WORLD FACING HUGE NEW CHALLENGE ON FOOD FRONT: The 11th Hour in context

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We watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s “11th hour” last night (you might be able to watch it here or via quicksilversreen.com and read more about it here) and although it was by no stretch of the imagination a very good film on any terms (structure, presentation of material, cinematography or in terms of delivering a profound radical political message) it was still a positive surprise. But hey! what would you expect, come on, be honest?

In the critical (mainstream environmentalist?) words of Rikke Bruntse-Dahl, writing for smartplanet.com:

“The overall message was that we’ve forgotten that we’re part of nature and even though the Earth as such will survive, it will not be a pleasant — or indeed habitable — place to be if we don’t start looking after it and each other. While it’s undoubtedly a good message, which we’d like as many people as possible to hear, the film itself is just not up to scratch.

An hour and a half of interviews with some interesting, inspiring people (and some random not-so-inspiring people), stock library footage of gigantic factory chimneys, oil rigs, melting icebergs and fires coupled with often cheesy music (uplifting when beautiful nature footage was shown and moody when the camera turned to smoke and fire) seemed dated and not very creative.

And then there were Leo DiCaprio’s comments and questions thrown in now and then for good measure. We normally adore him and his passion for the planet, but in The 11th Hour his narrator role came off stilted and unnatural — almost like he was acting too much for a role that really required earnestness (we wanted Leo, not Jack from Titanic or some other character). The directors could have used him in a much more exciting way, if you ask us.”.

I generally agree, that’s about it.

It begins with a series of footage that reminds you of Baraka (gone wrong)- which is a truly beautiful film – but rather than a stylish and self-respecting reference to Baraka it felt like poor plagiarism in a dis-jointed and at times essay-like unfolding. However, the opening message that, for a change, a certain degree of anthropocentrism is required (in the context of climate chaos and change) positively commenced the experience of the 11th Hour for me: “it is not a question of saving the planet, but saving ourselves (from ourselves)”. It somehow requires a self-transcendence to come to terms with changing our own lives so profoundly as we need to, now, we know, in order to save our selves. It’s a bit like the exercise thing if you have a modern knowledge economy job, if you don’t do it you degenerate – and we degenerate. The human being is a sick, unintelligent species collective speaking.

A good starting point and thread picked up on here and there – and I also liked the choice of many philosophical statements (from the environmental elite), some of which have profound anti-capitalist logical conclusions if you think about it and live it for while, but such conclusions, I found, were never reached (also rarely in the minds of the environmental establishment/vanguard, so perhaps no wonder…).

The 11th Hour – the last chance to act – goes as far as to tell us that the corporate board rooms of oil companies are to blame, that we as complicit consumers are to blame (“we cast a vote when we buy things” – [quoted from memory]) and that opportunism and greed defines human culture and always has defined human culture – given its bestial origins – but what is crucially missing from this “analysis” is that we live under an authoritative (patriarchal) system called capitalism which enhances, accentuates and rewards opportunism and greed. Our culture is based on a narrow, indeed opportunistic and greedy conception of property. It is not enough to discipline the politicians and the filthy few of the €xxonMobil, sHell et al. to reorganise our global culture. We live in a system that basically perpetuates our very worst of qualities – something at which we are bestially good: opportunism and greed.

To reconfigure our culture wholesale changes have to happen – from collective land rights and indigenous/permacultural stewardship and reforestation of forests (no more capitalistic logging, farming, and other destructive industrial processes) to solar and wind powered (no more fossil fuel, no industrial, large scale, monocultural biofuel either and so on, you know what I mean – a total micro production society, non-central, networked) Free information and communication networks (no more non-free software, no more AT&T, and google fully disclosing all code, no Micro$oft). If not opportunism and greed: then cooperate and share!

Hence, our culture of opportunism and greed won’t change through opportunistic and greedy companies designing and selling us green houses with renewable energy built in, or multimillion dollar profit stewardship of operating systems (Novell, RedHat etc.) to bring us into cyberspace “freely” … it goes a little deeper than that, it’s a … necessity to change that very basic system that ru(i)ns our world and which rewards opportunism and greed; in other words: capitalism is the primary obstacle to saving ourselves from total climatic disaster.

