Nine meals from anarchy: What the coming food collapse means for civilization
by: David Gutierrez
Thursday, June 03, 2010
A growing reliance on imported food and other necessities is making First World nations such as the United Kingdom increasingly vulnerable to social collapse, warns Andrew Simms, policy director of the “think-and-do tank” of the New Economic Foundation, writing in The Guardian.
“Events are revealing that many of the things we take for granted, like bank accounts, fuel and food, are vulnerable,” he writes. “If we value civilization, the litmus test for economic success should not be short-term profitability, but resilience in the face of climatic extremes and resource shortages.”
Simms notes that the assumptions of the free market have led to an economic system focused on producing the greatest cost savings rather than the greatest sustainability. This has led many First World countries to turn away from producing food domestically in favor of cheaper (and more profitable) imports.
“The result is easily disrupted just-in-time supermarket food supply lines, and a risky assumption that anything we need can easily be bought on global markets,” he writes.
Yet recent worldwide food shortages — such as the 2008 food crisis that affected at least 37 countries and produced riots around the globe — have shown that when faced with a crisis, countries prioritize feeding their own populations over exporting food to other nations. Some First World governments and corporations have responded by trying to seize control of up to 20 million hectares (50 million acres) of arable land in poor countries.
Anger over such practices led to the toppling of Madascar’s government.
Simms notes that Britain has no food reserves to speak of and that its domestic food production continues to decline. Similar patterns are at play for other essentials, such as fuel. Meanwhile, declining worldwide fuel reserves and global climate destabilization are increasing the odds of a new food crisis.
“This year is the 10th anniversary of the fuel protests, when supermarket bosses sat with ministers and civil servants in Whitehall warning that there were just three days of food left,” Simms writes. “We were, in effect, nine meals from anarchy. Civilization’s veneer may be much thinner than we like to think.”