.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
Visit Freedom's Zone Donate To Project Valour

Monday, March 24, 2008

Food Prices

MSNBC article:
Among the driving forces are petroleum prices, which increase the cost of everything from fertilizers to transport to food processing. Rising demand for meat and dairy in rapidly developing countries such as China and India is sending up the cost of grain, used for cattle feed, as is the demand for raw materials to make biofuels.

What’s rare is that the spikes are hitting all major foods in most countries at once. Food prices rose 4 percent in the U.S. last year, the highest rise since 1990, and are expected to climb as much again this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There are some harrowing details in the article. The poorer the country, the worse the situation. The price of grains is the worst problem. It's one thing to not be able to afford animal protein. It is quite another to not be able to afford pasta, corn or rice.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says fighting inflation from shortages of key foods is a top economic priority. Inflation reached 7.1 percent in January, the highest in 11 years, led by an 18.2 percent jump in food prices.
Most fertilizers have petroleum components. There is something quite sick about making ethanol from corn while people are so hungry. The article cites FAO's estimate that grains rose 42%, oils rose 50%, and dairy rose 80%.

Update: It will turn out to be a very ugly thing indeed if the "save the world" CO2 people end up having campaigned for "starve the world". The problem is that something is wrong with the data being generated in the search for CO2-induced AGW, although there is reluctance to admit that. This doesn't mean that CO2 doesn't cause warming at all, but it strongly suggests that all those who have been claiming that solar variance is a much weaker driver of climate than CO2 levels might have a screw loose. Sunspot cycle 24 was supposed to start in 2006. Then it was supposed to start in 2007, and by now it is beginning to remind ,me of that awful "Waiting For Godot" play. Every time you think you see it, you get disappointed (Jan 08). (Feb 08) Is this it?
NASA now is talking about May. Some of the predictions for 24 (whenever it deigns to arrive) are for very low activity.

The sunspot cycle is usually said to be about 11 years, over time the length and amplitude of the cycles has varied, and the variances seem to correspond with historical weather patterns. 23 just has been hanging around. If this pattern continues, we could be in for a spate of colder Earth weather. Also Mars and all those other planets which have been warming with the Earth will be colder.

I wonder how long it will take the climate fanatics to suggest that the satellites and robots reporting temps are guilty of treason and should be executed? For what it's worth, recent studies of glaciers seem to show that sudden changes in earth climate are not that rare.

However I would not get all hysterical about the next ice age yet. When I was in fourth grade the NY Times had gotten all excited about the Next Ice Age, and we were duly informed of our coming tragic demise (crop failures, global warfare sparked by starving people, you know the drill) by school authorities. It did not happen, and I am thankful that the suggestion to cover the poles with soot was not followed, because my air conditioning bill would have been higher if it had. It might be that leaping to conclusions is capable of causing more harm than solar weather.

I will let you know if my blueberries suddenly seem panicky and start to grow fur. They seem to be more reliable than climate scientists, and so far they have only mentioned cooling.

PS: If you are really interested, what has solar scientists concerned is the length of cycle 23. The cycles vary in both peak and in length, and in periods in which the cycles become shorter, temperature tends to rise. Here's a pdf (30 pages) of a recent paper looking at trends. Lots of graphs.

You mean we should feel guilty about burning the food of poor people so that we can feel good about our low carbon footprint?

Don't tell anyone that ethanol turned out to be bad for the environment AND bad for world hunger. There are lots of subsidies and votes riding on biofuels...
Isn't some of this due to eating better and wanting meat and dairy in China, etc.?

Yes, ethanol looks like another political bandwagon they jumped on.

Do not partake of what those massive meat factories send out for consumption.

Think we need to use rail more again rather than trucks burning up fuel. Should have developed our rail service more too. Poor planning re transportation, cars and airports.
Do resent our great crops going overseas. Think it would be good for U.S. to keep much more of our own fine crops here. Food should be grown and eaten at county levels.
Better for health too.

Sorry, don't want produce from China, including garlic in your grocery stores if any of you haven't discovered that. Complained at Trader Joe's a year ago.
This year they are complying re consumer complaints.

Also, do not want to partake of Chinese produced Pharamaceuticals sold in U.S., including the great maj. of Vitamins sold here.

I feel guilty! Not that I was ever behind this corn/ethanol thing.

It's one thing to burn sugar cane or try ethanol from straw, etc. It's another to put people's food into your car tank.
SI, it's a mix of things. We kind of threw kerosene on the flames.

Here's an article using USDA data about the percentage of the US corn crop going to ethanol. In 2006 it was 14%. By 2010 it is supposed to be 30%. A lot of land was changed to corn from soy.

