“Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?” by Lester R. Brown Article Summary
“Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?” is a somewhat absurd but well written article. Lester R. Brown, the author, does a prodigious public favor in trying to wake the human race up to three facts: we must stop using hydrocarbons for transportation, burning coal for electricity, and stabilize the population which is predicted to rise quickly. It is a clear and dramatic statement on the human predicament and what needs to be done. He discusses how food shortages could be the weak link that will bring down civilization. He proclaims that the threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in developing countries to cause government collapse. The effects that environmental degradation and population growth are having on the worlds food supply are discussed. Demand for food is growing at a faster rate than supplies can grow; therefore increasing the price of food. In developing countries, governments lose power when food supplies are too low to feed their population. Food scarcity and the higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos. Brown says that such "failed states" can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees thus threatening global stability.
The problem on the supply side of things is the immediate concern of falling water tables and fresh water shortages. He claims that 70% of the worlds freshwater is used by irrigation.
Brown reveals that "millions of irrigation wells in many countries are now pumping water out of underground sources faster than rainfall can recharge them" (Brown, 53). If water tables continue to shrink, humanity will be led to social conflict and immense food shortages. The second problem he reveals is the soil erosion. Top soil is eroding faster than new soil can form. Top soil is usually 6 inches deep and is a necessity to build up. The third issue that he discusses is the rising surface temperature. He notifies that an increase of one degree Celsius above normal temperature could lead to a decrease in rice, corn, wheat production by at least 10 percent; breath taking fact.
In conclusion, he states that humanity must confront all these issues which cannot be overlooked any longer because the effects are being spread worldwide. Over population, water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures are putting severe limits on food production. Without massive and fast intervention to confront the four environmental factors, the author argues, government collapses could threaten the world order.
Lester R. Brown comes up with many valid solutions but questionable statements arise from the article when he discusses food scarcity.
"Recent merging of the food and energy economies implies that if the
food value of grain is less than its fuel value, the market will move the
grain into the energy economy That double demand is leading to an
epic competition between cars and people for the grain supply and to
a political and moral issue of unprecedented dimensions. The U.S.,
in a misguided effort to reduce its dependence on foreign oil by
substituting grain-based fuels, is generating global food insecurity on
a scale not seen before." (Brown, 53).
This is a rather alarmist viewpoint on problems. It is short on solutions. Food shortages would most likely never bring down civilization. Massive food shortages would not be experienced equally throughout the world, some countries would suffer more than other, thus some governments may collapse or result in war, not good, but it is also not an apocalypse. Also, food in most of the world is still relatively inexpensive for the majority of population, but as it rises it brings up alternatives of technological advances within the sphere of economic opportunity, vertical farming, and advanced greenhouse operations using hydro or aeroponics would become more appealing to farmers. They are not as prone to climate change. Brown may have underestimated the power of human ingenuity and technology. Some issues that he discusses are illogical. His solutions will cost an unimaginable fees. Talking about the rebirth of Earth and renewal would be more productive.
"There is no box. That is the mind-set we need if civilization is to survive." This quote is essential to understanding the whole article due to the fact that Brown presents some illogical solutions to some issues such as the loss of top soil. A reverse of modern trends will be necessary, maybe not in the present, but definitely in the near future.
Throughout reading this article, I began to perceive it as a bit absurd due to the fact that the
author was listing out of the ordinary facts about developing countries but as I gave the article another read, I realized how thoughtful and correct Brown is. Some theories might be illogical but maybe that is what the world needs. Maybe a completely preposterous change in our trends of living will correct the countless flaws we have made in the technological era. Humans seem to be the creatures of chaos. Rather than accepting the possibility that problems which are serious are on the horizon, we look for any positive source of information to lessen our fear. It is only when a disaster is unavoidable that we act to migrate the worst of the impact. I personally believe that the obvious source of these problems is overpopulation. The topic has been discussed and warned about for years. Countless examples of civilizations reaching their capacity of their environment and technology to sustain them. It is crystal clear that as a species, we need to discover a solution that will slow down our reproduction that do not intrude human rights; which seems impossible to do.
It is also unlikely that governments of the world can do anything to solve these issue without risking uprisings and rebellion in their own populations which results in increasing problems such as food scarcity.
The issues that Brown addresses build a couple of solutions in my thoughts. Unfortunately, nuclear weapons may be the saviour of humanity. Random population thinning in urban areas will produce the horror that will hopefully motivate large population segments to take care of their reproduction rates. Dramatic decreases in population will eliminate shortages therefore leading to stability. Humanity has finished filling the Earth and it is now time to get into a sustaining mode.