A Tragedy in the Making

By David L. Brown

As drought and heat continue to destroy a significant portion of the US crop, a large tranche of corn continues to be mandated for use in ethanol production. The purpose of this is to enrich farmers and channel money to corn producing states in order to secure votes. (It makes no kind of economic sense as a fuel source.) Now that the world faces more widespread famine (it’s already been a reality in many places for several years), it might make sense to shut down the ethanol plants for the time being, as this excerpt from an article today on WIRED (here) suggests (emphasis added):

“In the short run, USDA needs to figure out a way to remove the mandate on ethanol use from corn,” said Timmer [an agricultural economist]. “If we could free up 20 to 30 percent of the U.S. crop, reduced as it is, it would bring corn prices down very quickly.

New speculation limits are scheduled to be enacted by year’s end, but drought means that may be too late, said Bar-Yam [president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, a kind of scientific and technology think tank]. In the meantime, the USDA has rebuffed all requests to reduce corn biofuel allotments.

So it would make sense, but the USDA isn’t having any part of that. Well, duh because obviously farmers and ethanol barons are more important than 7 billion human beings and the reputation of the United States. Well, how is it going to fly when third world people are starving wholesale? They get to suffer and die horrible deaths while the U.S. in all the great wisdom of the USDA (headed by a rain-praying lawyer and professional politician) continues to turn huge amounts of corn into ethanol. Do we want to make America the Great Satan in fact as well as in name? If so, this will certainly do it. With hardly any effort at all we can make our country the most hated in the history of the world. When you open a future dictionary to the word “Evil” there will be a picture of Uncle Sam pointing at you. That’s what these idiots are doing.

Meanwhile, here’s a chart showing what happens when food prices rise. The numbers represent incidents of social unrest.

The Wired article suggests that “some think” food prices may have led to the so-called Arab Spring (it’s pretty plain that they did), and that therefore it was a “good thing.” Boy, if that’s good I’d hate to see what they consider bad. The idea that a bunch of raving lunatics taking over third world countries has something to do with “democracy” is totally nuts. It’s anarchy is what it is, followed by theocratic chaos, mayhem and murder. Somalia et al. are hardly models for Jeffersonian democracy. Incidentally, if you doubt the connection, note the number of incidents of food-related social unrest last year in the nations most affected by the Arab Spring: Tunisia 300+, Libya 10,000+, Egypt 800+, and now Syria 900+. Hmm, where there’s smoke and so forth.

One could assume that the 2008 and 2011 events (all centered on sharp rises in the UN’s FAO food index shown by the black dotted line) will be followed by similar events in spades when the presently developing food price spike gets its boots on (which is happening right now). Many of these represent small, insignificant countries (in Western eyes, at least although the indigenous peoples might beg to differ), but there are also some significant ones, including India with 1.5 billion mouths to feed. What happens if a major population subset such as India falls into out-and-out famine? India is presently suffering a reduced Monsoon so food shortages may be coming there soon, incidental to the crisis in world supplies which will severely limit or eliminate the possibility of filling production shortfalls with imports.

China doesn’t appear on the chart and I don’t understand why, because it also has been suffering something like 50,000 minor revolts and demonstrations each year, many of which must be food related. I guess it’s not on the list because the wise leaders of China say “nuh uh, it didn’t happen.” They must have legions of Winston Smiths busily rewriting history there in the Middle Kingdom. Northern China is also presently affected by drought. If India or China (or both) were to fall into widespread famine and anarchy It would be like Somalia X1000.

The Arab Spring has some way to go, too. It’s well underway in Syria now, and look who else had food riots and troubles last year: Saudi Arabia. Well, only one but note that Egypt, for example, had only 3 in 2008 and 800+ in 2011. Is the Big Sandbox about to experience its very own personal Arab Spring? Hmm, that will be interesting, especially when the rioting revolutionary heroes burn the oil fields as an affront to Allah. (Don;t dismiss the possibility…there’s a movement in Egypt to destroy the Pyramids on basically those same grounds.) Al-Qaeda is busy helping knock down Assad as we speak, and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has already pretty much taken over Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Yemen. SA has always been the big Target Numero Uno for AQ, and their day may be coming soon.

And all because of a little thing like food shortages, due to overpopulation. Whoda thunk it? Indeed.

Meantime, if we continue to use corn for ethanol as perhaps billions go hungry or starve to death, we will place ourselves in the world equivalent position of Marie Antoinette with her “let them eat cake” throwaway line. Except, we’ll probably say something even more stupid, like “let them eat Big Macs,” perhaps with a side of yummy fries and a Coke, the All-American Meal you know. I can envision the likes of Obama or Nancy Pelosi making just such a statement. Man the bad PR will just be epic and hate will spread like a Colorado wildfire in a windstorm.

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