Saturday, April 12, 2008


It's started. The BBC World News report on the startling rise in basic food costs throughout the world is alarming new evidence of the trouble we're in as a species. Unless we can learn to let go of our addiction to our comfortable standards of living, our excessive material possessions and our hunger for wealth, I do believe that we're headed for extinction--like those millions of other species that have failed to survive the continuing evolutionary process. Let's hope at least that we leave behind a world that's still habitable for other, more intelligent species, who share the planet and its resources with more foresight than ourselves.

The report notes a 75 percent increase in the cost of rice over the past twelve months, and a 13o percent increase in the price of wheat. The cost of corn has increased less steeply, but no less dramatically. It showed some of the results in various locations throughout the world, most notably in the Philippines, where dangerous stresses are already evident in the fabric of society. Anger and frustration mount, along with sheer, physical hunger. How long will it be before people start to fight for the food they need to survive? How long will it before nation becomes pitted against nation in the competition for this most basic of resources? How long will it be--no, this has already started--before people die of starvation?

So far, we Americans remain sitting relatively pretty. We whine about gas prices, watch food prices steadily mount and the financial markets teeter on the brink of disaster. We fume at the airport when our flight is delayed. The great middle class is not immune from the effects of global changes, but it has managed pretty much to ignore the plight of the truly poor. So far. But things will predictably get worse, as a result of our heedless consumption and our greed for the good life. In our most recent egregious misadventure, we have chosen biofuels for our machines over food for our people, destroying vast areas of agricultural land in favor of more profitable biofuel-producing plants. We are already paying for this stupidity.

Is there still time for a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of the policies that misguide us? It's such a huge change we will be required to embrace, it's doubtful whether we'll have the guts and the wisdom to do it before the tipping point is reached. And we don't even know where that tipping point is. We might already have passed it. What's clear, with the world population continuing to expand, is that sacrifice will be needed. We Americans will need to learn to honor the fact that there are other people in this world--just as human, if less "developed" than ourselves; and that, if we are to survive, we will need to make sacrifices to enable them, also, to survive. With India and China catching up with our profligate consumption of resources of all kinds--not to mention the attendant pollution--we must act very soon to slow down the approach of mass starvation, disease, violence, and war.

I realize that I'm not a voice crying in the wilderness, here. The voices are getting louder and more clamorous, their message more and more difficult to ignore. But denial is still rife in these United States, as is callous self-interest and willful blindness. This is no longer a matter of finding fixes for small problems, for putting out brushfires as and when they break out. We're talking, finally, about nothing less than the survival of our species.


Anonymous said...

Check out this company website, producing bio-diesel from pond algae, very interesting and does not impact food sources.

lindsey said...

Well put Peter. Well put.

TJ said...

There's a very insightful book by Riane Eisler called "The Real Wealth of Nations" in which she focuses on the need to create a caring economics. If you or your other readers haven't already read it, this is Ms. Eisler's blueprint for a better world, (presuming we're not already too late).

Also, Heifer International is a wonderful organization for charitable giving. I'm sure there are others just as worthy, but this is the one we contribute to. As always, it feels like just a drop in the bucket when we consider all there is to overcome, but if we each put in our drop - well, you know the rest.

khengsiong said...

I think we need to bring back family planning, especially in developed countries.

But I gather that this is not easy. Firstly, some religious authorities are against contraception. Secondly, a large population is often good for the economy. Just look at China and India.

In countries where racial politics is rampant, such as my own, large population for any race also implies more votes.

I have written two posts on this issue:
Food Crisis
Food Crisis - can Buddhists help?