Global warming   Overpopulation   Decreasing water supply   soil erosion & salination    germplasm loss   loss of farmland to cities  fisheries collapse   the end of cheap oil

Opinion Piece
How secure is our food supply?

Summary: In spite of salination, diminishing water resources, urbanisation and increasing oil prices when easily extractible oil peaks around 2010, the West will almost certainly continue to feed itself so long as climate change is a relatively slow process. If climate heats by 20 degrees farenheit suddenly, as it has done in the past, or if it 'flip flops' rapidly back to the more normal  (geologically speaking) ice ages, we will suffer immense dislocation and deprivation. The equator, our distant ancestral home, is the place to be to avoid the worst effects. Unfortunately, historical and political factors mean that the tropics and subtropics are overpopulated. Paradoxically, because they are closer to peasantry, they are also best placed to cope. The most important single thing that will ensure the West copes with slowly changing climate is to have a broad base of plant germplasm from which to select climatically adapted forms - and new food plants - as climatic conditions make necessary. Scandalously, incomprehension by a now urban governance, matched with wooly thinking, prevarication, weakness, lack of leadership, lack of International will, and lack of money, mean that much of the germplasm we may need will disappear virtually before we are aware of it's existance, let alone meaningfully protect and conserve it.
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Global warming [top]

People are outraged that the climate has the temerity to change without permission from us humans! We accept that the climate we know is permanent, and will always be this way. That's because we only live for about 80 years, and can only 'borrow' the memory of our grandparents to take us back maybe another 50 years. "Haven't seen snow like this since the big storm of '54!"

In fact, the climate of the earth has always changed. Dramatically. There have been unimaginably long periods of severe cold.

Fact is, the equator is and was the best place to be-pity about the diseases! Much of present day Europe has been under ice sheets, with conditions resembling the Taiga of present day Siberia.

At other times in our geological past, the Midwest States of USA have been one vast, shallow, warm sea.

It's just that humans are genetically wired to try to control their environment-this is one reason we are so successful-and therefore find it hard to comprehend that some things are outside our control. Like climate change. It is not abnormal. It is normal.

Because of our huge overpopulation of the planet, changes that result in land locked ice melting will be devastating.

Equally, changes that result in the return to the more normal vastly colder 'ice age' conditions will also be devastating.

We can't control climate. We can only try to get a handle on-

The arguments have been about IF climate is changing. The consensus now is, yes, it is. The 'holdouts' based their argument on satellite measurements, which have since been found to be in error. Climate 'modeling' has become increasingly sophisticated, and the data clearly suggests that the warming trend is in excess of the natural climatic variability for modern times.

If the climate models are correct, the rates of change will be faster than ever previously thought.

As climate warms, crops will need to relocate to more suitable climates. Varieties adapted to the changed climates will need to be grown. Not that new varieties will need to be found-but farmers will need to adopt varieties from parts of the world with a climate similar to the newly changes local climate.

These marked changes will probably start to impact over the next few decades. Varieties of our major food plants, rice, wheat, and corn, can be quickly shifted around the globe, so it will make little difference to grain production. Where wheat once grew, corn will now grow. Fruit trees have about a four year lag before they come into bearing from planting. There may well be a lag in adjusting to new tree crops.

How quickly can climate change? Well, 12,500 years ago there was an astonishingly abrupt global warming- 20 degrees Fahrenheit  in only 50 years. Scientists say it occurred in "several major leaps, lasting less than a decade". And that is without the influence of human produced greenhouse gases!

Humans are adapted to think in simple choice mode - EITHER this OR that. Black or White. On or Off. In fact, it may well become warmer AND colder. That is, some parts of the world may become warmer (perhaps with more extremes of weather), and others colder. The scientists main concern is that IF the western Antarctic ice shelf melts, it will do two things-

First, the western ice shelf is mainly over land, so if it melts it will add a lot of water to the sea (the rest of the Antarctic ice is already floating on, and displacing, sea water - if it melts it ceases to displace, so doesn't contribute to sea level rise). The average depth of the western ice shelf is two kilometers. In the worst case scenario, this volume of water could cause rise of 6 meters/20 feet.

