The looming threat of food shortage

Posted June 6th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 3 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Friends, this is a busy week, too busy for a truly thoughtful post, yet my heart is heavy with many worries and fears. We really are right up against it now, this threshold I tried to describe in my book (see sidebar). We are at the moment when we really must decide what kind of world we want to leave to our children, just how bad things are going to get, what it will be like to live in a world where everything we need for life will be under the threat of our changing ecological reality.

I invite you to read this lengthy article from Sunday’s NY Times – because it is very important. While the news media can make me crazy, this is one story that tells us something we need to know – our global food shortages are not something to worry about in the future, they are arriving right now. And whether or not this planet will be able to feed this growing human population (until we can get it to stop growing) depends entirely on the decisions we make, you know, right now.

Here is the article: A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself, by Justin Gillis. It was on the front page and consumed 2 pages inside. The NY Times made this the most important news story of their Sunday edition – for good reason.

Now I want to add a couple of links to give this more perspective, and then add a thought or two.

Worst Ever Carbon Emissions Leave Climate on the Brink, from the UK’s The Guardian.

Floods, Droughts,  Are ‘New Normal’ of Extreme US Weather Fueled by Climate Change, a Reuters article.

Now put this news up against the profound political dysfunction in this country, the utter impossibility of even having a national conversation about any of this.

We can’t, because if we did certain things would become obvious:

* industrial agriculture as a model for food and fuel production would have to be brought to an end as quickly as possible;

* growth as a model for the global economy would have to be renounced and something new created;

* our western societies would need to get off meat as quickly as possible;

* new international laws would need to prohibit multinational corporations and sovereign funds from buying up access rights to water and food production on arable lands in other countries;

* affluent societies would have to begin to renounce their wealth and privileges and drastically downscale the lifestyles of the richest;

* tax structures would need to change, meaning taxes on the rich and on corporations and global financial transactions would need to be raised sharply;

*Monsanto’s GMO seed business would need to be made illegal, along with patents for seeds needed to grow food, returning seed sovereignty to local farmers;

* growing food grains for fuel would need to be halted;

* and massive amounts of international aid would need to be offered to poorer countries to help them develop local agriculture for the purpose of attaining seed sovereignty and food security.

And perhaps most of all, food would have to be removed from the list of commodities to be sold for profit and become what it really is – a basic right for all.

In chapter nine, I begin to articulate a ‘spirituality of scarcity,’ using the gospel story of the loaves and fishes, breaking it open to see what it suggests about how to proceed. The course of the narrative suggests a path. The crowd is hungry and the time is late. How to feed the throngs? Jesus’ first response is a challenge, “feed them yourselves.” Yes, that is our charge. The disciples, lacking confidence in their own ability to do this, lament that they have only found these few loaves and fishes.

Again, the course of the narrative is what matters, certainly more than the ‘miracle’ itself. First, Jesus blesses the food, then they break it into smaller pieces, then they share it with the crowd. Not only are all fed, but there is food left over, there is abundance.

Abundance came from the sharing of the smaller pieces with everyone.

This is a story out of a faith tradition, yes. It is also a story out of an ethic, a moral framework suggesting how we can live with dignity, sharing the abundance of creation. Jesus did not come to start a religion, and much of the religion that claims his name falls shamefully short of proclaiming the world view that got him into so much trouble.

So I leave us tonight with the story of the loaves and fishes and invite it to disturb us, to invite us to a conversion and transformation in how we see the human journey and our current predicament. We either create a world built upon a vision like the one suggested in this story, or we descend into moral chaos as more and more of our sisters and brothers grow hungry and die.

It really is that stark.



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3 Responses

  1. hombredelatierra

    The one point I have the most misgivings about is “massive foreign aid”. Can, in fact, the West be trusted? In past decades $$ was invested in cash crop agriculture and dumping European and N. American food surpluses but what was done to promote sustainable local agriculture in the 3rd world?

    More prosaically, with the transition to a Post Peak Oil economy occurring, one could also question the ABILITY of the West to contribute to the sustainable development of the 3rd world (even assuming they could be trusted)..

  2. Margaret

    Of course, I agree completely that Western aid cannot be trusted. I need to clarify what I mean. I don’t mean traditional assistance programs at all, but rather that the global economy has to stop the transfer of wealth from poor countries to rich countries by way of exploitation, patent and intellectual property rights that amounts to theft of resources, foreign investment, etc.

    What I do mean is transfer of resources toward local initiatives to develop ‘appropriate technologies’ and local markets, to conserve soils and food sovereignty, to transfer resources from the rich to the poor in regard to knowledge and funds to support those local initiatives. We stole from them, we need to give back.

    Obama, for example, has wanted to switch some of our food assistance programs from those that ship our excess grains bought from our big farmers with our tax money to poor countries, to development of local agriculture towards the goal of food self-sufficiency. You can imagine the resistance he met from all those politicians representing Big Ag.

    There are good and bad kinds of assistance. But the worst kind is to bring Western development models backed by corporations anywhere in the world, including here in my own country.

  3. hombredelatierra

    “You can imagine the resistance he met from all those politicians representing Big Ag.”

    Ironically, these are the very interests who beat the drum of “free enterprise” and “free markets” the loudest, all the while decrying those awful (start up) subsidies for green energy initiatives!

    But, yes, you are right about good and bad assistance. Good assistance is less about charity than an investment in a long term stable viable world. Not an act of arrogant, self-avertising, self-serving “charity” (Pharisee and the publican), but a long term investment.

    My hope is that movements toward local resilience building – Transition Initiatives – will catch on during the transition to a Post Peak Oil economy and that these will then become a model for localized development projects overseas (and at home!) Maybe we have things to learn from earlier Liberation Theology efforts in Latin America??