RDCEP's Joshua Elliott on Radio EcoShock

Food Shock

Originally published by Alex Smith on Radio EcoShock

Summary: British & American scientists, including Joshua Elliot from Chicago, warn climate could bring "food shock" by hitting key crop areas. Will famine return? Maria Gillardin hosts reports from nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen from Fukushima Japan, site of world's worst nuclear accident.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB).

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


What if extreme weather events, made stronger by climate change, hit a couple of major world food-growing regions? We go into "food shock". Let's explore what that can mean.

On February 12th, 2016 in Washington DC, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group of British and American scientists provided their latest report on the fragility, and resilience of the global food system. We are joined by one of the presenters, Dr. Joshua Elliot, from the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Joshua Elliott  via ecoshock.info

Dr. Joshua Elliott via ecoshock.info

You can find these reports at the Global Food Security blog, at foodsecurity.ac.uk. For example, here is the main report I used: "Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system" which comes as a handy .pdf file in your browser.

Try this blog entry on the program from Tim Benton.

And check out Tim Benton's blog post on UK food security here. I say that because (a) the UK government is a major sponsor of this study/report and (b) as Dr. Elliot tells us, the UK has only TEN DAYS worth of food supplies!

The long-time grain watcher Lester Brown warned for years that rice was within a half degree of it's upper growing limits already. What happens if the world rice zones become too hot for that crop? Joshua Elliot thinks the rice crop will be able to continue past heat limits, because it is generally underwater, which cools it.

This teleconference I recorded with Lester Brown, at the time head of the Earth Policy Institute is a good intro to his work, and continues to be heavily downloaded now 5 years later. Download full conference in CD quality (22 minutes) here.

Brown also warned that world grain stocks could only supply a few months of food at best. It appears we can't cover a whole year of bad crop losses. Should we be creating a long-term food reserve, as the ancient Egyptians did?

That turns out to be a very thorny idea. If there was a centralized food stock, maybe somone would use it to dictate political changes to a starving country? Anyway, most countries do not want to give up control of their own food sources. Remember when Russia experienced a huge crop loss in the heat wave of 2010, the Russians cut off food exports to make sure they could feed their own people. That was one driving factor in the "Arab Spring" revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which import large amounts of grain, which is subsidized for the poor. When prices went up, the patience of the people went down.

So an international food bank seems unlikely at this time.

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