Second, and counter intuitively, the huge volume of ice water would disrupt the pattern of sea current flows, which carry warm and cold water around the globe and drive weather patterns. The result? Rapid drop in temperatures in some areas, such as Europe, and the possibility of a 'mini ice age' in these areas.

The challenge of climate change, whether warmer OR colder, is in fitting crops into the new conditions. Relatively, this is not a great problem, so long as climate change is gradual.

The only significant problems would be rapid sea level rise in the warm scenario, or return of the ice ages in the 'flip flop' scenario.

If the sea levels rose to the 'worst case' scenario levels of 6M/20 feet and inundated coastal and low lying land, the Granaries of the USA mid west and Canada would be largely unaffected, but all river valleys, leveed flood plains, seaboard cities, and low plateau lands would be. There would be unparalleled social dislocation and movement.

How long it would take for the entire land based ice shelf to melt is unknown. What counter effect a 're-icing' of European areas would have on sea levels is also unknown.

The other joker in the pack is the possibility of sudden climate 'flip flop'. Not the  'flip flop' to warm temperatures that happened 12,500 years ago, but a 'flip flop' back into the ice ages, the more normal situation for planet earth (in geological terms, not human's brief history). Large areas of major grain production would be lost. The only consolation is that switching to cool climate grain species would extend the grain belt south. At it's most extreme, kilometre thick ice sheets would return to the northern USA plains. But the climate would have been very much colder for a very long time before that happened. And if it did, sea level would have fallen dramatically, exposing new ploughable real estate for miles around the coast. Our 'procestors' may be ploughing fields full of the city garbage we have been dumping in the sea!

We are left with the realisation that by the time we can definitely see that something is happening well outside the range of 'normal' variations, it is too late. The question remains-at what point do we try to 'do something', and what is the 'something' that we ought to do?

Aggressively conserving seed germplasm resources-especially those forms adapted to heat, to cold, to short growing seasons, to drought, to weather extremes in general-is probably the very best thing we can do.
Warming phase for the next 500 years. JJJJ Scripps Institute scientists hypothesise that we are in a cyclic ocean current change that in the past has been accompanied by relatively sudden global warming.
Global warming news watch JJJ A slightly tendencious rolling collation of all reports in the popular press to do with global warming and unusual weather patterns. A good summary overview of local (USA centric) and worldwide 'earth changes' over the last few years, and as they are reported.

Overpopulation [top]

That the earth is overpopulated is a fact. In Africa, for example, the population 'doubling time' is a little over twenty years. So in about 2020, Africa already overcrowded population will be twice what it is today.

Human overpopulation illustrates two things.

First, quite by accident, stone age people in the Eurasian area had the unique combination of domesticable plants and animals that led to the protein and carbohydrate reliably storable surplus that led to farming, then villages, towns, specialisation of trades, industrialisation, wide education, and governmental social care. These last two factors resulted in smaller families in the West, and a slower, and now almost static population increase. So it is really only an accident of history that has resulted in the west  holding it's human population growth in bounds.

Secondly, if, by luck, a society is slower to industrialise, has institutionalised resource stripping to the earlier industrialising west, is paternalistic, poorly educated, tribal, corrupt, and without any great degree of governmental social care, your social care ends up being your children. The result is overpopulation. Overpopulation perpetuates poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of Government resources for education and social care, and the cycle continues. The way out is education, governmental social care, ending of corruption, re-securing of national resources, and substituting democracy (no matter it's imperfection, it is mathematically more likely to end in fair and equitable sharing of resources than paternalism) for paternalism and tribal elitism.

Generally, the starvation in the world is due to politics, not lack of ability to feed a nation. Politics can bring about the way out, or it can continue poverty and overpopulation in the interests of a few.

