1,582,000) told the regulators who worked out the loan guarantee.

    “The actions had to be done,” agreed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-$6,162,000).

    Only a minority of senators, particularly those with smaller pieces of the campaign-cash pie, dissented. “That is socialism!” railed Sen. Jim Bunning (R-$452,000). “And it must not happen again.”

    To the extent the lawmakers objected to the Bear Stearns bailout, they worried that the Fed’s actions would create a “moral hazard” – an economic term of art – that, as Shelby put it, “encourages firms to take excessive risk based on the expectations that they will reap all the profits while the federal government stands ready to cover any losses if they fail.”

    Shelby’s notion was a curiosity for the senators, who don’t often spend a lot of time worrying about moral hazards. No fewer than five other senators invoked the phrase. “I think the moral hazard was minimized,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, one of the witnesses, reassured the senators.

    No moral hazard, however, would interfere with the lawmakers’ compassion for the beleaguered Schwartz and his fellow witness, J.P. Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, who had given a combined $260,000 in political contributions in recent years – a small part of the $1.7 million their co-workers contributed in this election cycle alone. That’s a sizable handout – but a good investment compared with the $30 billion federal hand-up.

    “On behalf of all of us here on this dais, our sympathies go out to your employees,” Dodd told Schwartz after his opening statement. “There’s no adequate way we can express our sorrow to them for what happened. Obviously, shareholders, same sort of feelings, but obviously the employees particularly. It’s a particularly hard blow.”

    Of course, some might consider $30 billion an adequate expression of sympathy, but Dodd was apologetic as he gently probed Schwartz. “You both will have forgotten more in the next 10 minutes than I’ll ever probably understand about all of this,” he told the witnesses, but didn’t the irregular trading at Bear Stearns mean than “more than just rumors” were behind Bear Stearns’s demise?

    “You could never get facts out as fast as the rumors,” Schwartz explained. “It looked like there were people that wanted to induce panic.”

    Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) reminded Schwartz that two of the firm’s funds went bankrupt in 2007. “It caused concern, not only here but on Wall Street,” the senator said. “Did that dramatically alter your behavior?”

    Evidently not. “I’m not sure I understand the question,” Schwartz

  2. Steve Salmony

    Dear Dr. L. B.,

    I am imagining that your questions are rhetorical ones.

    You ask,

    “Why are politicians and skeptics so willing to risk their future and everyone else’s future on blindly clinging to a course of action that has a high probability of leading to a seriously crippled future? If you even suspect that global warming represents a serious risk to your survival (and we have far more than suspicion these days), why wouldn’t you do everything protect and conserve your planet?”

    It would please me to hear from others; but from my humble perspective the “answers” to your questions are all-too-obvious.

    First, the leaders in my generation of elders wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, of increasing per capita consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers; our desires are evidently insatiable. We choose to believe anything that is politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; our way of life is not negotiable. We dare anyone to question our values or behaviors.

    We religiously promote our shared fantasies of endless economic growth and soon to be unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction oand overpopulation activities, and in so doing deny that Earth has limited resources upon which the survival of life as we know it depends.

    Second, my not-so-great generation appears to be doing a disservice to everything and everyone but ourselves. We are the “what’s in it for me?” generation. We demonstrate precious little regard for the maintenance of the integrity of Earth; shallow willingness to actually protect the environment from crippling degradation; lack of serious consideration for the preservation of biodiversity, wilderness, and a good enough future for our children and coming generations; and no appreciation of the understanding that we are no more or less than human beings with “feet of clay.”

    We live in a soon to be unsustainable way in our planetary home and are proud of it, thank you very much. Certainly, we will “have our cake and eat it, too.” We will fly around in thousands of private jets and live in McMansions, go to our secret clubs and distant hideouts, and risk nothing of value to us. Please do not bother us with the problems of the world. We choose not to hear, see or speak of them. We are the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the many minions in the mass media. We hold the much of the wealth and the power it purchases. If left to our own devices, we will continue in the exercise of our ‘rights’ to ravenously consume Earth’s limited resources; to expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; to encourage the unbridled growth of the human species so that where there are now 6+ billion people, by 2050 we will have 9+ billion members of the human community and, guess what, even more people, perhaps billions more in the distant future, if that is what we desire.

    We are the reigning, self-proclaimed masters of the universe. We have no regard for human limits or Earth’s limitations, thank you very much. Please understand that we do not want anyone to present us with scientific evidence that we could be living unsustainably in an artificially designed, temporary world of our own making…… a manmade world filling up with distinctly human enterprises which appear the be approaching a point in human history when global consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species become unsustainable on the tiny planet God has blessed us to inhabit….. and not to overwhelm, I suppose.

    Third, even our top rank scientists have not found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the reckless dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet’s frangible environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding at a breakneck pace toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world’s colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic ‘wall’ called “unsustainability” at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  3. ecologicalhope

    Okay. That’s the bleak despairing view, and we do seem headed there. But each collapse, each disaster, each new experience of chaos and insecurity provides an opening to talk to people about all that is going wrong — and why.

    There is such inertia in the system at every level. We won’t change in time to save us from a very difficult future, but with each new difficulty, more people are ‘getting it.’

    The ‘turning’ as so many call it now, will not happen in the elite classes of the rich and powerful. They will fight tooth and nail to hang on to their privileges. But despite them, new things are happening, many are waking up, folks are beginning to invent the new way of living on the planet.

    Will it be in time to save us from the worst? We don’t know that yet and may not know in my lifetime. But for the sake of my nieces and nephews, my great niece and nephew, the new little one — whether great niece or nephew we don’t know yet — to be born later this year, I have to go on as if the turning can happen, as if they can and will have a future.

    We are also responsible for hope. But I would not put that in the hands of those who benefit so lavishly from the path of destruction.

    Margaret