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Droughts, Floods and Food

Paul Krugman, New York Times
We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn’t so much why they’re happening as why they’re happening now.

… While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.
(6 February 2011)

China bids to ease drought with $1bn emergency water aid

Jonathan Watts, Guardian
China has announced a billion dollars in emergency water aid to ease its most severe drought in 60 years, as the United Nations warned of a threat to the harvest of the world’s biggest wheat producer.

Beijing has also promised to use its grain reserves to reduce the pressure on global food prices, which have surged in the past year to record highs due to the floods in Australia and a protracted dry spell in Russia.
(11 February 2011)

U.N. Food Agency Issues Warning on China Drought

Keith Bradsher, New York Times
The United Nations’ food agency issued an alert on Tuesday warning that a severe drought was threatening the wheat crop in China, the world’s largest wheat producer, and resulting in shortages of drinking water for people and livestock.

China has been essentially self-sufficient in grain for decades, for national security reasons. Any move by China to import large quantities of food in response to the drought could drive international prices even higher than the record levels recently reached.
(8 February 2011)

North Korea appeals to foreign governments for food aid

Julian Borger, Guardian
North Korea has ordered all its embassies to appeal to foreign governments for food aid in a sign of growing desperation in Pyongyang, according to diplomatic sources.

This direct approach to foreign capitals, launched in December, is highly unusual for the insular and totalitarian regime, which normally negotiates deliveries of food assistance with international organisations such as the World Food Programme (WFP).

… North Korea has repeatedly been hit by famines in recent decades, particularly when bad weather has exacerbated the effects of inefficient collectivist farming practices and a shortage of mechanisation. The situation was particularly acute in the mid-1990s when between 600,000 and more than 2 million people are believed to have died.

China, which has long served as North Korea’s food supplier of last resort, faced its own food crisis as a result of a sustained drought, and that may have an impact on Beijing’s food deliveries
(10 February 2011)

Egypt, Inkblots, Agendas and Feeding 9 Billion

Andrew C. Revkin, New York TImes
… it’s clear that the building and long-lasting influence of humans on the climate system is progressively tipping the odds toward outcomes that can be bad for agriculture in many struggling places. And it’s doing so just as the human “ population cluster bomb” is creating high densities of people in many of those same places and the growth of the global middle class is amplifying appetites.

However difficult it may be, though, it’s probably best not to look with too tight a view at particular events, most recently the turmoil in Egypt, in building arguments for specific policies. And it’s clear, too, that trends in food availability and cost are shaped by so many local and global factors, with all kinds of feedback loops, that claiming causality is inadvisable.
(7 February 2011)

Wes Jackson: Halting obsession with carbon is key to sustaining agriculture

Andy Andrews, Farm and Dairy
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Wes Jackson believes we can solve agriculture’s 10,000-year-old problem. Jackson spoke to hundreds of attendees Feb. 4 at the 20th annual Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture‘s Farming for the Future Conference. The conference was conducted Feb. 2-5 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College, Pa.


According to Jackson, president of The Land Institute, the problem is we are obsessed with carbon fuels. We are living in an “extractive” ecosystem, where as technologies become more efficient, what all mankind tends to do is use more and more natural resources with little or no restraint.

That way of life has to change, according to Jackson. As the world’s human population heads from 7 billion to 9 billion, we have a system “that doesn’t want to be healed,” he said. “For the first time in history, we have to practice restraint in our use of energy.”

… according to Jackson, we need a 1960s man-on-the-moon type of “space program” that focuses on healing and renewing our “ecosphere.” One such project that Jackson demonstrated dramatically was development of the perennial grain, Kernza, a trademark developed by the Land Institute.

During his PASA Conference speech, Jackson used a pulley system to hoist a floor-to-ceiling banner depicting a graphic of an actual Kernza root system for the attendees to see, next to a short-rooted wheat annual. According to the Post Carbon Institute’s Energy Bulletin, the Kernza plant “comes from selected strains of wild intermediate wheatgrass grain,” which Jackson and his staff at the Land Institute near Salina, Kan. are crossing with annual wheat varieties to breed a commercially practical perennial grain.
(7 February 2011)

Produce prices skyrocket with freeze in Mexico, Southwest

Wayne Havrelly,
Get ready to pay double or even triple the price for fresh produce in the coming weeks after the worst freeze in 60 years damaged and wiped out entire crops in northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

The problem started less than a week ago, when our nation was focusing on the Superbowl and sheets of ice falling from Texas Stadium.

Farmers throughout northern Mexico and the Southwest experienced unprecedented crop losses. Now devastation that seemed so far away, is hitting us in the pocketbooks.

“We’ve had to double and triple some prices and consumers come in and it’s quite a shock to them,” said Rusty Peake, GM of Food4Less in Southeast Portland…
(13 February 2011)