For example, in the 1960's, India and sub-Saharan Africa both produced about 50 million tons of food a year, but by 1988 India was producing 150 million tons; while Africa was still only producing about 50 million tons. The difference is that India, despite widespread poverty,  had a participatory political system, and a relatively effective civil machinery. As a result it could provide poor farmers with high-tech seeds, good agricultural extension services, and policies that  increased food production and raised the incomes of the poor.
The most 'water stressed' countries are also the poorest, with least education, no security in old age, and without civil society. As a result, the number of people living in these areas is projected to go from 470 million to 3 billion by 2025. The consequences of lack of civil society are worst in the most climatically fragile countries that can least afford population increase.
Here in the west, we continue to feed our dogs and cats protein rich meat and fish while elsewhere in the world children starve. But people will always be hungry until the mechanism that causes it is changed. A package of popular education, participatory governance, inviolable basic human rights, and the rule of fair law is the key.
Which is why dictators have always considered it more important to starve the mind than the belly to hold onto power.
So overpopulation will always threaten the food security of  a society that is prevented from becoming civil and egalitarian.

In a civil society (i.e. universally educated, open, democratic, with checks and balances, the rule of law, and with pro-active  programs for the good of all members of society) there is security, which  means we have overall fewer children (for example, the current population growth rate in UK is 0.2%, which is 120,000 more people per year). As a consequence, overpopulation in civil societies is not an issue, with the exception, in the long run, of the USA.

Food security in USA - USA population is increasing geometrically, food production a bit better than linearly. When will the crunch point come? A think piece from several USA academics, at the Sierra clubs 'rogue group' site.
A few overpopulated countries (particularly China) have made huge efforts to apply the brakes through contraception and social sanctions, and are well able to feed themselves on seeds and beans. But increasing the ability to eat meat, specifically, is made logistically/physically almost impossible until population size drops. According to Dr Norman Myers, of Oxford University, it would take the equivalent of the entire current grain exports of Canada to rear enough chickens to give every person in China one extra chicken in their annual diet. Yet the existing average meat availability is currently very, very small.
Overpopulation may cause starvation and malnutrition, or it may cause adequately fed populations to be denied access to a range of normal human foods, particularly meat.
Lack of civil society is now the cause of overpopulation. The size of the task of education, 'civil' - ization, and basic societal security  is so large that it will take several generations to bring population decrease and then the food security that is the inevitable (climatic rogue cards excepted) that results.
Population of the planet The number of people on board 'spaceship' earth - links and factoids

Decreasing water supply [top]

But decreasing water supply will be. Successful 'hydraulic' agricultural societies such as China, Indonesia, or India, are in areas where rainfall is usually assured, and at the right time. Leaving aside possible changes in weather patterns due to global warming (no evidence has been produced to suggest changes in precipitation in tropical and sub tropical areas), the pressure on water comes from urbanisation, and irrigation of fruit and field crops in dryland areas.
In naturally arid areas with erratic and/or low annual rainfall such as the Eastern Mediterranean and South West Asia, the already limited water supply is having is being competed for both by irrigation agriculture and by cities. The population in the cities is increasing beyond the limits of the available water, and so the water for grain is being diverted to the cities, and grain imported. This makes good sense, as one estimate has it that importing a ton of wheat is the equivalent of importing 1,000 tons of water (this being the amount needed to produce the crop). Jordan now imports about 90% percent of its grain, Israel 87%, Libya 85%, and Egypt 40%. The outlook for these areas is grim unless population growth can be controlled, and sophisticated and comprehensive water conservation and re-use policies effectively implemented.

The pressure on even huge rivers is immense. The once mighty Colorado river, for example, is reduced to a relative trickle by the time it reaches the sea. All along the way, it has been bled to supply water to cities and to irrigate fields. In China , the Yellow River ran dry and failed to reach the sea for a record breaking 226 days in 1997. Both the Indus and the Ganges have also effectively run dry in recent times.

Ancient aquifers in China have been drawn down alarmingly. But not just in China. Worldwide, the annual deficit of water pumped from underground for agricultural supply is something like 160 billion cubic meters more being pumped out for crops than percolates back down to re-charge the wells and aquifers.

The problem is not so much lack of water per se, as a lack of ability to store it when it is abundant for use at times when it is not. According to one estimate, annual water use is only about 8% of runoff (after soils are saturated). In other words, 92% swells streams, rivers, and lakes, and ends up in the sea.
On the other hand, the UN Commission for Human Settlement claims that by 2000, world water demand is likely to be almost half the total global runoff. Even in this rather pessimistic estimate, 50% of runoff is 'theoretically' available for storage and controlled release. Again, it is capacity to store water that is lacking, not water.

