The Silent Tsunami:  Global Food Crisis
By Karen Warnick
The Pioneer 

Part 1

Effects Being Felt on the Mountain

   A tsunami starts slowly and silently, with the withdrawal of water from the shore.  It creeps out unnoticed by most.  Hidden from view, the water drawn from the shore builds ever higher, into a huge wave.  The wall of water starts back towards shore gaining height and speed until it is finally noticed by those who will be directly affected and who no longer have anywhere to run or the time to do so.  To those on shore, the causes of the tsunami don’t matter.  Nor does it matter that in many cases the causes started many hundreds of miles and years away. 

   The global food crisis is just that, global, meaning it will affect the entire planet.  Many millions of people are starving, riots are everywhere, prices have risen so much that only the wealthy are not worried, and most people in this country believe either it won’t affect them or the government will do something about it.  In reality we are just the farthest inland of the tsunami, it hasn’t reached all of us yet, but it will.  In an ongoing series of articles, we will attempt to bring clarity to this issue and its many extensions and causes and just maybe some hope of ways to ride out the worst of the coming tsunami.

   The effects of this tsunami are already being felt locally, in the high cost of food, gas and animal feed and the slowdown in the economy.  We can no longer afford to keep our heads buried; we can no longer afford to say that someone else will handle the problem.  Technology cannot necessarily save us this time (it may actually be making the situation worse) and one small fact stands out amongst all the facts, lies, misrepresentations and statistics:  the world’s population is expected to double in the next 25 years.  Gas and food will never go back down in price.  Historically spikes in the cost of goods go up and down, but the overall cost has risen and stayed there.  Food and water are the only two ways to survive and the reality of providing both to over 12 billion people boggles the mind when we can’t feed the 6.5 billion we have today.

   David Chimera, owner of Spur Feeds and Arena Inc. in Show Low, has seen a 300% increase in the prices of hay, grain, oats, barley, and sweet feed in just the last year.  “Because the prices have increased in such a short period of time, how do I increase my prices fast enough to compensate and not anger my customers?”  He has had to increase his costs to customers slowly and it has eaten into his profits.  While he has not seen much in the way of shortages yet, hay has become harder to get and the future scares him.  The animals-for-sale board in his store has grown to hundreds of flyers because his customers can no longer afford to feed all of their animals. When asked what he thought were the reasons for the higher prices, he named the rising cost of oil and gas and the use of biofuels.

    Amelia’s Garden is a popular organic food store and café in Snowflake.  Carey Kneer is one of the buyers and he said that they are still able to get most things, but it takes longer and there are more back orders on certain products, which is unusual.  “Nobody wants to say the word shortage.  It’s not something they want to talk about.”  He also thinks that high prices and shortages are possibly going to be around long term.  He doesn’t see changes for the better in the future.  Carey also believes that the cost of gas is a cause of the higher food prices. “Something has to be done about the oil companies’ hold on gas.  We try to deal with companies that are lessening their carbon foot print.” 

   While the impact of rising prices of food and fuel hurt the small business owner harder than the larger national chains, even the larger stores are feeling the effects.  The media has been talking about the shortages of rice and beans and the rationing of some items at places like Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart.  One person interviewed for this article, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that she couldn’t find any large bags of rice or beans at Walmart last week.  There were small packages, but the shelves were emptier than she has ever seen.  One of the reasons for shortages in some areas can be attributed to “panic” buying which we will cover in another article.

   Mark Muder is the manager of Bashas’ in Snowflake.  In an interview with the publisher of this paper, Bob Arganbright, he said that he is seeing customers buy more staples and discounted items than the higher priced and specialty items.  He also said that the price of rice, flours and sugar has gone up 20% and the cost of cooking oil has gone up 18%.  One of the ways in which Bashas’ has tried to cut costs was featured in an article in the April 23, 2008 edition of the Arizona Republic.  By installing combustion catalyst systems in its fleet of 97 18-wheelers, modifying some routes and scheduling, Bashas’ was able to reduce the amount of diesel its fleet uses.  “What we know we’re saving right now is 4 percent, with the potential of up to 10 percent,” said Tim Handrick, Bashas’ fleet maintenance supervisor.

