Archive for April, 2008

The New Economics of Hunger

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

A brutal convergence of events has hit an unprepared global market, and grain prices are sky high. The world’s poor suffer most.

The globe’s worst food crisis in a generation emerged as a blip on the big boards and computer screens of America’s great grain exchanges. At first, it seemed like little more than a bout of bad weather.

In Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City, traders watched from the pits early last summer as wheat prices spiked amid mediocre harvests in the United States and Europe and signs of prolonged drought in Australia. But within a few weeks, the traders discerned an ominous snowball effect — one that would eventually bring down a prime minister in Haiti, make more children in Mauritania go to bed hungry, even cause American executives at Sam’s Club to restrict sales of large bags of rice.


The current global food crises – some thoughts

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

I think the current global food crises is more apparent than real. That’s not to say that food isn’t short and the prices aren’t rising rapidly. But, at bottom, there is still a lot of slack that we could take advantage of in the world’s food system.

First, the biofuels thing is misguided and causing more problems that it is worth. Valuable cropland that used to be used to growth human food is now being used to grown food for … cars.

The right answer to the problem of lessening world oil supplies is not to switch to biofuels to avoid giving up our consumption habits. The right answer is to adapt and to start living within our (oil) means. And a second impetus towards this path is that we need to lessen the amount of Carbon Dioxide we’re pumping into the atmosphere.

Second, we could back off eating so much meat and this would free vast amounts of inefficiently used food resources. I read that it takes six meal’s worth of grain to produce one meal’s worth of meat. So, if a person gave up one meal of meat, they and five other people could all share a meal based on grains.

So, there’s slack in the system that we could take advantage of. The question is, as always, human nature.

Will we do the smart and logical thing here … or will we continue to deny reality and press ahead with unabated oil consumption, biofuel growing and rampant meat consumption while larger and larger numbers of the world’s poorer people begin to starve.

Japan’s hunger becomes a dire warning for other nations

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

I’ve said for sometime that  few people will choose to starve quietly.   Japan is in a particularly perilous position.   Most of their oil  is imported and only 39%  (as this article reveals) of their food is grown domestically.   Eventually, they will have the choice of  retiring back to their preindustrial fishing villages and small farms or in going militaristic and taking what they need to preserve their current system by intimidation or force.  It’s not a pretty thought.

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MARIKO Watanabe admits she could have chosen a better time to take up baking. This week, when the Tokyo housewife visited her local Ito-Yokado supermarket to buy butter to make a cake, she found the shelves bare.

“I went to another supermarket, and then another, and there was no butter at those either. Everywhere I went there were notices saying Japan has run out of butter. I couldn’t believe it — this is the first time in my life I’ve wanted to try baking cakes and I can’t get any butter,” said the frustrated cook.

Japan’s acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis.

A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand.

While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term — perhaps permanent — reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

A 130% rise in the global cost of wheat in the past year, caused partly by surging demand from China and India and a huge injection of speculative funds into wheat futures, has forced the Government to hit flour millers with three rounds of stiff mark-ups. The latest — a 30% increase this month — has given rise to speculation that Japan, which relies on imports for 90% of its annual wheat consumption, is no longer on the brink of a food crisis, but has fallen off the cliff.

According to one government poll, 80% of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply.


UN food chief urges crisis action

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

The head of the UN World Food Programme has said urgent action is required to stimulate food production and help the poor cope with soaring food prices.

Josette Sheeran told the BBC that an additional 100 million people, who did not need assistance six months ago, could not now afford to purchase food.

Her warning came ahead of a meeting in London to discuss the rise in prices and an EU policy encouraging biofuels.

Biofuels are intended to tackle climate change but can take away farm land.

Earlier, Latin American leaders had warned about the growth in production of biofuels, which are derived from plant crops.


Last River Porpoises Dying in Polluted Yangtze

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

The planet’s last river-dwelling finless porpoises are dying in part due to exposure to insecticides and mercury in China, a new study says.

The mammals had already been declining as their natural habitat in and around the Yangtze River deteriorated.

In the new research, scientists also found high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other pollutants in the organs of porpoises found in central China’s Dongting Hu Lake, which is connected to the Yangtze. (See China map.)

However the researchers haven’t yet established medically the toxicity level that will kill a porpoise.

“In recent decades the [Yangtze finless porpoise] population decreased sharply each year by approximately 7.3 percent because of human activities on the river, including fishing, pollution, transportation, and dam construction,” said study co-author Wang Ding of China’s Institute of Hydrobiology.

A recent census turned up just 1,800 porpoises, and Wang warned that “the Yangtze finless porpoise will become extinct within 24 to 94 years if no protective measures are taken.”

The baiji, a Chinese freshwater dolphin that also lived in the Yangtze, was declared extinct in December 2007


What does China see?

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

– A Chinese friend of mine, who’s been here in the U.S. for over 15 years, told me the other day that Americans really know very little about China or its motives or history. I found his comments interesting, educational and more than a bit enlightening.

– He’s still deeply angry over Tiananmen Square. But he’s also mad about a lot of the stuff going on now vis-a-vis Tibet and the claims in the American press that all the Chinese that come out and demonstrate for China and the Olympics are just paid stooges of the Chinese government.