One estimate computes that by 2050 freshwater needs for an expanded population will require an increase by only a factor of 1.5.  Thus the 1990 consumption, 3000 cu kilometres, would increase to 'only' 4300 cu km by 2050. This optimistic view is predicated on  more efficient use of water, and a "shift to less water intensive economic activity". Given that agriculture is the single most intensive user of water, at 85% of all water consumed, is implies a shift 'away' from agriculture. As water becomes more expensive, it may cost more to raise some crops than they can profitably be sold for.
Waste water can be re-used; Israel reuses 65 percent of its domestic wastewater for crop production. Generally, this only be used on tree crops, as wastewater is often contaminated with low but significant levels of heavy metals and industrial chemicals. Due to the historical merging of industrial water waste and human waste, much of what may have been a valuable resource now has only limited and particular possibilities for re-use.
Conservation of water resources can help. Drip irrigation that delivers small amounts right to the plants root zone can decrease water use by 30% or more. The downside is that there is a salt build up in drier soils in areas of high evaporation, and relatively large amounts of water are needed to wash these salts away. Currently, about 20% of irrigated land has very significant problems with salination of the soil.
Agriculture may be able to become more conservative in it's water use, but not by much overall. And the major crops such as grains that feed the masses generally rely on direct rainfall rather than pumping it from the local river.

Irrigation water is critical in areas that grow rice out of the monsoon belt, but such lands can usually grow other less water demanding grains on natural rainfall. The large grain growing areas of USA, Australia, Canada and Europe are not dependent on irrigation for production. Local drought is, and always has been, a problem for grain producers. As has untimely storms at harvest time.

However, plant breeding in grain crops continues to make grains less water demanding, more productive, better able to stand storms, and even somewhat salt resistant.

Decreasing water supply will be an increasing problem for cities. And it will affect vegetable production to some degree, and probably affect irrigated fruit crops most of all.  But overall, it will probably not have a major effect on the security of our basic food supply in the West, even if fruit and vegetables become more expensive.

One of the most important challenges of climate change is to install the capacity to 'buffer' the possibly more erratic rainfall, and to share the stored water fairly (around 260 of the world's rivers flow through two or more countries, but very few countries have agreements on how the water should be controlled and shared).

Soil erosion and salination [top]

Salination of fields has become more and more damaging as irrigated agriculture has spread. Breeding plants to tolerate higher salt levels is helpful, but not the answer. Salination affects mainly dry lands used for grazing, or dry lands that have been irrigated to realize their productive potential for crops such as vegetables or cotton.

No one has really quantified the problem. Most grain producing land, perhaps with the exception of parts of Australia, is not at risk from salination.

Soil erosion reflects the society itself. In societies that  are overpopulated, and where highly evolved conservative practices of previous generations has been lost due to politics and urbanisation, soil erosion is a big problem. Forest cover in high rainfall steep lands in these countries is being stripped away in many places, with disastrous erosion, river silting, and flooding. The river mouth delta lands formed by the soil flowing to the sea are rich and productive, but urbanisation has got there first, and they are becoming increasingly polluted and unavailable for farming. And if sea levels do rise, the delta will be the first to go under.

In the West, big mistakes have been made in soil management. In the earlier part of the century, so much soil was damaged and thrown to the wind that in parts of the USA day sometimes became a 'dust night'. However, changes in agriculture practice, especially 'no tillage farming', have not just held the soil, but are now actively building it.

Genetic engineering is giving us plants that will resist herbicides, while the non-resistant weeds are killed off without disturbing the soil. When soil is ploughed, the organic matter is oxidised-'burnt' if you like. The more often it is ploughed the lower the organic content becomes. Thanks to chemical weeding, farming practice is moving from conservation to active building up the organic content of the soil, and, as a consequence, creating soil itself.

Loss of plant and animal germplasm [top]

Animal germplasm is relatively unimportant, as we eat so few species of animals. Indeed, the wild germplasm of our major food animal, the beef, no longer exists. When plants become affected by a disease, new disease resistant plants have to be bred to overcome it. Disease resistance is often found in the wild germplasm. Animals, on the other hand, can be given resistance from the end of a hypodermic needle. Vaccines can overcome new diseases in animals, so natural resistance is unimportant.