   Chris Wentz and her husband own the Nature’s Realm stores in Show Low and Pinetop.  She said that they have been seeing higher then normal price increases for the last 2 or 3 months.  Many of their distributors are out of stock on grains and grain products.  Products that used to be available all the time are now out of stock for 3 or 4 weeks before finally becoming available again.  “For the first time in the 10 years we’ve been open, our distributers have added a surcharge on delivery.”  Chris believes that gas prices are one of the main reasons for everything going up in price. 

   Sunshine Herbs in Show Low is owned by Linda Owens.  She has had to change the way she orders products.  Herbs and natural supplements were the most in demand, but customers now want more basic food products, especially in bulk.  She has also had a hard time finding basic products and has seen a huge rise in costs.  “Wheat went from $19.95 to $36.95 in just 2 months.  Macadamia nuts have become so expensive; we’ve had to phase them out.  Yeast went from $2 a pound 2 years ago to $6.25 a pound today.”  Sunshine Herbs has started a buyer’s coop and farmer’s market in the last 6 months to fill a need for customers who want to buy more local products and to be able to buy bulk foods cheaper.  Other stores in the area also have coops.  Linda says, “We need to help one another and work together as a community.  This is reality and it’s here to stay.”

   Many people believe there is plenty of food and that the US grows enough food to feed us and the rest of the world.  In actuality, the United States of America has 30% less food than what it takes to feed our own population on any given day.  In 2006 the US imported about $10 billion more in food, feed and beverages than it exported.  Imports came from 175 different countries and represented a 60% jump over the last decade.

   Like the silent, deadly tsunami, food and its availability are receding into the distance, unnoticed by all but a few.  The price of food is building into a huge wave that will eventually crash onto the shores of America.  We will never be told how fast food is disappearing until the riots break out.  It will make no difference how rich or poor a person is.  True wealth will no longer be measured in fancy houses, multiple cars and gold in the vault. Those who are the richest will be those who are able to feed themselves and their families.

   In upcoming articles, we will look at the many disputed and complicated issues surrounding the causes of the global food crisis, how it is affecting our mountain, and more importantly, the ways in which we can weather the coming tidal wave.  

Part 2

Causes and Effects; Ethanol

   While those that are running in panic from the approaching tsunami don’t care where it came from or what started it, the global food crisis has many causes that can be directly related to the effects showing up in the public radar.  Some of these causes have been years in the making, while others are a more recent phenomenon.  Unless we start looking at the root causes and start doing what we can to fix them, we will continue to see rising prices, shortages and people going hungry.  It is no longer a far off problem that only affects poor people in countries we have never heard of.  The global food market is intricately entwined and affects everyone. 

   The main problem in determining causes and their effects and what to do about them are the differing opinions of the many experts and standing up to those who have the most profit to lose.  In researching this subject the main causes that are being discussed include:  poor harvests, restrictive trade policies, increasing price of gas and oil, using up crop land for biofuels, soil depletion due to pesticides and chemical overuse, increasing demand, increase in natural disasters, and the corporate control of food production.

   The rising cost of food is a whole separate issue from the scarcity of available food.  Both issues have similar causes and effects but the lack of food is far more serious than the high costs of that food.  In this article we will look at the controversy over ethanol and biofuels and how they are contributing to both the rising costs of food and the reduction of available food.

   On December 19th, 2007, Bush signed into law the “Energy Independence and Security Act” which mandates that 36 billion gallons of biofuels be produced in the US every year by 2022.  This is five times more then is produced today.  Ethanol and biodiesel are made from food or inedible crops and include: corn, soybeans, rapeseed (canola oil), sugarcane, palm trees (palm oil), and cassava.  Ethanol production took only about 6 to 7% of American corn in 1998, but has grown to between 30 to 50% today.  In 2007, 54% of the world’s corn was grown in the US.  The corn required to fill the 18.5 gallon gas tank of a Toyota Camry with ethanol could feed a human being for 270 days.  Corn, soybeans and rapeseed are the foundation of America’s food supply, because they feed our farm animals that give us dairy products, eggs, and meat.  A World Bank study has estimated that corn prices rose by over 60% from 2005 to 2007, largely because of the US ethanol program.  The rise in corn prices has driven the rise in all other related food supplies.

