This Week in Green – Jan. 10, 2011
By Geoff Grant – Zoe Environmental Editor
It’s easy to think of the world as a disconnected mass – with its people scattered across a huge globe. But then we are reminded that we are all part of the same ecosystem, dependent on the same pool of resources like food and energy. When food prices rise, the pain radiates to every corner of the planet.
And those prices rose to a record high in December – rising for the sixth consecutive month – according to a report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). That mark exceeded the previous high, set in 2008 when rising food prices sparked riots in more than 60 countries.
While the FAO said the increases did not represent a crisis – it was released prior to Friday’s riots in Algeria over rising food prices – its senior economist said the situation was alarming. “It will be foolish to assume this is the peak,” Abdolreza Abbassian said.
What is equally alarming is that scientists say climate change is causing the crop failures that are contributing to the problem.
As the planet has warmed, we’ve seen increases in extreme weather all over the world, including floods of biblical proportions in Australia this past month and in South Africa this weekend. Pakistan, Laos and Cambodia also endured massive flooding in 2010.
The recent flooding will drive up the price of commodities, including from Australia, which is the fourth-largest wheat exporter in the world. The same is true of Russia, which experienced unprecedented wildfires and drought this past summer, which devastated its crops.
The U.S. and Europe have not been immune, either. Wheat prices in Europe doubled last year, while corn prices in the U.S. rose more than 50 percent.
Of course, climate change isn’t the only factor affecting the cost of food. The world’s population continues to grow – each year farmers must feed 80 million more people. And as the population grows, there is also the increased demand for water, which further impacts and hinders global farming. In addition, grain continues to be used in ethanol for car fuel. In the U.S., more than one-fourth of the grain harvest will be sent to ethanol distilleries.
But unless limiting carbon emissions becomes a priority, crops will suffer and food prices are likely to continue to increase.