We eat a very wide range of plants, and we cannot vaccinate our plants, so conserving plant germplasm is particularly important.

Every plant has a different situation when we start to look at how genetically vulnerable it is. Tomatoes, for example, have wild relatives in South America that seem under no threat. The varieties we grow have been developed from only a very small part of this wild germplasm. If we were to lose a particular variety, it would be irritating, but unimportant. The wild germplasm is there, and over a hundred years or so we could retrieve just as many varied sorts from it as we have now. Maybe more. On the other hand, maize, or sweetcorn, has no real wild relatives. The diversity we have saved from the native Americans who developed it is all there is. It must be guarded assiduously.

The human race has spread to every land mass on earth. And in the territorial human animal way, each nation-tribe has claimed 'ownership' of the plants and animals in the lands it has colonised. The concept of any one species of animal 'owning' various species of plants it finds in it's environment seems ludicrous when looked at dispassionately. But, knowing, marshaling and guarding resources on your territory is a key behavior for many species. It obviously has great genetic advantage to the survival of the local group.

In truth, we should forget any concept of any human group 'owning' wild germplasm. It is the common right and responsibility of the human species as a whole. We are all colonists, apart from those who remained in ancestral Africa. We have no particular 'right' to any germplasm in the land mass we migrated to.

Rather, we should say that the people living in a particular biographic area-or, more practically, artificial political area-have a responsibility to the entire human race to conserve wild germplasm indigenous to their country for the use of all, for all time.

Every different ecological area in a country should have a self sustainable portion locked up as an 'island' of unmodified natural habitat. The plant and animal germplasm can then be carefully shared with all who want it for breeding or for propagation. In fact, there are very few people in the world who actually do plant breeding, so the demands are small (some believe plant breeders are an endangered species). The public and quasi public plant breeding intellectual 'property' that remains is increasingly becoming the property, or contracted 'first rights', of huge corporations, whose overriding responsibility is profit for shareholders via strategic crop plant breeding. Whether this will lead to fragile or quixotic, accountant controlled, de facto private corporate 'ownership' of significant parts of publicly entrusted germplasm is uncertain.

Incredibly, there is no one international organisation that co-ordinates the conservation of the germplasm upon which human survival depends. There are bodies grown out of the sharing by scientists of breeding material, but these are limited to certain crops, and with the pervasive commercialisation of science, co-operation on the basis of 'sensible people of goodwill acting together in the common interest' is eroding.

The forests and natural environments where undeveloped wild germplasm of crops we have domesticated has lived for millennia and beyond, are being destroyed. Food plants we have not yet domesticated, from fungi to fruit, are being destroyed with the forests. Governments are incapable, unwilling, or too under resourced to identify representative biogeographic regions and effectively conserve them for the good of the human species.

The time to panic on this issue is now. And we aren't. Wild crop germplasm is unsexy, uneconomic, and the people who control the money and initiative are urbanised, out of touch, and seem to have little or no long term vision or understanding of our biological nature.

It is left to philanthropists, such as the Rockerfellow Foundation, to fund the conservation of the most important grass seed, rice,  that the human animal eats. And this is where it is at. Underfunded organisations, and even individuals, trying to visit natural areas before it is too late and collect seed of wild species and wild forms for posterity.

The principle has to be 'conserving these wild relatives in their natural environment'. But it just won't happen. Collecting and putting seeds in seed stores is a second best solution, but even that is underfunded and un-coordinated.

There is no prospect of a sudden collapse of a key agricultural crop due to a new disease, whose only defeat depends on some wild relatives genes that used to exist "right about where that car park over there is" (admittedly, it has once come a bit close to it with a disease of corn to which over 50% of varieties were fatally susceptible). But, while gene technology means you can splice genes of just about any life form into a plant variety, 'gene jockeys' cannot create a variety 'gene by gene'. Varieties in turn can only be as diverse and useful as the width of their genetic base. That width comes from wild ancestral germplasm spread over it's entire natural range, and from related wild species. They are like the primary colors from which any shade, tone, or tint can be derived. But lose even one primary color, and the number of colors and tints you can have are suddenly and irreversibly limited. Take out red, and you can never ever make a picture with purple or orange or green in it.

