10 August 2010

World Food Production Crisis - Worsening

New research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that rice yields in many parts of Asia over the last 25 years have fallen already by about 10-20 per cent due to the impact of global warming. There is no doubt that this steady decline has played a key role in the extraordinary fall in agricultural productivity across the less developed world over the last decade, as compared to the years of the industrial 'Green revolution' of the 1950s-80s.

Studies reviewed in A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization project that such declines will increase on a business-as-usual model of escalating rates of increase of fossil fuel emissions, with some projections suggesting that grain production could fall by as much as 20-40 per cent by 2050 in major food-basket regions.

Industrial agriculture is of course fundamentally dependent on hydrocarbon energy, both in terms of the oil necessary to fuel machinery, as well in terms of its integral role in making pesticides and fertilizers. With the peak of world oil production most likely at hand, leading to a global supply crunch around 2014, industrial agriculture will also increasingly face the constraint from diminishing resources, further endangering world food production.

This is why I've predicted that despite fluctuations, overall, prices for staple foods are likely to undergo an upward rise over the coming years. Depending on fluctuations in the world economy, we are likely to see another major food crisis over coming years without serious reconsideration of the way industrial agriculture is currently organized, along with our over-dependence on hydrocarbon resources.

9 August 2010

Changing the Game in Pakistan - letter in today's Evening Standard

This is my letter on latest developments in Pakistan/Afghanistan published in today's Evening Standard:

The fuss over David Cameron's comments on Pakistan exporting terror and his subsequent attempts to repair bridges has been hugely overblown. Given the recent historical context the prospect of relations between Britain and Pakistan being damaged was remote, and Friday's agreement between Zardari and Cameron only reaffirmed the close long-standing military-intelligence co-operation between the countries.

What would have been welcome, but we didn't get, was any consideration following Cameron's comments of whether the relationship between Britain and Pakistan has been counterproductive. Because we are intent on a military solution in Afghanistan, we have become dependent on Pakistan; but the correlation between the troop surge in Afghanistan and the 90 per cent increase in insurgent violence - with executions of aid workers and other civilians becoming increasingly common - shows how the military approach has failed. Militant groups sustained by the situation in Pakistan are the fallback to supply communities with medical aid, infrastructure and education, increasing the Taliban's grip on the country.

If we change our approach by redirecting military spending into development spending in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the situation would change radically. To get things moving in Pakistan,
should we not re-consider our policy of unconditional military aid to Islamabad - or even consider sanctions? It would be a radical departure from current policy, but we should at least have the debate about it.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed
author, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization (Pluto 2010)

7 August 2010

Peak Coal Has Arrived

A new peer-reviewed study in the journal Science has concluded that world coal production will peak next year. The study finds that on a business-as-usual scenario of exploitation (i.e. without efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions), coal production from existing reserves "is predicted to occur close to the year 2011". After this year, the study warns, "production rates of coal" decline to 1990 levels by the year 2037, reaching "50% of the peak value in the year 2047." It's "unlikely" that any future discoveries of coal reserves will ameliorate this decline.

The Science projections are a major blow to advocates of 'clean coal' technology as a viable solution to cutting CO2 emissions, simply because there is not enough to come anywhere near meeting world energy demand. They also confirm the worst fears of energy analysts who have tracked the inexorable decline in hydrocarbon energies this century. The Energy Watch Group previously forecasted that world coal production would most likely peak around 2025. Now that looks like an extremely conservative prediction.

Given that world oil production most likely has already peaked as of 2005, plateauing through to 2008, and now inexorably declining since then, it would seem we're in for a rather rough ride. Meanwhile, Obama stands by watching the US economy slide deeper into recession, while the dynamic Dave'n'Nick duo insist manically that the cuts will save us all even as the economy slows.

2 August 2010

Pakistan's Double Game

Prospect Magazine has today published my analysis of the US-Pakistan terror nexus on its blog here:

Since the release of 90,000 pages of classified US military intelligence on operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan by WikiLeaks, the Obama administration has struggled to win the media war. As Vice President Joe Biden insisted in an interview with NBC on Thursday, “All those leaks predate our policy. That’s been a problem in the past, it’s a problem we’re dealing with.” He specified: “Not one leak is consistent with our policy announced in December.”

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