Plan B 4.0 ch. 1 and 2

Plan B 4.0 ch. 1 and 2 - 4.0 From time to time I go back...

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4.0 From time to time I go back and read about earlier civilizations that declined and collapsed, trying to understand the reasons for their demise. More often than not shrinking food supplies were responsible. For the Sumerians, rising salt levels in the soil—the result of a flaw in their irrigation system—brought down wheat and barley yields and eventually the civilization itself.1 For the Mayans, soil erosion exacerbated by a series of intense droughts apparently undermined their food supply and their civilization. For other early civilizations that collapsed, it was often soil erosion and the resulting shrinkage in harvests that led to their decline.2 Does our civilization face a similar fate? Until recently it did not seem possible. I resisted the idea that food shortages could also bring down our early twenty-first century global civilization. But our continuing failure to reverse the environmental trends that are undermining the world food economy forces me to conclude that if we continue with business as usual such a collapse is not only possible but likely. The historic grain price climb in the last few years underlines Selling Our Future 1 On the supply side, several environmental and resource trends are making it more difficult to expand food production fast enough. Among the ongoing ones are soil erosion, aquifer depletion, crop-shrinking heat waves, melting ice sheets and rising sea level, and the melting of the mountain glaciers that feed major rivers and irrigation systems. In addition, three resource trends are affecting our food supply: the loss of cropland to non-farm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, and the coming reduction in oil supplies. The first trend of concern is population growth. Each year there are 79 million more people at the dinner table. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of these individuals are being added in countries where soils are eroding, water tables are falling, and irrigation wells are going dry. If we cannot get the brakes on population growth, we may not be able to eradicate hunger.5 Even as our numbers are multiplying, some 3 billion people are trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grainintensive livestock products. At the top of the food chain ranking are the United States and Canada, where people consume on average 800 kilograms of grain per year, most of it indirectly as beef, pork, poultry, milk, and eggs. Near the bottom of this ranking is India, where people have less than 200 kilograms of grain each, and thus must consume nearly all of it directly, leaving little for conversion into animal protein.6 Beyond this, the owners of the world’s 910 million automobiles want to maintain their mobility, and most are not particularly concerned about whether their fuel comes from an oil well or a corn field. The orgy of investment in ethanol fuel distilleries that followed the 2005 surge in U.S. gas prices to $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina raised the annual growth in world grain
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Plan B 4.0 ch. 1 and 2 - 4.0 From time to time I go back...

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