     The USDA stated that in May, 2008, US wheat supplies were lower than at any time since 1948, in part because 16% of US farmland formerly planted in wheat and soybeans was planted in corn for ethanol.  Biofuels require massive amounts of nitrogen fertilizers to produce, and the price of fertilizer rose by more than 200% in 2007 alone.  Biofuels are pushing up the cost of all foods that require fertilizers.  The International Food Policy Research Institute study blames 30% of the overall food price rise on biofuels.  Congressman Jim McGovern admitted that lawmakers made a big mistake in not anticipating the impact of biofuels on food costs.  He said that, “If there was a secret vote on biofuels, there is a pretty large number of people who would like to reassess what we are doing.”

   Biofuels increase our federal budget deficit because they depend on large subsidies just to exist.  Without federal and state subsidies and political mandates, there would be no significant free market demand for biofuels in the US.  Ethanol contains 33% less energy than gasoline, and it takes 15 gallons of pure ethanol to travel the same number of miles that could be traveled using just 10 gallons of gasoline.  Ethanol fuel blends increase engine maintenance costs and lower engine reliability.  Economist Ronald Cooke estimated that the total societal cost of ethanol, counting hidden costs, was close to $6.89 a gallon, and this was in 2007, before the recent rise in corn prices.  Corn hit $6 a bushel on April 3 of this year, up 30% in only 3 months and up 300% in two years. 

      This year the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report concluding that using corn-based ethanol instead of gasoline will have no impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and would even expand fossil fuel use due to increased demand for fertilizer and irrigation to expand acreage of ethanol crops. And according to MIT "natural gas consumption is 66% of total corn ethanol production energy," meaning huge new strains on natural gas supply, pushing prices there higher. In 2006 US farmland devoted to bio-fuel crops increased by 48%. None of that land was replaced for food crop cultivation. The tax subsidies make it far too profitable to produce ethanol fuel.  Prof. M.A. Altieri of Berkeley University estimates that dedicating all USA corn and soybean production acreage to bio-fuels would only meet 12% of gasoline and 6% of diesel needs. He notes that though one-fifth of last year's corn harvest went to bio-ethanol, it met a mere 3% of energy needs. But the farmland is converting at a record pace. In 2006 more than 50% of Iowa and South Dakota corn went to ethanol refineries. Farmers across the Midwest, desperate for more income after years of depressed corn prices, are abandoning traditional crop rotation to grow exclusively soybeans or corn with dramatic added impact on soil erosion and needs for added chemical pesticides. In the US some 41% of all herbicides used are already applied to corn.

   Another little reported problem in the use of biofuels is the demand for water that biofuels require.  Irrigation water is taken away from supplies of water for drinking and vegetables.  There is not enough salt free water in the world to grow biofuels crops and still provide essential water for our homes and to grow enough food to survive.  It takes 9,000 gallons of water to produce just 1 gallon of biodiesel made from soybeans.  In California, water is now so precious that some farmers want to sell water instead of food, and water rationing is being considered as officials fear a long term drought. 

   So what can the average person do about the problems of rising food costs and the growing scarcity of available food?  What can be done about the growing ethanol and biofuels controversy that is causing these issues?  Because the US is the world leader in pushing for biofuels production (the main reason being that we currently use more than 25% of the world’s oil and only produce less than 5%), one thing that every American can do is educate themselves about ethanol and speak out.  Speaking out and getting our elected officials to do something about it can be a very slow process, in the meantime, start growing your own food.

   The local food movement is making a huge comeback in the US, for obvious reasons.  All across the country, farmers markets are increasingly popular, food buying coops are growing, community supported agriculture is fast becoming the way to get local food and help support farmers, and backyard gardens are sprouting everywhere.  The Concho Farmers Market is one of the local groups making a difference on the mountain.

   Every Saturday morning May through October, local vendors gather to sell their locally grown and made products.  The Concho Farmers Market is a non-profit vendor run organization.   From their website, “Every purchase at a Farmer's Market directly supports the grower, crafter, or producer instead of marketing and middle-men. Special varieties of naturally grown vegetables, farm fresh eggs, and other local offerings from jewelry to pottery and wood crafts to yarn can be found at our farmer's market.” Every vendor that signs on is on the board and helps to make decisions.  Anyone can sign up to sell their products for a day or the whole season.  Go to to find out more.

   Jimmy Videle and Lorraine Wiesen own and operate Moonrise Farms and support their family, 20 families in their CSA, and sell at three farmers markets 25 weeks a year, all on one acre of cultivated land.  Says Jimmy, “In order to be sustainable in the future, we need to bring back local energy and food production and support each other.” When asked if we had a food crisis on our hands and what the causes were, Jimmy said, “We have a real crisis.  We have paved too much land, allowed big corporations to cut out the small farmer and produce GMO seeds, and are at the end of peak resources.  If you’re not producing anything for yourself, you’re missing the boat.”

