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The Coming Famine

The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It

Julian Cribb
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Coming Famine
    Book Description:

    InThe Coming Famine, Julian Cribb lays out a vivid picture of impending planetary crisis--a global food shortage that threatens to hit by mid-century--that would dwarf any in our previous experience. Cribb's comprehensive assessment describes a dangerous confluence of shortages--of water, land, energy, technology, and knowledge--combined with the increased demand created by population and economic growth. Writing in brisk, accessible prose, Cribb explains how the food system interacts with the environment and with armed conflict, poverty, and other societal factors. He shows how high food prices and regional shortages are already sending shockwaves into the international community. But, far from outlining a doomsday scenario,The Coming Famineoffers a strong and positive call to action, exploring the greatest issue of our age and providing practical suggestions for addressing each of the major challenges it raises.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94716-0
    Subjects: Physics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Julian Cribb
    (pp. 1-13)

    Digging into a mountain of caviar, sea urchin roe, succulent Kyoto beef, rare conger eels, truffles, and fine champagne, the leaders of the world’s richest and most powerful countries shook their heads over soaring grocery prices in the developed world and spreading hunger in Africa, India, and Asia. Over an eighteen-course banquet prepared for them by sixty chefs, the eight global potentates declared, “We are deeply concerned that the steep rise in global food prices coupled with availability problems in a number of developing countries is threatening global food security. The negative impacts of this recent trend could push millions...

  6. TWO FOOD . . . OR WAR?
    (pp. 14-29)

    Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was among the first to notice that something big had shifted in the world’s geopolitical gravity field when he penned these words in 1999.¹ With the instincts of a veteran statesman as well as those of a farmer, Carter perceived that hunger wasn’t just a poverty issue—it was an emerging global security risk.

    If large regions of the world run short of food, land, or water in the decades that lie ahead, then wholesale, bloody wars are liable to follow. These wars have already begun, although many of today’s governments and media seem unconscious...

    (pp. 30-47)

    The farmers and fishermen of Lake Bam are watching as catastrophe unfolds before their eyes: their lake, which has sustained them for centuries, is slowly disappearing. Lake Bam lies in the sub-Saharan country of Burkina Faso, near the small city of Kongoussi. Its broad, shallow waters yield fish and water for drinking, livestock, and irrigated crops and create a pleasant microclimate not far from the Sahara desert. More than sixty thousand people rely on it for livelihood and survival. Yet, like innumerable lakes, river basins, and aquifers all around the world, Lake Bam is drying up.

    The lake, which is...

    (pp. 48-68)

    If people respected cornfields, as the French philosopher Simone Weil once suggested we should (as part of our love for our homeland), we would not build cities on them or degrade them. The coming famine of the midcentury is likely to teach us a renewed respect for grain fields, rice paddies, orchards, market gardens, and the soil that sustains them all.

    Believe it or not, the world is running out of high-quality soil. In one sense, we passed “peak land” a long time ago. A report by Rabobank shows that the area of food production has declined from 0.45 hectare...

    (pp. 69-85)

    Britain has declared war on waste. In 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged his fellow Britons to stop throwing away their food, as a measure to head off the global food shortage. He went on to put the case to leaders of the world’s economic superpowers at the G8 summit in Japan, where they listened politely as they downed their sumptuous banquet.¹

    Ours is the most profligate generation in history. We waste food and, even more important, nutrients as if they were infinite and inexhaustible. As if there were no hungry people in the world and as if there were...

    (pp. 86-99)

    During a brief frenzy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Soviet and Japanese fishing vessels plundered more than a million tons of a strange, spiny fish called the North Pacific armorhead off the peaks of sea mounts, deep below the surface of the northern Pacific Ocean. When the fish ran out, the Soviet trawlers chugged off in search of fresh prey, discovering a delicious brightly colored goggle-eyed fish called the orange roughy, which also hung around sea mounts in deep waters south of New Zealand. Their find sparked a gold rush as trawl fishermen worldwide began to hunt down...

    (pp. 100-118)

    The killer exploded out of eastern Africa a year before the millennium. Stealthily, traveling on the wind and attached to people’s clothing, it spread from one country to the next in a dominolike succession: Uganda, Kenya, and then Ethiopia and Sudan. Clearing the Red Sea in a single bound, it entered Yemen. By 2008 it had hurdled the Arabian Gulf, had invaded Iran, and was poised, like an angel of death, on the borders of Pakistan and India. Today many people have still not heard of Ug99. Yet it has the potential to kill more people than bird flu or...

    (pp. 119-134)

    Most people haven’t a clue how much oil they eat.

    For a person on a typical Western diet, one estimate is around 4.4 liters (about 1.2 U.S. gallons) of diesel a day, meaning that it takes the distillate from 66 barrels of crude oil just to put their food on the table for a year.¹ A well-off family consisting of two parents and two children “eats” 175 barrels of oil—almost one barrel every two days. Even in the developing world, families on rising incomes and city inhabitants now depend largely on oil-based food supplies.

    Most of the food on...

    (pp. 135-153)

    Jutting like the prow of a phantom ocean liner forging fatefully into the eerie Arctic mists, the concrete doorway to the “Doomsday Vault” is emblematic of the perilous waters into which the human voyage is taking us. Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, on the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, barely a thousand kilometers from the North Pole, is intended to rescue the world’s food system from catastrophe by preserving the seeds of our essential crops so they can be multiplied for resowing in the wake of war, famine, fire, flood, or storm. Within its frozen walls, tunneled...

    (pp. 154-167)

    At some point in the twenty-first century, the century of peaks, the world is going to experience “peak people.”

    If the rate of growth of the human population in the late twentieth century were to continue indefinitely, it has been calculated, within a few centuries the whole of Earth’s land surface would be packed solid with human beings.¹ Those who rationally consider the issue, setting aside their personal preferences and cultural baggage, quickly realize that such a scenario is impossible, that even maintaining such rates of growth for a few more decades is highly undesirable. At some point, the population...

    (pp. 168-186)

    “We are alarmed that the number of people suffering from hunger and poverty now exceeds 1 billion. This is an unacceptable blight on the lives, livelihoods and dignity of one-sixth of the world’s population. The effects of long-standing underinvestment in food security, agriculture, and rural development have recently been further exacerbated by food, financial, and economic crises, among other factors. We must collectively accelerate steps to reverse this trend and to set the world on a path to achieving the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.” Thus the World Summit on...

    (pp. 187-204)

    Those raised on conventional museums are accustomed to the guns, swords, religious symbols, and legal documents with which our thuggish ancestors imposed their views on their fellows, or died in the attempt. The victors had the privilege of framing history the way they liked. In the food wars to come, however, there will be no victors—only victims, and they will see the matter differently. The typical early twenty-first-century cookbook, with its gorgeous illustrations, elegiac combinations of the failing fruits of the Earth with those that cost us the climate, water, soil, and our safety to produce is, unambiguously, a...

  17. List of Conversions
    (pp. 205-206)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 207-234)
  19. Index
    (pp. 235-248)