Lester Brown on the Coming Food Crisis (Again)

Not exactly upbeat reading, but Lester Brown’s polemic in the current Scientific American on the coming global food crisis is worth a look. He argues that "food shortages could bring down civilization".

On the other hand,as Ron Bailey points out, Brown has said this sort of thing many times in the past, and been wrong.

For instance, back in 1965, when Brown was a young bureaucrat in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he declared, "the food problem emerging in the less-developing regions may be one of the most nearly insoluble problems facing man over the next few decades." In 1974, Brown maintained that farmers "can no longer keep up with rising demand; thus the outlook is for chronic scarcities and rising prices." In 1981, Brown stated that "global food insecurity is increasing," and further claimed that "the slim excess of growth in food production over population is narrowing." In 1989, Brown contended that "population growth is exceeding the farmer’s ability to keep up," concluding that, "our oldest enemy, hunger, is again at the door." In 1995, Brown starkly warned, "Humanity’s greatest challenge may soon be just making it to the next harvest." In 1997, Brown again proclaimed, "Food scarcity will be the defining issue of the new era now unfolding."

Now, there is nothing wrong with being early on big forecasts. After all, it would be little use if he was late on the food crisis crash, but he does need to have his story straight, and it’s not clear that he does. Check this snippet from Bailey:

In any case, Brown must know that the world’s farmers produced a bumper crop last year. Stocks of wheat are at a six-year high and increases in other stocks of grains are not far off. This jump in reserves is not at all surprising considering the steep run-up in grain prices last year, which encouraged farmers around the world to plant more crops. By citing pre-2008 harvest reserves, Brown evidently hopes to frighten gullible Scientific American readers into thinking that the world’s food situation is really desperate this time.

There is lots more from Brown and Bailey.

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