   Ray and Theresa Ledford grow enough food on a half acre to supplement Ray’s income and feed themselves and their five children with enough left over to sell.  They are new to the “farm to market” growing process and hope to expand in the future.  Their Starry Skies Farm eggs can be bought at local organic groceries.  Ray thinks there is a huge problem and that people need to “Take responsibility for feeding themselves.”  “Ethanol is a huge cause of the rising prices and we need to stop burning food as fuel,” said Theresa.  The rising cost of fuel has affected their water use as their water comes from a well that uses a gas generator to pump the water.  They plan on converting to a solar pump in the future.

   In the next article in this series, we will take a look at some of the other causes of the food crisis and what other local people are doing about it.


Part 3

Causes and Effects; Corporate Farming, Chemicals and Soil Depletion

   Like the tsunami that builds slowly and silently until it’s no longer possible to get out of the way, the food crisis has been building for decades. Silently and suddenly it has appeared on the horizon and we are left wondering how this could have happened in an age of quick and plentiful food.  Why have prices risen so high? Why are there shortages of certain crops and riots in 33 countries that have millions of people unable to obtain even a days worth of grain?  Why are there millions of people starving around the world, including in the United States?  How come we didn’t know this would happen and why aren’t we doing anything about it?

   In this series we have been exploring the causes of the situation we now find ourselves in.  In the last article we covered biofuels, specifically ethanol, and this article will examine the corporate takeover of food production, the pesticides and chemicals required for mass production, monoculture and the resulting pollution of our water and depletion of our soil.

   In an article posted on by Alastair Bland, he says, “Localized, diverse, healthy agriculture was once the way of the world, before land consolidation, global markets, and the capacity for long-distance transportation changed everything.  People ate strictly what they grew locally, and gardeners and farmers cultivated a wide and colorful range of edible plants.  This biodiversity maintained soil health and mineral balance, as did composting which recycled organic matter back into the earth.  The soil stayed rich.”  How and why did all this change?  Because of corporate control of food, from farming, seeds, production and transportation, we are now at the mercy of a few large businesses that only care about profit.

   We tend to think of corporations as fairly recent phenomena.  In fact, corporations in prerevolutionary America were the reason we fought the War of Independence.  Remember the Boston Tea Party?  The Massachusetts Bay Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and the British East India Company were all “chartered” entities and nothing more then corporations who tried to tell us what to do and tax us for products we didn’t want or could make for ourselves.  We won that war and when our forefathers created this country, they understood the need to control corporations.  Corporations were “artificial, intangible, and invisible”, they were financial tools chartered by states, not the federal government.  Limits were placed on how big and powerful they could become, they couldn’t participate in the political process, and if they overstepped their bounds, they were dissolved.   All that started to change with the Civil War.  Corporations took advantage of a country in chaos and made huge profits in procurement contracts, bought legislatures, judges and even Presidents.  They became the masters and keepers of business.  President Lincoln warned shortly before his death that “Corporations have been enthroned…..An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people ….until wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the republic is destroyed.”

   In 1886, a court decision changed the course of history in America.  In Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, the US Supreme Court ruled that a private corporation was a “natural person” under the Constitution and therefore entitled to protection under the Bill of Rights.  They now enjoy all the rights and sovereignty previously enjoyed only by the people, including the right to free speech.  By 1919, corporations employed more than 80% of the workforce and produced most of America’s wealth.  Corporate trusts have become too powerful to challenge legally in a court of law. In St. Louis, Missouri, a Fox TV affiliate prepared a major investigative story on bovine growth hormone that was not favorable to Monsanto, the company that produces it.  Monsanto lawyers threatened the network with “dire consequences” if the story aired.  A book about the dangers of genetic agriculture was pulled by the publisher because of fears of a lawsuit by Monsanto, who now controls most of the world’s genetically modified seeds. 

