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Jamais Cascio & the Footprint of a Cheeseburger
(video, audio)
Michael Graham Richard, Treehugger
Last year, Jamais Cascio had a big hit with his carbon footprint of a cheeseburger. Here is a Six Degrees video with Cascio explaining his research. They also have him runs around with a clipboard, a ruler and there’s a latex glove scene that is quite priceless. Check it out!

Some trivia: There’s a scene where it appears that Jamais is taking a bite in a burger, but that’s not him.
(21 February 2008)

Food and the spectre of Malthus

Mark Thirlwell, Financial Times
… Perhaps the most important drivers of [food] price gains over the past year are developments in world energy markets. High oil prices have encouraged a policy focus on biofuels, including lashings of generous financial support. Production has responded quickly to these incentives: the World Bank reports that the US has used 20 per cent of its maize production for biofuels and the European Union 68 per cent of its vegetable oil production. This change in usage has boosted prices, reduced the supply of these crops available for food and encouraged the substitution of other agricultural land from food to biofuel production.

This is not the first time in modern economic history that the Malthusian spectre of global food shortages has stalked the world economy. Surges in food prices in the 1970s and then again in the mid-1990s both prompted warnings that agricultural capacity was failing to keep pace with a growing world population. Each time, the prices jumped it proved to be temporary as supply responded. There are good reasons for believing that this latest bout of market disequilibrium will ultimately reach the same resolution. That said, however, there are two important caveats to set against such an optimistic reading of current circumstances.

The writer is director of the international economy programme at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney
(26 February 2008)

‘Panic’ wheat buying across the US

Arlan Suderman, Farm Progress (Australia)
In the wheat price surge on Monday this week, the leading wheat contract in Minneapolis, US, rose by more than the entire worth of the contract just months ago.

… Panic over commodity shortages continues to emerge as the dominant factor in the global markets, with both end user and speculative buyers of corn, soybean, cotton, rice and a host of other commodities taking note of what’s happening in the wheat pit.

While US has made improvements to increase crop production efficiency in recent years, the world hasn’t really put sufficient investment into production agriculture for several decades.

The net result has been declining stocks at the same time that expanding global wealth has demanded more raw commodities.
(26 February 2008)

Breadbasket inflation

Andrew Leonard, Salon
In the rising price of my sweet baguette, hope or doom for Africa, biotech salvation or disaster?

In January, prices for bakery products in the United States rose 2.7 percent, the sharpest increase since March 1974. Blame the price of wheat, which set new records on Monday and Tuesday. In 1974, the Soviet Union’s agricultural woes put upward pressure on global wheat prices. Today, a complex mixture of global weather problems, rising energy costs, growing worldwide consumer demand, and the diversion of cropland in the developed world to biofuels are combining to push grain prices upwards.

The scope of the problem is daunting. On Tuesday, Julian Borger reported in The Guardian that rising food commodity prices will prevent the United Nation’s World Food Program from maintaining its current food deliveries to 73 million desperately hungry people. In China, the fourth consecutive year in which grain harvests lagged consumer demand impelled the government to slap a raft of export tariffs on grain exports. Russia, Argentina, and Kazakhstan have also imposed export restrictions. (Thanks to Energy Bulletin for the links.)

The worst-case scenario is obvious: mass starvation. Short of that, crippling inflation.

Enter the biotech industry.
(26 February 2008)