Era of cheap food and fuel may have reached its end

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

drought-usa-corn Corn stalks struggling from lack of rain and a heat wave covering most of the country are the conditions in the USA at the end of July 2012. The nation's widest drought in decades is spreading and more than half of the continental United States is now in some stage of drought, and most of the rest is abnormally dry.

In Europe things look different to a degree and while the south, predominately, has been suffering drought and heat, with temperatures, in the shade, in Sicily reaching 49C in July the northern half has been in a “Monsoon” with temperatures struggling to reach the 20C mark and with rain almost every day and often all day.

In Britain this has, definitely, been the case ever since the government and the water companies declared a drought on April 1st – and it was no April Fools – and it started raining, right on queue, about a week later and rarely ever stopped.

wettest drought in history The rain, much like the drought in the US and the southern part of Europe, has caused crops to fail and will mean food prices (and ethanol rates) rise in the coming months. Adding to that that fuel for agriculture is getting more and more expensive, as fuel costs rise relentlessly (in the UK at least) we can but prepare for an ever increasing cost of food.

The American government has declared one-third of the counties in the United States to be disaster areas. The United States Drought Monitor has reported that 88% of corn and 87% of soy beans are in areas affected by drought.

This is hitting farmers hard, driving up feed prices. The price of corn has gone up 40 per cent in six weeks, which will lead to higher meat prices for consumers.

The drought is also affecting shipping. The volume of water in the St. Lawrence was sufficient to slow my progress up the river, but it is lower than usual. According to Environment Canada, the Great Lakes are all well below average levels and the level at Montreal is at a 10-year low.

In June 2012 the managers of the St. Lawrence Seaway ordered ships to reduce their draft in the seaway, which means they cannot carry as much cargo as usual. From this trend we can just assume that this may pose a challenge for shippers in the future.

The vast majority of the world's climate scientists agree human activities are heating the planet, but that does not, necessarily, mean that this particular drought can be blamed on our pollution. There have been bad droughts in the United States in the past that had nothing to do with atmospheric carbon.

An analyst source within the US government led us to understand that the earthquake off the coast of Japan, which cause the Fukushima disaster, cased a continental shift and if we add to this the fact that early last year there was a very slight earth axis tilt the shift of the jet stream, which is bringing the heat to the south of Europe and the wet to the north, and which is refusing to move north, may be very much due to this.

While the much of North America is suffering from a drought and serious heat other countries, aside from northern Europe and especially Britain, are also experiencing heavy rains and problems in that field, including Australia, which itself has been suffering from drought for the last decades.

There is no question that there is climate change, but to call it global warming may be a little misleading as, in fact, in some areas it may cause a cooling rather than a warming, predominately due to the fact that clouds will keep the temperatures down in the areas where there is lots of precipitation.

However, climate change makes droughts and catastrophic storms more likely, even if you cannot blame climate change with absolute certainty for any particular event.

Over the long run, though, if the scientists are right, we will have more extreme weather, food prices will go up and, in a reaction to the changing public mood, politicians will act to cut carbon emissions, which will increase fuel prices that are already being driven up by growing demand in China and the rest of the developing world.

Farmers, facing higher diesel and fertilizer prices, will increase the price of food which means that the era of inexpensive fuel and food – which drove a glorious, decades-long boom in North America, and elsewhere – may be coming to a painful end.

Our present way of life is not be sustainable and we will require to make radical changes, particularly to agricultural systems that have been sustaining high yields with ever-increasing inputs of oil, a big contributor to climate change.

The weirdest thing, however, is that the powers that be and the farming lobby still do not see the writing on the wall and they still claim that they need bigger machines, larger farms, etc., and that the small farms – if we would decide to go back to them – would never be able to feed the population.

That claim is a load of – as our Australian cousins would say – bull dust and even more so if we allowed people to grow food everywhere wherever possible, including their front yards.

As to fuel and thus how we work, travel and how farming and transportation is conducted there is but one resolution and that is a return to the ways of our forefather (and -mothers). This will mean walking and cycling and horse and cart. The era of the motorcar is about to hit the rock face also, and that in due course with a bang.

© 2012