   In 1997, 51% of the world’s largest economies were corporations, not countries.  The top 500 corporations controlled 42% of the world’s wealth.  And they now control the world’s food.  Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, BASF, Dow and DuPont together control 85% of the annual pesticide market valued at 30 billion dollars.  Cargill, Archer Daniels and Bunge, control nearly 90% of global grain trade while DuPont and Monsanto dominate the global seed market.  Cargill has achieved an 86% increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of this year alone, Bunge reported a 77% increase in profits during the last quarter of last year, and Archer Daniels had a 67% increase in 2007.  Eleven corporations account for about half the world’s sales of seeds, of which about a quarter are genetically engineered seeds.  Corporations have taken over the entire food production cycle from the development of proprietary strains of DNA and the sales of seeds to farmers, to the distribution and retail sale of food products in supermarkets.  Profits drive production.  If a product cannot be profitably sold, corporations have no interest in producing it, regardless of how vital it is to human survival, or how much suffering it causes.

   In their search for ever more profits, corporations have driven out the small farmer, use ever increasing amounts of pesticides and fertilizers that pollute the soil and water and the food it is poured onto, genetically alter the food we eat, without proving it’s effectiveness or safety, decreased the amount of diversity in plant life, which could lead to increased crop failure due to viruses, fungus and diseases, and decreased the nutritional value of food which has resulted in overweight, unhealthy humans.   They spend fortunes convincing us that we need their products, are not held in check by government organizations that are supposed to be watching over the health and safety of this country, and are allowed to do pretty much what they want because no one, not even the federal government, wants to take them on in a court fight.

   Bryan Jones, owner of Sweet Corn Organic Nursery and Antiques in Linden, has been farming organically for over 30 years.  He says his grandmother taught him.  He also says, “I hope this is not the end of the human race.”  He is concerned about the food crisis, but grows his own food.  Bryan understands how to take care of the soil and how to grow food without using harmful chemicals.  He has helped many of his customers learn the art of organic growing.  “This country has eliminated the family farm and corporate farms don’t care about anything except making a profit.  Unless we look at what we are doing to the soil, we will depend on the rest of the world for our food.”  His answer to the food crisis is to grow your own.  “We need to get back to being neighbors and families helping families.  There is an organic solution to every problem.”  He is passionate about helping people become better gardeners and gives freely of his knowledge and time.

   The food crisis is real and not something that will go away over night.  Technology has created the problem and many believe it will also fix the problem.  Unfortunately, technology is in the hands of the corporations and profits take precedence over health, sustainability and human life.  We have survived for thousands of years by living off the land and taking care of that land so that it continued to feed us.  It has only been in the last 100 years that we have almost completely destroyed what Mother Nature has provided us: clean air and water, good soil with plenty of beneficial nutrients, and a rich diversity of plants that grow in a variety of climates to keep us healthy.  We have allowed the means of our survival to be in the hands of a few “entities” that control our very existence with money as the motive.  The tsunami is silently growing larger and larger and we are blissfully unaware, playing happily on the beach.

   In the next article, we will take a closer look at how corporations have depleted our topsoil, poisoned our environment with chemicals and changed the way we grow crops, which have all contributed to the looming food crisis tsunami.


Part 4

Causes and Effects; The High Cost of Cheap Food

   All life on earth is rooted in the soil.  Without the dirt beneath our feet, nothing living would survive.  In the never-ending quest for cheap food, we have destroyed much of that dirt and the water that also sustains all of life and the soil.  With good soil and clean water, almost anything will grow and grow well.  The United Nations estimates that soils worldwide are being depleted between 13 and 80 times faster than they are being restored.  Many experts agree that poorly managed monoculture farm systems are draining the earth of its ability to sustain us.  By some estimates, the earth bears as little as 36 to 52 years’ worth of farmable soil.

   American agriculture changed in the early 1900’s.  We went from a system of small, diversified, independently operated family farms into a system of large-scale, industrialized, corporately controlled agri-businesses that proclaimed their ability to feed the world.  A hundred years later we have decimated the very soil and water we depend on to produce that food.  And not just in this country.  With corporate control of agriculture, we are approaching an end of agriculture in America. The globalization of agriculture, through “free-trade” agreements, means food is grown wherever in the world it can be produced at the lowest economic cost and for the highest profit, regardless of what it does to the soil, water and countries it is grown in. 