Despite the lacking political edge we agree that it is worth seeing (but we didnt have very high expectation at all, indeed it exceeded our expectations of a Hollywood production distributed by Warner Brother$) – smartplanet.com’s Rikke continues: “We admit we had high expectations, and despite our disappointment we do encourage everybody to go and see it anyway when it’s out in March.” So it was out last month in the UK and also to be found everywhere in the information piracy sphere.

In another related dimension we find old school, old guard Lester Brown, who was a pioneering founder of Worldwatch.org, with the – I dare say – great Matters of Scale (..oh those walls…) and other things like Vital Signs. He went on to present the policies necessary to save ourselves with Earth-Policy.org which publishes Plan B – now in its third edition:

Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. You can – naturally – get the whole book directly here.

…….and here is Brown’s take on the latest disaster – where capitalist globalisation and climate change comes fully together, there were you cannot even feed those who run away from the wars that you call freedom fights. Recall that Fidel Castro long since warned about the food crisis, “when he launched an attack on the biofuels policy of his ideological enemy, the United States, saying it was pushing up food prices and threatening global famine.

“More than three billion people in the world are being condemned to a premature death from hunger and thirst,” Castro wrote in his first column.

“It is not an exaggeration; this is rather a conservative figure,” he wrote, criticizing plans to turn food crops into fuel as a “sinister idea” hatched by the Bush administration and the U.S. auto industry.

In recent weeks, riots have broken out in more than a dozen countries, from Indonesia to Egypt and Cameroon, some countries are restricting food exports, and global panic buying of rice forced even some U.S. retail chains to limit purchases.

So here we go:

April 16, 2008 – 4

Copyright © 2008 Earth Policy Institute

WORLD FACING HUGE NEW CHALLENGE ON FOOD FRONT
Business-as-Usual Not a Viable Option

Lester R. Brown

A fast-unfolding food shortage is engulfing the entire world, driving food prices to record highs. Over the past half-century grain prices have spiked from time to time because of weather-related events, such as the 1972 Soviet crop failure that led to a doubling of world wheat, rice, and corn prices. The situation today is entirely different, however. The current doubling of grain prices is trend-driven, the cumulative effect of some trends that are accelerating growth in demand and other trends that are slowing the growth in supply.

The world has not experienced anything quite like this before. In the face of rising food prices and spreading hunger, the social order is beginning to break down in some countries. In several provinces in Thailand, for instance, rustlers steal rice by harvesting fields during the night. In response, Thai villagers with distant fields have taken to guarding ripe rice fields at night with loaded shotguns.

In Sudan, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), which is responsible for supplying grain to 2 million people in Darfur refugee camps, is facing a difficult mission to say the least. During the first three months of this year, 56 grain-laden trucks were hijacked. Thus far, only 20 of the trucks have been recovered and some 24 drivers are still unaccounted for. This threat to U.N.-supplied food to the Darfur camps has reduced the flow of food into the region by half, raising the specter of starvation if supply lines cannot be secured.

In Pakistan, where flour prices have doubled, food insecurity is a national concern. Thousands of armed Pakistani troops have been assigned to guard grain elevators and to accompany the trucks that transport grain.

Food riots are now becoming commonplace. In Egypt, the bread lines at bakeries that distribute state-subsidized bread are often the scene of fights. In Morocco, 34 food rioters were jailed. In Yemen, food riots turned deadly, taking at least a dozen lives. In Cameroon, dozens of people have died in food riots and hundreds have been arrested. Other countries with food riots include Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Senegal. (See additional examples of food price unrest.)

The doubling of world wheat, rice, and corn prices has sharply reduced the availability of food aid, putting the 37 countries that depend on the WFP’s emergency food assistance at risk. In March, the WFP issued an urgent appeal for $500 million of additional funds.

Around the world, a politics of food scarcity is emerging. Most fundamentally, it involves the restriction of grain exports by countries that want to check the rise in their domestic food prices. Russia, the Ukraine, and Argentina are among the governments that are currently restricting wheat exports. Countries restricting rice exports include Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Egypt. These export restrictions simply drive prices higher in the world market.

