As the demonstrations in Egypt continue for a seventh day what few are willing to admit is that the revolutionary demonstrations we are seeing around the world have little to do with politics, oppression or religion. They are instead the result of too many people, too few jobs and lack of affordable food. People who have a job that allows them to supply their families with the minimum required for survival are rarely revolutionary. They won’t demonstrate against a tyrant or join al-Qaeda, they may be envious but they won’t revolt when a small percentage of the population has most of the wealth.
We will see an increasing number of revolutionary demonstrations throughout the world because we are facing a food shortage crisis that is the result of the end of cheap oil and global climate change. Several billion of the worlds population depend on cheap fossil fuel for their food.
For most of the thousands of years since humans perfected agriculture food was the energy we produced. In good times we could create a surplus because it took less than one calorie of human and animal energy to produce one calorie of food. Cheap oil resulted in today’s industrial agriculture – there are fewer of us working in food production but we pay a price. It now takes on the average seven calories of fossil fuel to produce a single calorie of food. Have you noticed that the price of beef follows the price of oil? There is a good reason for that – it takes ¾ of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef. Does that Quarter Pounder with Cheese taste a little oily?
Weighing in at 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms), Marina Wilson’s champion steer Grandview Rebel is ready for auction at a county fair in Maryland. Raising this steer has taken an agricultural investment equal to 283 gallons (1,071 liters) of oil, represented here by the red drums. That includes everything from fertilizers on cornfields to the diesel that runs machinery on the farm. Overall, it takes three-quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef.
Norman Borlaug won the Nobel prize for feeding billions with his so called “Green Revolution.” Unfortunately this revolution depended on cheap fossil fuel and in India fossil water as well. After 40 years the cheap fossil fuel is history and the ground water is nearly gone. Don’t be surprised to see civil unrest in India within the next five or ten years as a result of food shortages.
In India, site of the Green Revolution’s greatest putative triumph, the legacy is even more mixed.
Today in India’s grain belt, less than 40 years after Borlaug’s Nobel triumph, the water table has been nearly completely tapped out by massive irrigation projects, farmers are in severe economic crisis, and cancer rates, seemingly related to agrichemical use, are tragically high.
In other words, to generate the massive yield gains that won Borlaug his Nobel, the nation sacrificed its most productive farmland and a generation of farmers.
And don’t think that western nations will be immune.
Cross posted at Newshoggers