   Besides the vast amount of pesticides, fertilizers and toxic chemicals being dumped into the ground and water, the other chief cause of soil depletion is the monoculture system of growing one type of crop to the exclusion of all others.  This type of farming depletes the soil of beneficial minerals and organisms that are not renewed.  Monoculture growing allows for the selective process of using the most lucrative, high-yielding variety of plant.  They are easily tended and allow entire fields to be harvested quickly and efficiently.  But the eventual price to be paid is dead soil: soil that no longer has any nutritional value and will not sustain any kind of crop.  It also leads to decreased plant diversity which was the cause of the potato famine in Ireland in the 1800’s.  In 1970 an aggressive fungus destroyed 80% of the US corn crop because of a particular gene in a hybrid variety that was used almost exclusively.  It is estimated that we now only use about 5% of plant varieties that were commonly grown.  By decreasing our plant variety, using chemicals to increase yields, using genetically altered plants, and focusing on density and profits, we have left ourselves vulnerable to having the entire food crop destroyed.

   The global control of corporate agri-businesses has devastated other countries economies and their ability to feed their own people.  This has resulted in the growing numbers of starving people and rioting around the world.  According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, “82 low-income, food-deficit countries” currently depend on imported food and are forecasted to purchase 82 million metric tons of grain in 2008.  These countries’ traditional agrarian systems have withered, leaving many people jobless and scarcely able to afford the cheap imported foodstuffs that put their own farms out of business.  Nations worldwide have come to economic ruin under the rule of global corporate agriculture.

   In Mexico, thousands of varieties of corn once grew, but many of the farmers have been put out of business by the US because of overproducing and flooding the Mexican market with underpriced corn.  In Haiti, rice farmers were able to feed their country until the 1980’s when US rice was allowed to flood the market with cheaper imports.  They had to give up their own production and are now dependent on imports.  Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world.   Farmers in Iraqi were forced to use genetically modified seeds when the US invaded and have been committing suicide in high numbers due to the failure of their farming system.

   The IMF and the World Bank pushed countries to dismantle all forms of protection for their local farmers and to open up their markets to global agribusiness and subsidized food from rich countries.  They said that a liberalized market would provide the most efficient system for producing and distributing food.  70% of developing countries listened and changed from exporters of food to importers.  Now they can’t afford to buy food because trader’s asking prices are too high.

   According to Jim Harkness, President of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, “Our food system’s increasing dependence on imports is no accident.  Import dependency is a defining characteristic of an industrial food model driven by US farm and trade policies over the last half century on behalf of agribusiness.  US farm policy has encouraged the mass production of only a few cheap crops largely used as food ingredients, animal feed and exports.  US trade policy has aggressively pushed for the removal of trade barriers paving the way for the global food trade.  We have built a system of production and trade that treats food the same as computer parts.  Cracks in this system manifest themselves in different ways, including the loss of the family farms in the US and worldwide, declining soil and water quality, and a rise in food-related health problems including obesity.”

   It is evident by now that our current food crisis has many causes and will not be resolved quickly.  Forecasting agencies, such as the world-class Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, have researched that, unless something is done, the food crisis will continue to get worse and worse and predict it will accelerate.  It is no longer possible to get cheap food, even here in the US, the supposed breadbasket of the world.  If we continue to pollute our water and soil, plant limited varieties of genetically modified crops, and allow profits to rule over health and safety, we may be faced with the inevitable fact that there will no longer be enough food to feed us, cheap or not.

   In the next article in this series, we will take a look at how the high price of gas and oil are affecting the food crisis and the rising speculation that using food futures as a trading commodity to increase the profits of Wall Street investors has helped fuel higher costs.  We will continue to look at how all of this affects the local economy on the mountain and what we can do to help ourselves.  The last article in this series will focus exclusively on the many ways that as individuals and communities we can change the predicted future of food.


Part 5

Causes and Effects:  Oil and Gas Prices

   Using the analogy of a tsunami for the food crisis works equally well for the rising costs of gas and oil and the belief by many experts that we are running out of oil.  Except in this case, the tsunami has not been so silent.  We’ve known for decades that we would reach the tipping point that we are at today, and we haven’t done anything about it.  There is a raging debate about whether there is enough oil to continue our consumptive lifestyle, especially with the rise in demand from developing countries.  Scientists who support the idea of “peak oil” say the amount of oil produced in the world each year has already or will soon begin a downward slide.

