Feeding the world

TWO MAJOR reports hit the headlines on Monday and they are inextricably linked. The first, from the International Energy Agency (IEA), warned that global carbon emissions reached a record level last year, after a dip in 2009 caused by the global economic crisis.

The other report, from Oxfam, says that world food prices are expected to double in the next two decades, endangering the lives of millions of the poorest people on the planet.

The rise in carbon emissions is blamed mostly on the rising economies of China and India but emissions are still rising in the highly industrialised western powers that have been the source of growing levels of carbon emissions for some two centuries.

And many of the giant transnational companies based in the western powers have now shifted their manufacturing and refining processes to third world countries.

The IEA says the increase raises doubts over whether planned curbs on greenhouse emissions will be achieved. At a meeting last year in Cancun, Mexico, world leaders agreed that deep cuts were needed to limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But according to the IEA’s estimate, carbon dioxide emissions reached a record 30.6 gigatonnes in 2010.

The task may seem hopeless to some and there is a danger some will give up. Others live under the delusion that Nature, or God, or the Earth will some how step in with a correcting mechanism. The truth is that nature does not have a default setting, or an equilibrium point that it always returns to. Nature is a constantly dynamic system of linked dialectical processes and natural conditions on this planet have always changed and varied dramatically.

The point is that the changes triggered by the waste products of industrialisation are real and will lead to changes in global temperatures and living conditions that will threaten the human race and hundreds of thousands of other species unless we do something about it. The planet itself will go on regardless and “nature” will reinvent itself yet again in a totally new way — but without us.

But there is no need for despair; human society is capable of correcting its errors. The problem of acid rain was addressed and has successfully been reversed. The polar holes in the ozone layers are gradually diminishing now.

These are ecological success stories down to international recognition and cooperation.

The problem of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions will be harder but it is not impossible.

The Oxfam report on growing world hunger put a large portion of the blame on the amount of land put aside to produce bio-fuels — which cause roughly the same amount of carbon emissions as fossil fuels.

Oxfam also cites increasing climate change and a 50 per cent drop in the amount of food being produced globally, while the world population is expected to reach around nine billion by 2030. Food prices have already doubled in the last two decades and are expected to rise again by between 120 and 180 per cent by 2030. People in poorer countries are forced to spend around 80 per cent of their income on food.

Oxfam calls on world leaders to improve regulation of food markets and invest in a global climate fund.

In its report, Oxfam says a “broken” food system causes “hunger, along with obesity, obscene waste, and appalling environmental degradation”. It says “power above all determines who eats and who does not”, and says the present system was “constructed by and on behalf of a tiny minority — its primary purpose to deliver profit for them”.

It highlights subsidies for big agricultural producers, powerful investors “playing commodities markets like casinos”, and large unaccountable agribusiness companies as destructive forces in the global food system.

Oxfam is spelling out that capitalism is the problem. It is not surprising that capitalists behave like capitalists. What will puzzle future generations is why the rest of us let them get away with it for so long and put the whole of humanity in serious danger.

It’s going to take more than marches, petitions and demonstrations to dislodge the capitalist powers — though they are a start. It is going to take a full scale global class war. To paraphrase Marx: “Workers of the World unite; you have a World to lose if you don’t!”