Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stockyard Squeals

For much of the world, lunch is broken. This week in Nairobi the world held a conference on environment, which concerned itself greatly about food supply. Our news was dominated by a squeal of greed from the former stockyards.

Food supplies are threatened by increasing environmental breakdown, and today we learn that surface water for farming is about to be seriously curtailed in California. In the rest of the West, a drought has lasted for several years. In Kenya this week a conference was held on food supplies worldwide, and the news is bad.

In Nairobi, the UN Environment Program estimated that the world food supply could diminish by close to 25% in the next forty years.

Up to a quarter of global food production could be lost by 2050 due to the combined impact of such problems as climate change, land degradation and water scarcity, the United Nations says.

The fall-off will strike just as 2 billion more people are added to the world's population, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which says cereal yields have stagnated worldwide and fish catches are declining.

In a new report, UNEP says a 100-year trend of falling food costs could be at an end and that last year's sharp price rises have driven 110 million people into poverty.

While we are all realizing the pinch of diminishing investments' values, I doubt that anyone reading this post at this moment is actually hungry. It's all the more troubling then to realize that our news of the day is known to the rest of the world as it confronts real hunger.

We are sending out screams on the floor of Chicago money-trading - screams of demands that poor people have to pay off their sometimes fraudulently obtained mortgages. These are demands made by wealthy traders. We are listening to the whines of governors that they won't accept money from the federal government because it might crimp local autonomies. These are whines from well-fed men in expensive suits. This is the news we are broadcasting to those confronting actual poverty and hunger.

Over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain, finds a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme released today.

This staggering amount of waste plus environmental degradation is putting an end to a 100-year trend of falling food prices, the study warns. Food prices may increase by 30 to 50 percent within decades, forcing those living in extreme poverty to spend up to 90 percent of their income on food, findings that are supported by a recent report from the World Bank.

The UN report was issued at the UNEP Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum taking place in Nairobi through Friday. The environment ministers are focused on finding solutions to the world's environmental, financial, food and energy crises through the emerging concept of a green economy.
"The Environmental Food Crisis" report offers seven major recommendations:

1. Regulate food prices and provide safety nets for the impoverished

2. Promote environmentally sustainable higher-generation biofuels that do not compete for cropland and water resources

3. Reallocate cereals used in animal feed to human consumption by developing alternative feeds based on new technology, waste and discards

4. Support small-scale farmers by a global fund for micro-finance in developing diversified and resilient ecoagriculture and intercropping systems

5. Increase trade and market access by improving infrastructure, reducing trade barriers, enhancing government subsidies and safety nets, as well as reducing armed conflict and corruption

6. Limit global warming

7. Raise awareness of the pressures of increasing population growth and consumption patterns on ecosystems.

I listened in only a little while to our new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner addressing the G7 meeting. He talked about U.S. competitiveness, and a questioner from the African continent asked if the U.S. couldn't frame its views with other concerns than competitiveness. The questioner suggested that shared access might be a healthy consideration.

Does the decrease in resources mean that we are competing for more of them? It shouldn't. Our policies need to be focused instead on making a place for all of the world's people. If we leave the rest of the world hungry while we hoard everything for ourselves, we are being more than immoral. We are inviting a response 'in kind'. Consider the contrast we present the rest of the world when our major news item is a squeal of greed when a large part of this world is concerned about worldwide poverty and hunger.

We can do a lot to assuage problems in the rest of the world, and need to make that our aim. If we befoul the air, it hurts the lungs of people everywhere. If we take up more than our share of the resources of the world, we inspire ugly emotions about our own populace.

A new, caring, attitude has come into the high offices in government with this year's election. That new attitude can go a long way to bringing us to a higher understanding of our role, and making our place in the world one of helping, not hurting.

We can be a better nation for ourselves, our families, and for the world.

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