   What is “peak oil”?  It is the idea that, whether or not we have a limited supply in the ground or not, the rising demand and the ability to extract that oil follow a bell curve.  Oil will not just "run out". This is true whether we're talking about an individual field, a country, or on the planet as a whole.  Oil is increasingly plentiful on the upslope of the bell curve, increasingly scarce and expensive on the down slope. The peak of the curve coincides with the point at which the endowment of oil has been 50 percent depleted. Once the peak is passed, oil production begins to go down while cost begins to go up.

  We have been living on the upslope of that curve.  Light, sweet crude was easy to reach and pump out of the ground.  Supply was meeting demand.  But as the demand for oil has risen, we no longer have vast amounts of the easy oil to meet our needs, the price of energy expended in extracting that oil is not equal to the energy output of that oil, and it will continue to be more expensive to find, extract and use that oil. We are at the top of the curve and, according to which expert you believe, are poised to start a steep downward spiral or have already gone over the edge.  Many believe that technology will save the day, that there is plenty of oil and gas and the oil companies are just trying to make a buck.  Okay, but why have prices risen so suddenly?  Why have we enjoyed a slow, steady, stable rise in gas prices for decades and this year alone has seen over a $1 a gallon increase in a few short months?  It doesn’t really matter.  As soon as we face a crisis, the finger pointing starts, the blame game is practiced by all, and trying to find solutions takes a back seat.

   If there is enough oil to last forever, why has there been such a huge increase in the prices all of a sudden?  If there is price speculation and gouging and those few who are getting rich while the rest of the world goes broke, why are we allowing it?  Why, all of a sudden, do those in control feel it necessary to make all the money they can as quickly as the can?  Do they know something we don’t?  Why haven’t new oil refineries been built in this country in the last 30 years? 

   Regardless of whether or not you believe any of the experts about our future way of life, the facts remain:  energy prices have a direct impact on food prices and prices of everything have never gone back down.  Indeed, high oil prices affect most all prices.  Oil is used both to make and transport most products, including food.  As the price of crude rises, (at this writing the price of oil has surpassed $146 a barrel) so does the price of almost everything.  Many are blaming speculators on the stock markets.  An article by Nomi Prins, who is a writer for Mother Jones and a former Bear Stearns analyst, published last month points the finger at the commodity speculators. “Indeed, the current agricultural price bubble has produced record highs in soybeans and wheat as well. Against this backdrop, a clueless Congress passed US farmer and food-stamp aid within the recent farm bill, without addressing the possibility that speculation could be to blame, or that curtailing speculation could help alleviate the domestic and global food crisis.”  The article can be found at this link;

      Again, it doesn’t really matter to the average person who is to blame.  The problem lies with us, a society that assumes food comes from a grocery store and that we could easily feed everyone who comes in the door (The US has 30% less food than what it takes to feed our own population on any given day).  Many continue to believe that everyone in government is looking out for us and will fix the problems we have.  All we have to do is to continue to ignore the problem and it will go away.  

   With the way our current system of production is setup, everything depends on cheap gas.  We have outsourced our manufacturing base (although that is starting to reverse itself, due ironically to high fuel costs), we import more than we export, food is shipped thousands of miles before it reaches your plate, and everything is dependent on someone else getting us what we need.  As was covered in previous articles, those someone’s are profit-driven corporations who don’t care about doing things fairly, humanely or for the benefit of mankind, they want their money the cheapest way possible.

   Over the past few articles about the food crisis, we have covered the main causes and some of how it’s affecting us.  The world-wide problems are a lot worse than what is being mentioned in mainstream media.  The problems facing this country are a lot worse then most realize.  The housing crisis, the credit crisis, bank failures, huge job losses, natural disasters, the price of everything skyrocketing; it is not going to go away.  Everything is related.  Everything and everyone on this planet are now connected and problems half way around the world do cause problems for everyone.  This is most evident when it comes down to being able to feed yourself and your family.  What will you do when the trucks stop running because they can no longer afford the price of gas?  What will you do when the grocery store shelves are empty and won’t be filled in the near future?  Forget about paying the mortgage, filling the gas tank so you can get to work…how are you going to survive it you can’t eat?  It’s kind of hard to outrun a tsunami, unless you have advance warning. 

  In the last few articles on The Silent Tsunami, we will look at what is being done by those who have paid attention to the warning signs and have started to find solutions for themselves.  It is no longer smart to wait for someone else to fix things.  It is no longer in our best interests to let the corporations and governments decide what is best for us.  It’s time for each of us individually, in families and in local communities to prepare for the coming tsunami.