Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Canary in the supermarket

Paul Krugman's latest column describes part of the problem .
We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs...
But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning...
And here (audio) Environmental sociologist Michael Carolan comes at it from a different angle, and describes the systemic unsustainability nature of how we produce and consume our food even without factoring climate change.

The food system is a critical to human survival, yet we treat food the same way we treat iPods and cars. To us, especially in the developed world, food is a consumer commodity, subject to the same laws supply and demand, innovation, growth, corporatisation, etc, that give us bits of metal, plastic, and electrons that we can't drink, eat, or breathe. They understand this in the global South and have understood this for some time.

Rogue scholar Mike Davis stitches the capitalist system of food distribution and the climate together in his deeply researched Late Victorian Holocausts: El NiƱo Famines and the Making of the Third World. Davis explains how colonial powers sought to commoditise every last scrap of indigenous agricultural staple to feed their markets. The result was the destruction of food security of the colonised populations around the world. Grain reserves in places like British India, traditionally kept for drought years, were put up for market sale and caused millions to starve in the next drought. Things haven't changed.

Way back, my Econ 101 prof called national defence an "unmet public good" because the private sector could not provide a reliable state level national security apparatus. Looking at the intersection of the food system with climate change and capitalism, it is a wonder that food isn't considered the same way...

2 comments:

harebell said...

Don't hold your breath on defence.
Given the emergence of Blackwater like enterprises, it won't be long before we going to see a national defence programme provided the market. Whether it succeeds is another matter.

Boris said...

Well, Blackwater (in green circles, blackwater is water containing human waste...) was employed during Katrina and not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a partial privatisation in that respect. It is also somethign to consider the cozy relationship between larger arms makers and government like Lockheed Martin and Cons...