This is driving up a range of ag costs. I have been watching the rise in agchem in the industrial production reports. It's not a minor usage.
The last link on the above post - the 30 page paper - makes predictions. If they are even close to correct, the northern hemisphere is going to be using more heating oil!
MoM, that PDF is particularly disturbing when you consider that the forecast for the start of solar cycle 24 keeps slipping. Now they're saying that it will start in May 2008. Solar recovery is just around the corner! (/sarcasm)

Also saw this link today in the National Post (Canada):


The Argo bouys and satellites are not showing as much warming as AGW theories predict.
I think I'm working out my anxiety over this on my blog.

It really is true that there was an alarmed and excessive reaction in the 70's to the prior cooling. That turned out to be a blip. That paper I linked seems to me to be on the excessive side.

On the other hand, I have been following the food-related commodity pricing with growing concern. Nor are the predictions of a weak cycle 24 new - they have been around from multiple solar scientists since at least 2003. If they are even close to correct, from the POV of poor people around the globe, the US has picked the worst possible time to burn up its corn.

The food problem is real. I am hoping the worries over the next two solar cycles are not. But hope is not a plan....

Yes John, the satellites never matched, but the claim was that surface temps showed a much greater warming trend. Then a few renegade Canucks started looking at the Mann numbers and found, shall we say, "irregularities". They were not subtle. Then one of them (who is on Climate Audit) found errors in the NASA data. Now the ocean robots are reporting in cooler trends.

The first thing I thought when I saw the robot data was that maybe all those solar scientists were right, because this is pretty much what they were predicting.

So far the Danes, Canucks and the solar guys are winning the evidence war in a decisive way. If it weren't for the food situation, this would be funny. As it is, this could become serious. The US Congress extended the ethanol subsidy recently.
According to Popular Mechanics, ethanol production consumed 15 percent of our 2007 corn production--while, as you have observed, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Worse yet, ethanol is more expensive than gas when the subsidies are included.

Great link to David Archibald's paper. Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey wrote a good general review of presentations by Archibald and others at the recent Heartland Institute skeptic conference. And retired TV meteorologist Anthony Watts presents good graphs on the issue raised by h_s_j.

I doubt that many -- if any -- of the scientists concerned about global warming are in favor of corn-based ethanol as a fuel. It's obvious to any physical scientist that its production consumes more energy than it yields.

Regarding the possibility that global warming may have been halted by reduced solar output, I don't see how that obviates the need to reduce CO2 emissions. It's entirely possible that CO2 effects are even greater than feared, and that reduced solar output is temporarily masking them, such that when the solar activity cycle returns to normal we will see all the warming that didn't occur during the low activity period slam us with a vengance.

Long ago Peter F. Drucker made the excellent point in one of his books on management that the most important points to consider in choosing a course of action are what the consequences are if that choice is wrong, and how difficult it will be to change course if it is discovered to be wrong. If the consequences of a chosen course being wrong are serious, and it is difficult or impossible to change course and/or undo the effects, and there is an alternative course that does not have those attributes, the alternative is the wise choice.

If we slow our CO2 emissions, and in the future learn that that was wrong, we can easily increase them again. The worst that can happen is that economic growth may be somewhat less than it otherwise might have been.

But if we do not slow our emissions, and the climate scientists are correct in their predictions, there is no practical way to get the CO2 back out of the air.

If a temporary slump in solar output is masking CO2 greenhouse effect, that's hardly a good thing, as it's most likely the solar cycles will return to normal. It's also possible that they will transition to an activity level higher than that of recent decades. Then what a fix we'll be in!
JM, you should take 20 minutes and watch or listen to Bjorn Lomberg's TED talk on setting global priorities:


Bottom line: there are LOTS of other things we should do BEFORE tackling global warming, even if it is as bad as you think.
JM, is there a normal? The preponderance of the evidence of temp records over the last 1000 years indicates that if there is a "normal", that normal is lower than the last century.

If you go back further, the overall trend of the last 8,000 years has been lower temps. Earth climate isn't stable from our perspective, which is about that of mayflies.

Any talk about "normal" probably isn't very strongly rooted in evidence. The evidence we have is that sunspot cycles vary quite a bit.
anon..."Think we need to use rail more again rather than trucks burning up fuel"...lots of action is in fact going on with rail, including its role in food transportation. See for example railex, a venture focused on the west-coast-to-east-coast fruit & vegetable traffic. They run unit trains, each with capacity equivalent to about 200 trucks.

See also railroads: the next phase.

