Food prices

Food, energy, and electoral politics

In case you missed them, here are a few must read articles from the last few days:

From Center on Foreign Relations Economist Sebastian Mallaby’s strongly worded op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled “Rice and Baloney:”

We are now several months into the global food crisis, which is a much bigger deal than the subprime meltdown for most people in the world. Food prices have almost doubled in three years, threatening to push 100 million people into absolute poverty, undoing much of the development progress of the past few years. The new hunger has triggered riots from Haiti to Egypt to Ethiopia, threatening political stability; it has conjured up a raft of protectionist policies, threatening globalization. And yet the response to this crisis from governments the world over has been lackadaisical or worse.

The governments of the world are conspiring to undermine farming in developing countries. Do they mean to inflict hunger on tens of millions of people?

The New York TimesAndrew Revkin, in response to an article from Sunday’s Times by Keith Bradsher and Andrew Martin, draws a parallel between incredibly low funding for both agricultural development assistance and basic research and dropping funding, from the federal government and private sources, for basic energy research.

In Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, UC Berkeley professor Dan Kammen lays out the challenges that that policy makers must confront on climate change:

Over the next five decades, progress to meaningfully address the risk of significant climate change will require an estimated 80 percent - or greater - reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. The United States and China together account for almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions, so the work needs to begin here.

At the same time, no nation is better positioned to adopt a low-carbon energy diet than we are. The United States not only has tremendous clean energy resources, but it has major companies looking to take advantage of a change in federal policy to compete in the global clean energy economy. The United States must mobilize the world's largest R&D if we are to address climate change.

The central challenge of the 21st century will be to replace the vast fossil-fuel infrastructure with a new economy based on low-carbon technologies. The issue on the table is the need to finance clean energy research programs and to build markets where low-carbon technologies are rewarded. In other words, we must begin to price pollution.

Finally, Matt Bai’s column in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine examines John McCain’s foreign policy, support for the war, and his relationships with fellow Vietnam War veterans in the Senate, and, on Salon, pollster Paul Maslin takes an early look at the electoral math for Barack Obama.

Food shortages come home

American awareness of famines is generally limited to pictures on television or the internet of people starving in faraway places. Surely global food shortages and rising prices cannot affect Americans at home – or so went the thinking. No more.

Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club have placed limits on the amount of rice customers can buy. These limits are too high to affect the average consumer, but some businesses may be affected. The reasons for this limit, though, are worth noting. From the Washington Times:

Costco and other grocery stores in California reported a run on rice, which has forced them to set limits on how many sacks of rice each customer can buy. Filipinos in Canada are scooping up all the rice they can find and shipping it to relatives in the Philippines, which is suffering a severe shortage that is leaving many people hungry.

While it is difficult to nail down the specific causes in terms of what bears the greatest amount of responsibility for these high prices, it is worth noting that many experts point to the global hoarding and speculative buying of these goods as well as policies promoting the use of corn for ethanol production. It is also worth noting that this issue is starting to create domestic fears.

NDN Globalization Initiative Policy Director Maggie Barker recently blogged on the causes of these high prices, and I wrote about the political turmoil they are creating globally.

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