Thanks a lot for following me all this time. Well, at a cerebral level, I worry that China is getting a free pass. The argument in favor of China’s growth while getting away with horrible environmental harms is basically that the country first has to grow and stabilize. This is hard to argue against. Once incomes and education and health indicators are at a certain level, so says the Chinese government, only then will they remediate their environmental destructions. (Go here for a list of China’s Environmental Issues). Only consumer-based economies have proven track records following this rapid growth/aggressive resource extraction and then stabilization/clean up model.
Most western countries followed this approach, too - rapid economic growth paired with extreme resource extraction, then efficiencies through technology, and then clean up. I’d argue that major countries, the UN, and the World Bank encourage this model.
Severe though China’s problems with water, soil and air are, they are not different in kind from those of other nations in the past. As Pan Jiahua of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) puts it, “We’re following the US, Japan and UK and because of inertia we don’t have the capacity to stop quickly.” Via
But I think China is different than the West. It’s compressing what Europe and the U.S. did in 400 years down to 25. China’s ravaging ecosystems at such great speeds and big scales that there’s no built-in recovery time.
During that 400 year growth period, New England, for example, was deforested four times. How four times? Because the forests had time to bounce back and recover. I’m not saying America is righteous. I’m saying that China seems to be ignoring the capabilities of ecosystems to recover at such rapid paces and large scales - it cannot deforest four times in 25 years.
In August, the Economist explored how China’s rapid growth comes at the expense of tremendous environmental pollution. Check it out if you can.
In real life I worry about sea level rise along coasts in western countries. Yes, poor countries will be hit hard. Distasteful as it sounds, coastal communities in poor countries can be moved (sometimes by force) much more easily than, say, Manhattan or Miami. And the world needs the economies of western countries in order to recover. If the west suffers, so will the rest of the world with respect to environmental recovery and disaster response efforts.
You can read about displaced people, called Climate Refugees, here.
I generally avoid food posts, but am interested in the infrastructure that supports food systems.
One part of my current contract with USAID is a resilient wheat project in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is the 6th largest wheat producer in the world and mostly exports to east and central Europe, the Caucuses, and Asia.
Farmers there are facing three main issues: extreme temperature swings, which are increasing in frequency and causing terrible economic havocs; when to plant their crop, a problem because the planting timing and growing seasons are shifting; and shortage of storage silos for the wheat, especially in bumper seasons.
This last part - where to store the wheat - is probably the biggest issue developing countries (DCs) face with respect to dealing with climate impacted growing seasons. The farmers in Kazakhstan don’t trust the government, nor their seasonal forecastings. Nor do they (generally) reliably purchase crop insurance. So, the farmers tend to plant “when my neighbor plants,” put their finger to the wind, and hope for a good season. It’s very risky, and very unstable. They lose when there is a bad year, due to bad timing of planting, storms, droughts, etc.
But, and back to your question-ish, some years produce so much wheat that the farmers actually lose money. The reason is two fold. First, they lose on market price. The market price goes down when there is an abundance of wheat, it goes up when there is a shortage. The other problem with high-volumes is that there’s no storage system or infrastructure to support a storage system. Thus, all the silos get filled very quickly when all farmers produce record crops - when the silos are filled, the wheat is literally thrown away.
Tl;dnr, “the food crisis” is typically not due to a bad weather year, but due to inefficiencies in distribution. There’s plenty of food grown in the world. Climate change will affect the patterns of growth, but not to such an extent that the systems cannot adapt and adjust.
Getting crops from farm to table is the real issue…
Check out the UN’s Food Security program for more.