Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Coming Famine

Some discussions on a recent book by Julian Cribb on the coming famine.  Which also happens to be the title of the book (U.K.)he released in 2010.

First part of an interview:

What Happens When the Food Runs Out?
Wendy Syfret,, January 2013 (hat tip: Wit's End)
[Wendy Syfret:] Is the food crisis the most immediate threat to humanity?
[Julian Cribb:] It’s quite simply the biggest threat to humanity. You can argue what is the most urgent threat, but if we can’t successfully feed 10 billion people we’re all in a lot of trouble, and the GFC and even climate change are going to look very much like secondary issues.
Cities rely entirely on a river of trucks that come in every night to restock the shops. If there is a big fuel crisis or a war, you’re going to see cities of 10 or 20 million people starving.
So what are we talking about? Cities becoming giant, starving prisons?
In the next 20 or 30 years we'll witness one or more of the mega cities actually starving. We’ve all got smart phones, you will actually see this happening on TV. We know what happens when a city starves, because it happened towards the end of World War II in Eastern Europe. I think the world is in for a big shock because we haven’t prepared ourselves. Our cities are not sustainable in terms of their food supply. They’re unready for their food supply to be cut off.
Are you referring to any cities in particular?
No they’re all equally at risk, they're all equally prodigal in their waste of resources. They throw away half their food and all their water. Nearly all cities in the world are extremely dangerously designed. The people who live in them have no idea what a narrow thread their survival actually hangs on. There is bound to be an accident sooner or later and a city, or cities will run short of food. And then people will see some pretty graphic things happening.
Here we have a recent paper put out by his group.  In this paper
The Coming Famine: risks and solutions for global food security (pdf)
Julian Cribb & Assoc., Discussion Paper, 2010 (hat tip:
Most of us have by now heard the forecast there will be 9.2 billion people in the world of 2050. But current projections suggest human numbers will not stop there – but will keep on climbing, to at least 11.4 billion, by the mid 2060s.
Equally, the world economy will continue to grow – and China, India and other advancing economies will require more protein food. Thus, global demand for food will more than double over the coming half‐century, as we add another 4.7 billion people. By then we will eat around 600 quadrillion calories a day, which is the equivalent of feeding 14 billion people at today’s nutritional levels.
The central issue in the human destiny in the coming half century is not climate change or the global financial crisis. It is whether humanity can achieve and sustain such an enormous harvest.

And this gets to my primary point of contention with many of the peak-this, and peak-that discussions.  In the end its peak-peaple, or maybe slightly modified to peak-consumption-by-people.  In the end though, if you get enough people, lowering some peoples consumption only gets you so far.

While I think the food issue has some of the closest linkages, its as secondary to the true peak-concern as that whole host of other problems that start with "peak-".


James M Dakin said...

I won't buy this book simply because the phrase "in the next twenty or thirty years". What a bunch of crap. How about the "next two or three years". I hate alarmists who are really just calming down the sheep.

PioneerPreppy said...

We will see. Peak people is certainly important but overall may work itself out in other ways as well long before it gets there. War being the most likely "correction".

russell1200 said...

James: Nobody want's to be the next Club of Rome taking a big whiff in the 1970s. Pushing out a little way gives them some speaking fees, etc. until they get to retirement.

And in a more serious defense, it would take even worse weather than we are having to get there in a couple of years. It certainly can happen, but it takes some "events" to put it in place. But you push the demographics a decade and it really starts looking grim.

Pioneer: Historically, desease seems to have had a bigger impact. But historically must warfighting capabilities couldn't reach much past the frontier. Obviously that has changed. You get some advanced deisel subs knocking out the larger, but less in numbers, container ships and it gets really interesting. So I think you have a point. The big huge collapses also seemed to be linked to oversized societies that suffer a climate change. That couldn't happen to us, Could it?