The human species has thrived because we are so adaptable. Our adaptability comes from reaching out and putting our hands on different resources as our environment changes. As yet unexploited food plants in the wild, and wild relatives of existing food plants are the resources we may need to reach for as climate changes. Conserved natural reserves are like multibranch banks full of treasures, some of which are hidden away in forgotten corners.  Seed banks, and arboreta are like small change purses. We are putting the bulldozers through the banks without even knowing how much we are losing. Because no one is in charge, we may be left with only small change to pay a massive bill that cannot be deferred. Nature is the ultimate debt collector...
USA programme JJJ to conserve disappearing plant genetic resources. Most focus is on using genetic resources for high tech breeding rather than characterising the genetic base of food plants in the wild and trying to conserve the ecosystems where they grow in order to conserve the widest genebase. At least the USA has a programme, unlike most.

Loss of farmland to urbanisation [top]

In the last ten years or so 3.8 million acres of agricultural land has been lost to buildings and pavement in the United States. The urbanisation and population increases in Asia took 10% of it's grain producing land in the same period. On the other side of the ledger, crop production has increased with new varieties, and due to 'no tillage' practices, soil is richer in organic matter and therefore more productive.

Civil societies have come to realize that they have to manage their resources sustainably in perpetuity. This has meant that high class soils are increasingly being protected from urban encroachment, and that innovative solutions are being found for people wanting to indulge in rural living on the edges of cities.

Loss of farmland to urbanisation, in the west, at least,  is not a credible threat to our food supply.

Collapse of fisheries [top]

 Fish is an excellent food for the human animal, but it is increasingly expensive. Fisheries have been, and continue to be, either poorly managed, or unmanaged. Fishing is, for the most part, hunting. Few-some would say none-governments fund enough research to know with any great degree of confidence what hunting a fishery can sustain.

The Grand Banks off Canada, and New England's Georges Bank, once prodigiously productive, have collapsed entirely, and thirteen of the fifteen major ocean fisheries are in decline. Global warming may now be having an impact on the wild salmon fishery by altering sea temperatures and therefore the abundance of the marine life the salmon feed on.

The open oceans between countries are pretty much fish free 'deserts', traversed only by migratory fish such as tuna. As there are no international marine reserves for such pelagic fish, it is largely 'open season' on them the tuna fishery will almost certainly no longer be the cheap source of canned meat it currently is.

Industrial fishing is now so technologically advanced that in some cases up to 80% of a given fish population can be caught in a single year. Many small, and less desirable species are thrown away as 'by catch'.

Even in New Zealand, where the inshore Fishery management is touted as a model for the world, there have been suggestions that many more fish are caught than officially logged, but the less desirable species and sizes are thrown overboard to make the allowable tonnage more valuable. Fisheries 'management' in the real world is not as easy or scientific as it sounds on paper.

One of the major causes of over fishing is subsidies. As catches decline, the industry starts looking shaky, so western governments prop it up by taxing society and gifting the money to commercial fishers. According to United Nations figures, in 1994 $54 billion dollars was gifted to commercial fishing businesses to allow them to continue stripping the sea! This absurd practice has resulted in the size of the world's industrial fishing fleet growing at twice the rate of the actual catch.

The answer, of course, is to end subsidies, and bring the true cost of catching fish onto the balance sheet. That, however, only reveals the economic cost. Which in the big picture, is a trivial matter.

The cost of  not managing the resource, as the North American East Coast fisheries collapse shows, is long term, maybe even permanent, damage.

It is estimated that around 12 million people live by subsistence fishing. Even if overpopulation had not made deserts of the reefs, commercial fishers have ranged increasingly wide, including in traditional subsistence fishers grounds, to make up their catch. Some of which becomes cat food, or a component of animal feed.

The 'fish nurseries', the mangrove swamps, are also under attack. Around half the world's mangrove forests have been destroyed. And while sustainable nature reserves on land are wholly inadequate to conserve the earth's diversity of plants and animals, marine reserves are very very few. Anyone visiting an efficiently and continuously protected marine reserve is always astounded by the diversity and numbers of fish and other marine creatures there. Reserves almost certainly act as 're-seeding' sources for adjacent fished out areas.

