Monday, December 23, 2013

Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown

The news media may not be paying much attention, but there are more hungry people than ever before. The problem is everywhere, in countries rich and poor. Unless we demand reform of economies and food policies, the situation is going to steadily get worse, according to Lester R. Brown in his recent book Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity.

There are many disturbing developments. One of them is that prices of many staples, including corn and rice have risen sharply, beyond the means of many nations and their poor. One factor in the corn price is its use in the production of ethanol. State and federal laws designed to reduce the use of petroleum have mandated oil companies include ethanol in gasoline. Because of this, less U.S. grain is available to export. While this may make some energy policy sense, it has been a disaster for many of the world's poor, many who have days on which they do not eat.

The population explosion and global warming are also big factors. Rainfall patterns have changed and aquifers are being depleted. Many nations that used to produce sufficient crops to feed their people are now having to import staples. Science is no longer developing miracle crops that will save the day. Richer nations are buying land in poorer nations to raise crops for export, sometimes leaving the locals unfed. Conflict within and between nations is inevitable as the supply of salt-free water and fertile land diminishes.

Full Planet, Empty Plates is an important book that will not take you a long time to read. I suggest that instead of rushing through, however, read just a chapter at a time and let the data sink in. Brown ends with suggestions to reverse trends. None of the reforms will be politically easy.

More libraries should own this book.

Brown, Lester R. Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity. W. W. Norton, 2013. 144p. ISBN 9780393344158.

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