Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?


In the text, the main ideas talked about is the effect of environmental decline and population growth on food supply, and the political stability. Lester Brown has studies global agricultural, population, environmental and economic trends and their interactions. He says in the text, the combined effects of those trends and the political tensions they generate point to the breakdown of governments and societies. He says maintaining food supply at current level is threatened by shortages of freshwater, loss of topsoil and global warming. Cutting carbon emissions, stabilizing population, eradicating poverty, and restoring forests, soils and aquifers is the answer. He says many third world countries are so corrupted, which brings international concerns, and once those countries fail, no other country will assume responsibility for their debt. The author talks about how grain crops are going down every year, because of the environmental degradation. This means grain and other produce will become more expensive. Also, the author talks about how 70% of the world’s freshwater is going to irrigation. In India, there is not enough freshwater supply for everyone to have a healthy amount everyday. He mentions that there are two plans in the world which we can take. Plan A, which is to continue business as it is. Plan B which is to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2020, stabilize world’s population at 8 billion by 2040, eradication of poverty, restoration of forests, soils and aquifers. The author talks about solutions to these ideas, and explains how meeting these goals may be necessary to prevent the collapse of our civilization.

Question : According to Lester Brown, demand for food is growing faster than the supply. What are the effects of this trend likely to be? How can we prevent the worst effects?

The effects of food demand growing while the supply is diminishing, are very serious and in the end it comes down to the collapse of our society. According to Brown, the effects leading to that, will be more poverty, more starving countries, increased population, depletion of freshwater, depletion of topsoil, therefore nowhere to grow crops of food. Depletion of all resources. We can prevent the worst effects by  : cutting carbon emissions, by investing in the renewable resources sector, having other sustainable and cost effective sources of energy. Banning deforestation, as well as replanting the ones that have already been cut down. The switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy can be made with carbon tax. Having smaller families to stabilize the world’s population will naturally decrease the amount of poverty. To restore the earth’s natural systems and resources, we need to raise water productivity with (for example) water efficient crops.

Resources :
LESTER BROWN, from “Food Scarcity: An Environmental Wakeup Call,” The Futurist (January / February 1998);T. A. Easton (Ed.), Classic Edition Sources: Environmental studies (4th ed., pp. 139-143). New York, NY: Mc Graw Hill

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