This is The ChangeUnderground for the 9th of May 2022.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
As I’ve discussed in episodes 294, 289, 282 & 281, things are heading for a crunch in world food supply and costs. This all started with the supply chain disruptions of the pandemic but the war in Ukraine has triggered what could reasonably be seen as the cause of every major recession since WW2: fuel inflation. Because of the ubiquity of oil in every aspect of our lives and hence our dependence upon it, a modest rise in the price of a barrel has dramatic effects. A major spike, the 70s oil crisis, the recession of the 1990s, the disasters of the first decade of the 2000s and the spikes in the last 8 years are all, if not linked, at least correlated to periods of inflation and then recession.
Clearly, harder times are coming. Harder for some than for others, hard times nonetheless.
The economic run here in Australia has been fortunate, the great financial recession of sub prime cause was soothed by excessive Chinese spending on iron ore and coking coal. The reckoning is coming. We are 12 days from a federal election and our incumbent Prime Minister has suggested that those having trouble finding a rental property should just buy a house. Housing prices have risen from, in Sydney, an average price in 2000 of $286,000 to, in 2020 $1,154,000. At the same time as prices have skyrocketed, mortgages have been as cheap as chips. My first mortgage was at 19% on a loan of $50,000. By the time we moved in the rate had fallen to 14% and was doable. At present people have been borrowing 1,000,000 at 1.5%. Yes incomes are higher than they were in 1987 when I first borrowed but the .25% rise in official rates last week will start the cracks in the dam walls of debt holding up our economy. It is a truly terrifying thing to look at. Other parts of the world have similar if not quite as ridiculously high prices but the cheap, insanely cheap money days are probably over. Add in the fuel cost rises, the economic dependency on oil and the cut to world food production the invasion of Ukraine is causing and will accelerate and the continuing droughts in parts of the US and flooding in large parts of Australia and southern Africa and the early spring heat waves in India and the confluence of natural disasters and human induced catastrophes will have people looking at exorbitant food prices. I understand one of the reasons for the EU is to avoid famines in Europe after the suffering of WW2 and effects there are likely to be ameliorated by political action but for most of the world, food is going to get very expensive, if it’s available. The rich will be fine, not surprisingly. The poor are going to suffer.
And while it may not seem like it in some parts of the world, the pandemic is still scything through populations now somewhat blindly looking elsewhere, anywhere but at the suffering and the deaths.
From the ABC, an article entitled: How the Russia-Ukraine war, COVID and climate change are fuelling a growing global food crisis
The war’s impact on food production is travelling beyond Ukraine’s borders — it is rippling across the world in the form of a global food crisis.
The disruption of wheat and other staple food exports from Ukraine and Russia has sent already high global food prices skyrocketing.
According to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), Russia and Ukraine combined account for about 30 percent and 20 percent of global wheat and maize exports respectively.
The sudden disruption to food supply has led the WFP, which provides food aid to the world’s most vulnerable, to warn that catastrophe is looming and 44 million people are on the verge of famine and millions more face hunger and malnutrition.
In this globalised world, a war of the magnitude of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, across a breadbasket area of the world has us all, to some extent involved in the conflict.
Not everyone is on the frontline, not everyone is in the logistics system feeding that conflict but pretty much everyone is affected and there’s worse to come before it gets better. The sloppiness of the Russian manufacturing sector has resulted in huge numbers of unexploded ordinances across the plains of Ukraine, the food producing parts. These will take decades to remove and affect food production for that entire time. And that’s before we factor in the deliberately placed land mines and other devices.
We all need to up our food production game. If you are in a place where planting is on now, get as many spuds in as you can. They are, when mixed with some dairy, cheese, milk, yoghurt, etc, a complete diet. A little monotonous in times of plenty but more than enough to sustain life and health when push comes to shove.
I heard a chap, and for the life of me I can’t track down where, suggesting 5m2 of spuds per person is sufficient for a year’s supply. The quickest and easiest way to grow spuds is to cover the area with newspapers and cardboard, place the spuds on top and then cover with a layer of loosish straw to about half a metre. Harvesting is simple, lift the straw and remove. The following Autumn, the space is ready for other vegetables and you have a ship ton of spuds. I understand all this is a little extremist and things may not turn to complete poo and no one would be happier than I but at the present and having read much history over my life, things don’t look as rosy as I would prefer. What’s the worst outcome if peace breaks out tomorrow, climate action is taken and food prices drop? You’d be left with lots of potatoes.
Once the spuds are in you could reasonably expand to other vegetables too. I highlight the spud for its life sustaining capacity. Plant as much as you can and face the future with optimism.
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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How the Russia-Ukraine war, COVID and climate change are fuelling a growing global food crisis