The chronically tight food supply the world is now facing is driven by the cumulative effect of several well established trends that are affecting both global demand and supply. On the demand side, the trends include the continuing addition of 70 million people per year to the earth’s population, the desire of some 4 billion people to move up the food chain and consume more grain-intensive livestock products, and the recent sharp acceleration in the U.S. use of grain to produce ethanol for cars. Since 2005, this last source of demand has raised the annual growth in world grain consumption from roughly 20 million tons to 50 million tons.

Meanwhile, on the supply side, there is little new land to be brought under the plow unless it comes from clearing tropical rainforests in the Amazon and Congo basins and in Indonesia, or from clearing land in the Brazilian cerrado, a savannah-like region south of the Amazon rainforest. Unfortunately, this has heavy environmental costs: the release of sequestered carbon, the loss of plant and animal species, and increased rainfall runoff and soil erosion. And in scores of countries prime cropland is being lost to both industrial and residential construction and to the paving of land for roads, highways, and parking lots for fast-growing automobile fleets.

New sources of irrigation water are even more scarce than new land to plow. During the last half of the twentieth century, world irrigated area nearly tripled, expanding from 94 million hectares in 1950 to 276 million hectares in 2000. In the years since then there has been little, if any, growth. As a result, irrigated area per person is shrinking by 1 percent a year.

Meanwhile, the backlog of agricultural technology that can be used to raise cropland productivity is dwindling. Between 1950 and 1990 the world’s farmers raised grainland productivity by 2.1 percent a year, but from 1990 until 2007 this growth rate slowed to 1.2 percent a year. And the rising price of oil is boosting the costs of both food production and transport while at the same time making it more profitable to convert grain into fuel for cars.

Beyond this, climate change presents new risks. Crop-withering heat waves, more-destructive storms, and the melting of the Asian mountain glaciers that sustain the dry-season flow of that region’s major rivers, are combining to make harvest expansion more difficult. In the past the negative effect of unusual weather events was always temporary; within a year or two things would return to normal. But with climate in flux, there is no norm to return to.

The collective effect of these trends makes it more and more difficult for farmers to keep pace with the growth in demand. During seven of the last eight years, grain consumption exceeded production. After seven years of drawing down stocks, world grain carryover stocks in 2008 have fallen to 55 days of world consumption, the lowest on record. The result is a new era of tightening food supplies, rising food prices, and political instability. With grain stocks at an all-time low, the world is only one poor harvest away from total chaos in world grain markets.

Business-as-usual is no longer a viable option. Food security will deteriorate further unless leading countries can collectively mobilize to stabilize population, restrict the use of grain to produce automotive fuel, stabilize climate, stabilize water tables and aquifers, protect cropland, and conserve soils. Stabilizing population is not simply a matter of providing reproductive health care and family planning services. It requires a worldwide effort to eradicate poverty. Eliminating water shortages depends on a global attempt to raise water productivity similar to the effort launched a half-century ago to raise land productivity, an initiative that has nearly tripled the world grain yield per hectare. None of these goals can be achieved quickly, but progress toward all is essential to restoring a semblance of food security.

This troubling situation is unlike any the world has faced before. The challenge is not simply to deal with a temporary rise in grain prices, as in the past, but rather to quickly alter those trends whose cumulative effects collectively threaten the food security that is a hallmark of civilization. If food security cannot be restored quickly, social unrest and political instability will spread and the number of failing states will likely increase dramatically, threatening the very stability of civilization itself.

=================================

So that’s all for now folks!

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2 thoughts on “WORLD FACING HUGE NEW CHALLENGE ON FOOD FRONT: The 11th Hour in context

    patrick said:
    Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 09:24 (433)

    11th Hour does an admirable job tracing our environmental woes back to our individual habits; the “Nature’s Instructions” extra feature was especially interesting… there is some amazing technology built into nature

    colono responded:
    Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 10:34 (482)

    The 11th Hour does an admirable job of turning everything into something that can be techno-fixed if you want.

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