Good post/article. It is funny to me you never hear about alternative viewpoints in the mainstream media regarding climate change. It is well established that earth is subject to hothouse and icehouse conditions through geologic time. There are Precambrian glacial dropstones in Brasil. Of course we have the Carboniferous period that existed without SUV's. And the ice caps on Mars melt without so much as a mention of the damn SUV's.

I expect we are headed into a cool down period. I have attached a link to discussions about the Pacific Decadal Oscillation that appears to have a profound effect on the climate in North America and may be linked to solar cycles.

Global warming is always sold as negative. It would be nice to see an an analysis that looked at the benefits of global warming - less need for heating fuel, better crop production in northern latitudes with some estimate of the cost benefit.

Brian Fagan, who studies historic climate cycles (I have read one of his books), was on the Daily Show a little while ago stating that the real negative impact of global warming historically has tended to be severe drought, and current climate models do show the same impact, which IMO is far more to be feared than rising ocean levels.

The evil genius behind ethanol subsidies seems to me to be a political animal more concerned with reducing oil dependence than a climate scientist concerned with carbon emissions (especially since ethanol production is a small net contribution to carbon emissions).

Climate is a chaotic science and no model is going to be accurately predictive (and as Fagan has shown, warming can tip over into ice ages given the right ocean conditions), and our best bet as a civilization capable of policy planning is to have contingency plans for a number of possibilities.

The point is that it's easy to put more CO2 into the atmosphere if we need to, but essentially impossible to get it out.

I was acutely aware even 40+ years ago when a teenager that we might be about to fall back into an ice age, and thought we might need to proactively increase the CO2 concentration.

I'm still not sure but what that's the case.

But it's a radical course of action that cannot be reversed and so must not be taken unless we are extremely sure of what we are doing.

We're not.
When I was in fourth grade the NY Times had gotten all excited about the Next Ice Age, and we were duly informed of our coming tragic demise (crop failures, global warfare sparked by starving people, you know the drill) by school authorities.

Remember the Important Message TV Special about The Global Cooling Crisis? The one that ended with artificial snow falling to cover a large globe while an Important Voice ominously intoned "One spring in the near future, The Winter Snow Will Not Melt. THAT IS HOW *IT* WILL BEGIN!"

Now "oceania has always been at peace with global cooling; oceania has always been at war with global warming", and it's GLOBAL WARMING! and DEATH TO ALL HERETICS!
"The evil genius behind ethanol subsidies seems to me to be a political animal more concerned with reducing oil dependence than a climate scientist concerned with carbon emissions"

Joy, I suspect you may be being a bit generous. My view is that the evil genius behind ethonal subsidies is a political animal interested in campaign funding for reelection, and an economic animal interested in financial gain.

Just for the record, I don't consider either major party to be innocent along these lines.
I found the pdf interesting enough to google the topic. I came up with this critque of the pdf without actually looking for it.

The real problem with climate science is that it is really hard to sort out anything solid with all the agendas out there. However, I don't think the vintners in France and alpine ski resorts whose industries have been affected by warmer weather for several years, are making things up either...
Solar cycle cannot be ignored and of value to us.

Concluded years ago that seemed best not to pour more of whatever negative into the environment re effects and unintended consequences.

Also, think that water will have more value than any gold.


To me, most huge cities are right out of some Dickens story for existence.
You get disappointed every time you see the play?

Beckett's a genius. I won't have it!
Joy - regarding the linked paper, my first reaction was that it was a bit hysterical. That's why I mentioned the ice age yaya when I was a kid. The thing that worries me is that I may be rejecting it out of hand just because I remember the previous nonsense.

As for the biofuels, in this country I believe it was mostly politically motivated. However, the very sensationalist claims of the climate scientists were used to justify it. So I don't think anyone can be excused. But Europe is doing the same thing, so it is not just US politics.

Whatever else is happening, the robot and satellite data is real. Localized warming and cooling can be dismissed.

Shtove, maybe I am just disclosing my ignorance, but I HATE THAT PLAY.

JM - yes, it is true that CO2 in the air is a possible danger. However biofuels are a REAL and IMMEDIATE misuse of resources that are killing people today.

In my case I am naturally cautious, and although the recent ice cores showing that CO2 lags temps and the recent data don't support my argument, I would prefer to go heavily into nuclear power out of caution. However some claim that represents a real and present danger.

One thing none of us can afford to do is ignore starving people now. This has been very hard on lower income people in the US. It is literally life and death for poorer people in some countries.
You simply cannot allow people to take productive farmland and turn it into housing developments. We spend all our efforts protecting land that is too poor to grow anything but evergreen trees and let people tear out orchards with impunity. (Talking about my little neck of the woods here with the "National Scenic Act.") It's happening in other countries too.