It ought to be the inalienable right of all coastal living people to harvest coastal shelf seafood, within sustainable limits, and with first priority over (often foreign and subsidised) commercial hunters who catch for re-sale abroad.

While the open oceans may be 'the wild west' where 'if I don't catch it someone else will', coastal fishing could be rigorously sustainably managed, re-seeded with hatchery bred juveniles, 'breeders' given sanctuary in carefully selected, well policed reserves, and non-polluting rubbish such as care tires could be used to construct managed artificial reefs in shallow waters.

Again, only in civil societies is conservative (in both senses) and sustainable fisheries management a possibility. But it is not an inevitability. It takes leadership, vision, persuasion, and energy. So it is unlikely to happen until a very great deal of damage has been done.

Overall, fish is likely to become, and remain, expensive. Although weight for weight it is one of the best foods for an urbanised gatherer hunter there is-especially small fish that are eaten whole and canned fish with bones-we are careless of it's importance, and we will pay the price in health benefits denied.
The New Zealand Fisheries Quota Management System A good introduction to the principles and issues of fisheries management using a scientifically determined sustainable catch. Still contentious, especially with recreational fishers, and now essentially directed by the industry itself, this page is a quick insight into one attempt at a solution to overfishing and sharing wild fish resources with the people who 'own' them.
FAO review of the sustainability of world fisheries A concise, easy read, one page overview of the state of the world fisheries.
Implication for the third world if the major natural fisheries collapse. From the Sierra clubs 'rogue group' chapter.
USA white abalone goes from more than 1,000 per acre to the brink of extinction. Lengthy and detailed press release from USA Governmental Agency. Attempts are being made to conserve some germplasm.

Diminishing oil reserves [top]

Peak oil production will occur around 2010, and after that it is all down hill. That is a fairly robust fact, but not one widely known.

Our whole industrial society is based on oil. Our food production is based on oil.

The massive oil shale deposits will be able to be exploited, but a lot of rock haas to be processed for a relatively small return of black gold. In other words, the crude will be very expensive. All oil, from any source-soil shale, remaining wells, synthesised from gas or from oil seed crops-will be expensive. Ultimately, very expensive.

Our children will really feel 'the bite' of the cost of oil. If this co-incides with rising sea levels and flooding of rich delta lands, society will have to be very nimble to meet the shortfall.

Civil societies that are cash rich, education rich, mobile, with quasi transient workforce that have experienced the impermanence of any one vocation and accept the need to retrain, ought to cope best. But because our 'standard of living' is so high, westerners will have to make the greatest adjustment. And most western societies are in cold climates, can grow fewer crops, and need to burn hydrocarbons to keep warm in winter.

Societies that are still land based, diffused, administered from a central authority but with an efficient civil administrative service, used to community public works, with a not-too-distant background in steepland culture and highly efficient organic cultivation, may also cope well. Yes, China.

Paradoxically, societies that still predominantly rural peasant based and not extensively urbanised (altho' there are few such societies left) may scarcely miss a beat, especially if they are warm year round. When you start from a low base, you have little to lose.

Without a doubt, there will be enough grains grown in the west to feed the west, even with costs going thru' the roof. Without a doubt, new distribution methods - and old - will rise to meet the changing cost of diesel. And possibly, western people will be eating a great deal more beans and grains, and great deal less meat.

But even with climate change and very expensive oil, a well educated, egalitarian, open democracy will still eat.

The fading of the oil economyJJJ History, timeline and update on petrol dependancy and when it will result in recession

The imminent peak of oil production. JJJJJ An extraordinarily authoritative, lucid, brief, factual and non-hysterical account of oil depletion, $30 a barrel by 2002, and oil exhaustion from 2008 from a long time oil industry expert. Compulsory reading for everybody.

The diminishing oil reserve site JJJJJ excellent articles by five authoritative figures associated with the oil industry, evidence for the coming global oil crisis.
Alternative energy supplies - how realistic? JJJ A Hub news and discussion page on possible energy alternatives and whether they will pull our ass out of the fire.

 For a concise historical view, published in 1985 by the United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan. How much do you think has changed? mankind be able to secure food in the twenty-first century

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