I’ve written my share here on Samadhisoft about problems in China and I’ve also written recently on Immigration and Assimilation. Both of these are hot topics and can easily lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings. But, if I seem to pick on China, it’s only because she’s so big. The U.S. and many other countries come in for their share of criticism here as well.

– And, as for the Immigration and Assimilation discussion, it is not directed at rejecting the folks who want to move to a new country. Rather, it is directed at pointing out that the folks in the receiving countries have a right to decide who they want to share their country with.

– Here’s a poem written by a Chinese which expresses a lot of what things look like from the Chinese side and the points it makes are well worth thinking about:

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When we were the Sick Man of Asia,
we were called The Yellow Peril.
When we are billed to be the next Superpower,
we are called The Threat.
When we closed our doors,
you smuggled drugs to open markets.
When we embrace Free Trade,
you blame us for taking away your jobs.
When we were falling apart,
you marched in your troops and wanted your fair share.
When we tried to put the broken pieces back together again,
Free Tibet you screamed, It Was an Invasion!
When we tried Communism, you hated us for being Communist.
When we embrace Capitalism, you hate us for being Capitalist.
When we have a billion people,
you said we were destroying the planet.
When we tried limiting our numbers,
you said we abused human rights.
When we were poor, you thought we were dogs.
When we loan you cash, you blame us for your national debts.
When we build our industries, you call us polluters.
When we sell you goods, you blame us for global warming.
When we buy oil, you call it exploitation and genocide.
When you go to war for oil, you call it liberation.
When we were lost in chaos and rampage,
you demanded rules of law.
When we uphold law and order against violence,
you call it violating human rights.
When we were silent, you said you wanted us to have free speech. When we are silent no more,
you say we are brainwashed-xenophobics.
Why do you hate us so much, we asked.
No, you answered, we don’t hate you.
We don’t hate you either, but, do you understand us?
Of course we do, you said, We have AFP, CNN and BBC’s…
What do you really want from us?
Think hard first, then answer…
Because you only get so many chances.
Enough is Enough, Enough Hypocrisy for This One World.
We want One World, One Dream, and Peace on Earth.
This Big Blue Earth is Big Enough for all of Us.

– To the source of this poem:

Begging for more than small change

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

That’s what I’m talkin’ about….– I couldn’t agree with this guy more. The time for small relatively painless changes in our behaviors is gone. We’re are now to the place that unless we make large wholesale and painful changes to how we are doing things – we are toast.

– And, given my reading of human nature -I’m betting we’re going to be toast.

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Small changes to the way we live our lives are not enough to tackle the environmental challenges facing the planet, argues Tom Crompton. In this week’s Green Room, he says the stark reality is that the only option is to cut the unsustainable consumption of the Earth’s finite resources.

Almost daily, it seems, scientists’ prognoses about the state of our planet grow evermore dire.

Take climate change, for example. Just last week, a new study suggested that sea levels could rise by up to one-and-a-half metres by the end of this century, with catastrophic impacts for low-lying countries.

This is more than three times as high as the most pessimistic projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Yet some climatologists are suggesting that even this is a huge under-estimate of the likely extent of sea level rise.

In the face of mounting evidence of profound environmental challenges, the insistence that we can tackle these by embracing a few simple and painless changes – switching to low-energy light bulbs or buying a hybrid car – feels increasingly unrealistic.


Colombia Reflects Rising Threat of Nuclear Terrorism

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

– I wrote about this story here a few weeks ago.

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The Colombian government revealed last month that the country’s FARC rebels were seeking to acquire enriched uranium. The rebels may have been more interested in trading the uranium to a terrorist group than in developing it into nuclear arms for their own purposes.

A stash subsequently uncovered in Colombia proved to be harmless. But the case shows that the danger of terrorist or insurgent groups acquiring nuclear materials on the black market could be a looming threat.

Terrorism experts say it points to a danger that’s greater than many people realize.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the United States and other countries have sought to penetrate nuclear smuggling networks through sting operations and other counter-terrorism measures but so far with limited success.


18 states commit to take action on climate change

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted Friday that an international deadlock over how to deal with global warming will end once President Bush leaves office, while a leading expert warned of dire consequences if urgent action is not taken.

Schwarzenegger spoke at a conference at Yale University in which 18 states pledged to take action on climate change. He noted a dispute over whether the U.S. should commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions before China and India do the same.

“But I think the deadlock is about to be broken,” said Schwarzenegger, a Republican like Bush.

Schwarzenegger said all three president candidates would be great for the environment and predicted progress after one is inaugurated.

Schwarzenegger has been at odds with the Bush administration over a 2002 California law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blocked the law from taking effect in California and 16 other states, saying global warming is not unique to the state and that emission goals should be set nationally.

Bush called for a halt Wednesday in the growth of greenhouse gases by 2025, acknowledging the need to head off serious climate change. The plan came under fire immediately from environmentalists and congressional Democrats who favor mandatory emission cuts, a position also held by all three presidential contenders.



Saudi women ‘kept in childhood’

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Saudi women are being kept in perpetual childhood so male relatives can exercise “guardianship” over them, the Human Rights Watch group has said.

The New York-based group says Saudi women have to obtain permission from male relatives to work, travel, study, marry or even receive health care.

Their access to justice is also severely constrained, it says.

The group says the Saudi establishment sacrifices basic human rights to maintain male control over women.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Saudi clerics see the guardianship of women’s honour as a key to the country’s social and moral order.