The second is that we need to stop putting roadblocks in the way of small farmers. NAIS is a disaster and is already causing farmers to get rid of their animals. Add to that the huge amount of paperwork dumped on farmers who want to use the organic label. (And compare how much easier they make it on the big guys. Dumb, dumb, dumb. We need local farms!)

And, FYI, China owns two of the four factories in the world that manufacture vitamin C. Just something to think about.
MOM, I agree about nuclear power. It has the best safety record of any energy source so far, and the waste disposal issues appear to be solvable, given enough will.
I know it's not the right place to leave the comment, but thought you'd like this one: Man not brain dead

I completely agree with you on biofuels. Corn-based ethanol production is so stupid it turns my stomach. Not only does it consume as much or more energy than it yields, it depletes other scarce resources , too.

On nuclear power I can't make up my mind. From a technical viewpoint, it could be completely safe. The problems are rather those of management and politics. Consider the consequences of people like the clowns who ran Enron or some of our late, unlamented subprime lenders taking over a utility operating nuclear power plants, simultaneous with the same kind of ideologues who prevented effective regulation of mortgage lending getting into power at the NRC.
***Oh no! We are setting an example of reasonable discussion and interaction, plus compromise. We must immediately all be grabbed and forced to watch 100 continuous hours of campaign commercials to induce the appropriate state of twitching fanaticism that will enable us to shed our rationality.***

JM, IMO bad bankers are likely to do more damage than nuclear power plants, but of course you need strong regulation. (Of both)

The danger of any power plant tends to produce a lot of political pressure for decent regulatory schemes. Both Japan and France have done well with nuclear power. I think we can do it.

However, I will acknowledge that the CO2 role in temperature remains unquantified to say the least. So this is a question of competing hypotheses. For some the issue of greater energy independence tips the scale. It does for me, but I'm not going to claim that this is the One True Path.

Teri, I agree about the farmland. There are other reasons to retain belts of mixed use and scrub land winding through developed areas. They create biodiversity.
France, of course, gets about 80% of its electricty from nuclear..maybe we should just let the French take over the U.S. power generation industry. The main French nuclear company is run by an attractive woman who is said to be very charming...I bet she could have the liberals eating out of her hand, given their affinity for all things European and especially French.

To make success certain, we need to convince some obscure Evangelical sect that nuclear power is the instrument of Satan. This will *really* get the liberals going, and we will see demonstrations demanding "Nuclear Power NOW!!!"

Problem solved.
David - An interesting proposition! I'm sure that Phelps guy might be willing to take it on for a small contribution.

The investment that France and Japan made in nuclear power is key to their success in manufacturing. France had a big manufacturing boom in the 70s because of it.

Being fluent in Japanese, and having worked in the process plant control system s business (which I entered in Japan as an engineer with Japan's leading control systems manufacturer), I was in fact thinking of Japan's 1999 Tokaimura incident when I wrote that.

Google "japan nuclear accident" and read.

The astounding thing about that accident was that one of the reasons given for it was that the fuel reprocessing company couldn't afford to do things safely. Alas I've no time to write much this morning, but I'll just end by asking why a nation as rich as Japan couldn't afford to fund this operation well enough to operate it safely.

All of the nuclear accidents have basically been management failures -- people not following proper procedures due to lack of training or management pressure to cut corners -- not technology failures.
That one wasn't even a reactor. It was a nuclear fuel plant.

Looking at a list of industrial disasters shows how safe nuclear power really has been.
Last weekend I was getting my weirdness fix from Art Bell's Coast to Coast, and one of the "guests" was actually a transcript of something from a "Climate Change Scientist".

Basically, it said Global Warming (TM) is irreversible, It's All Over But The Screaming, and we can expect an "inevitable" 80% die-off of the human population in the next so-many-years; the only choice we have is to decide WHO gets to be in the 20% who will live.

I don't know about you, but this sounds like Ehrlich's The Population Bomb and justification for the next Pol Pot.
You mean we should feel guilty about burning the food of poor people so that we can feel good about our low carbon footprint?

Well, it WILL boost the Self-Esteem (TM) of The Enlightened Beautiful People, and Boosting Self-Esteem justifies anything.

(When I was in junior high, "Feel Good (TM)" was the local kid-speak for sexual arousal.)
OK, forget Godot. Try Krapp's Last Tape - a bit of despair and perseverance never did a Christian any harm! All the best.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?