We\’re all going to starve!

\”People do not quite realise the scale of the issue,\” added Bevan. \”This is one of the most serious problems that science has ever faced.\” In Britain the lives of hundreds of thousands of people will be threatened by food shortages. Across the globe, tens of millions – if not hundreds of millions – will be affected.

Ooooh, serious!

In Britain, a global food shortage would drive up import costs and make food more expensive, just as the nation\’s farmers start to feel the impact of disrupted rainfall and rising temperatures caused by climate change. \”If we don\’t address this, we can expect major destabilisation, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move to avoid food and water shortages,\” he told a conference earlier this year.

What is it that will cause all of this?

Strangely, no, it isn\’t climate change. That\’s a very minor player here. Similarly, it\’s not population growth, we can handle the sort of growth that\’s likely to happen with the sort of productivity growth we\’ve already got (for example, just bringing African farming up to 50% or so of first world productivity would solve that entirely).

So what could possibly cause such problems?

\”We can certainly do it, although it won\’t be easy,\” said Bevan. For a start, farmers will have to increase yields using greatly reduced amounts of agro-fertilisers because their manufacture is energy-intensive. Some 3% of the world\’s energy is used in the manufacture of fertilisers and in a post-Copenhagen world, dominated by renewable energy, such carbon consumption is likely to be prohibited.

That\’s what\’s going to cause the problem. Fertiliser is pretty much made from natural gas through the Haber Process. Now if we\’re going to be stupid enough to ban people from doing this then of course we\’re going to have problems. But note that it\’s not climate change nor population pressure that\’s causing this. It\’s our reaction to the threat of climate change.

And of course we have choices about how to react to that threat. And the most obvious and basic choice is not to make choices which are worse than the climate change itself.

Hundreds of millions short of food as we ban artificial fertilisers which account for 3% of energy use? Or carry on using the energy and have 3% of the predicted climate change? And 3% of the damage of the predicted climate change?

As a purely personal opinion I think you\’d have to be entirely insane to ban fertilisers on this basis. But then again, purely on that same personal basis, I\’m convinced that a lot of what we\’re being told we must do about climate change is indeed entirely insane. Huge numbers of people seem to have missed the point that there are always trade offs and there are some trade offs that we really don\’t want to make.

Like, perhaps, starving hundreds of millions to avoid a 0.12 oC temperature rise (which is what 3% of a 4 oC rise would be).

10 thoughts on “We\’re all going to starve!”

  1. The EU’s food mountain could ease any perceived food shortage – but of course, the French won’t like that, wedded as they are to the discredited CAP.

    Interestingly, India has found that Coca Cola is the most cost-effective pesticide. Just imagine what it does to humans!

  2. The price of food could quintuple and I’d still be well-fed (getting enough calories in me to maintain my weight is such a nugatory portion of my household budget that I disregard it in forward planning.) Quintupling food costs would, all else being equal, probably kill my cleaning lady and her daughter (of course I would not permit that to happen.) But it’s an example of how ‘Green’ measures are horribly regressive. Lysenkoism killed millions. The latter-day equivalents are just as dangerous. Eco-fascists have blood on their hands. It won’t be the plump, pink Scandinavian do-gooders who pay the price for a retreat from agricultural productivity. It will be the brown and black and poor and desperate, and above all their children (for if there is one thing we know it is that adequate nutrition during childhood is absolutely crucial to future development.)

    I think there’s a powerful case to be made that one of the most effective methods of ensuring future human happiness would be to make an eco-warrior’s head blow up like a firecracker in a can of tomato soup with a well-placed fifty-calibre shot to the forehead. These psychos are hell-bent on outdoing the worst doctrinaire excesses of Mao, and that put paid to fifty million people at the least.

  3. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    I could easily afford a quite large increase in the cost of food…if, of course, I didn’t have to pay any tax.

  4. Isn’t the crux of the story this unsourced, and rather insane, assertion: “Some 3% of the world’s energy is used in the manufacture of fertilisers and in a post-Copenhagen world, dominated by renewable energy, such carbon consumption is likely to be prohibited“.

    Given that “avoiding mass starvation” is one of the few goals that everyone at Copenhagen, from John Monckton through to Swampy, prioritises above any of the ideological ones, why the flaming hell would anyone draw the author’s conclusion that such carbon consumption is likely to be prohibited? It won’t be, and so nobody will starve.

    And Robin McKie shouldn’t be science editor for a (vaguely) respectable newspaper – time to shut it down and put Ben Goldacre in charge of science coverage across the group 😉

    Tim adds: The undercurrent here is that there are indeed those green groups who insist that we have to stop industrial agriculture. You normally see them in the peak oil banfests. “Fertiliser comes from oiol so we have to stop using it”. I reckon that’s where this has come from. Organis farming and nightsoil enthusiasts.

  5. @5, yes, but he’s an evidence-based one like me and (at least for the purposes of argument) Tim, not a watermelon-ideology one like the anti-nuke anti-fertiliser vegan loonies.

  6. @Tim, true, but one of the things that’s clear about the response to AGW (both Copenhagen and elsewhere) is that the nightmare scenario of the deep-greens getting anything like what they want is a million miles off the cards. They get to march around being silly; meanwhile, the actual carbon reduction arrangements are discussed by governments, businesses, banks and economists.

    Tim adds: Wish I was as sanguine. I can already see idiocy of the deep green kind. Aviation, for example, must reduce emissions. But this is nonsense. We don’t care which emissions are reduced, just that many are. It could be (I think probably will be but that’s another matter) that aviation are the emissions upon which we place the highest value. So that we might well want them to *increase* even while we reduce emissions from other activities.

    But we get the Green idea that everyone must cut all their emissions, every sector must share the pain. And yes, this is how things are being done now in the UK. A complete ignoring (even ignorance) of the fact that a reduction in emissions in total does not mean a reduction in emissions from every sector.

  7. john b: you are guilty of the fallacy of the appeal to consequences: that the outcome of wholesale adoption of fluorescent Greenery would be catastrophe and thus it will not be adopted. Such an approach not merely denies the fact of the Holomodor and the Great Leap Forward, but denies their possibility. Humans are perfectly capable of behaviour that leads to mass starvation, and knowledge of this does not necessarily lead to its rejection (q.v. Zimbabwe, right now).

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