Archive for February 2011
“Hunger is not a food production problem. It is an income problem”
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 28, 2011 (IPS)
Billions of dollars are being made by investors in a speculative “food bubble” that’s created record food prices, starving millions and destabilising countries, experts now conclude.
[This is the second of a multi-part series investigating what is driving food prices higher]
Wall Street investment firms and banks, along with their kin in London and Europe, were responsible for the technology dot-com bubble, the stock market bubble, and the recent U.S. and UK housing bubbles. They extracted enormous profits and their bonuses before the inevitable collapse of each.
Now they’ve turned to basic commodities. The result? At a time when there has been no significant change in the global food supply or in food demand, the average cost of buying food shot up 32 percent from June to December 2010, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Nothing but price speculation can explain wheat prices jumping 70 percent from June to December last year when global wheat stocks were stable, experts say.
“There is no food shortage in the world. Food is simply priced out of the reach of the world’s poorest people,” said Robert Fox of Oxfam Canada in reference to the estimated one billion people who go hungry.
“Hunger is not a food production problem. It is an income problem,” Fox told IPS. Read the rest of this entry »
$ Billions Made Speculating on Food
“Africans have become share-croppers, exporting coffee, cotton, flowers and now food while going hungry”
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 13, 2011 (IPS)
Famine-hollowed farmers watch trucks loaded with grain grown on their ancestral lands heading for the nearest port, destined to fill richer bellies in foreign lands. This scene has become all too common since the 2008 food crisis.
[This is the first of a multi-part series investigating what is driving food prices higher]
Food prices are even higher now in many countries, sparking another cycle of hunger riots in the Middle East and South Asia last weekend. While bad weather gets the blame for rising prices, the instant price hikes of recent times are largely due to market speculation in a corrupt global food system.
The 2008 food crisis awoke much of the world’s investment community to the profitable reality that hungry people will do almost anything, even sell their own children, in order to eat. And with the global financial crisis, food and farmland became the “new gold” for some of the biggest investors, experts agree.
In 2010, wheat futures rose 47 percent, U.S. corn was up more than 50 percent, and soybeans rose 34 percent.
On Wednesday, U.S.-based Cargill, the world’s largest agricultural commodities trader, announced a tripling of profits. The firm generated 1.49 billion dollars in three months between September and November 2010.
Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Bills pay a return of less than one percent. Read the rest of this entry »
[As Yasi hit the Queensland coast Feb 2 I wondered about how it might affect the endangered cassowary having been confronted by one of these amazing and sometimes aggressive birds in the jungle near Mission Beach a few years ago. Sorry to say it doesn't look good for a truly incredible species. -- Stephen]
By Roger Maynard
Sunday, 27 February 2011
The cassowary, one of the world’s largest birds, beaten for size and weight only by the ostrich and emu, is in a fight for its life. The flightless bird has talons that can tear open a human with one swipe, but it is normally a placid and shy fruit-eater. Now it is in peril as food supplies run low in the wake of Cyclone Yasi, which flattened vast swathes of rainforest in northern Queensland earlier this month.
Emergency food drops have already been made in the Mission Beach area, south of Cairns. The Queensland government has set up more than 50 feeding stations to supplement the birds’ diet.
Graham Lauridon, a local vet, said the main threat is to younger cassowaries, unable to fend for themselves, who have to compete for food with adult birds. “There’s a strong likelihood we will lose quite a few in the next six months,” he said.
One of the most incredible natural wonders of our world is being decimated by our actions: burning fossil fuel, pollution of land and sea, overfishing. The most recent estimate shows 75% of the world’s coral reefs are threatened according to new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and 24 other organizations. The report is “Reefs at Risk Revisited“.
Here’s one thing you can do to help. Follow and encourage others to live by these Three Simple Rules:
Reduce fossil fuel consumption everywhere.
Eliminate all non-essential activities and products that involve burning fossil fuel.
Demand that business and government provide transport, activities and products that minimize fossil fuel use.
Reduce. Eliminate. Demand. R.E.D.
More on the Corals, Ocean Acidification, Bleaching, Overfishing.
I have written more than 15 articles in last few years about the serious threats corals face:
Thawing Permafrost Will Accelerate Climate Disruption
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 17, 2011 (IPS)
Thawing permafrost is threatening to overwhelm attempts to keep the planet from getting too hot for human survival.
Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, as much as two-thirds of the world’s gigantic storehouse of frozen carbon could be released, a new study reported. That would push global temperatures several degrees higher, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable.
Once the Arctic gets warm enough, the carbon and methane emissions from thawing permafrost will kick-start a feedback that will amplify the current warming rate, says Kevin Schaefer, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado. That will likely be irreversible.
And we’re less than 20 years from this tipping point. Schaefer prefers to use the term “starting point” for when the 13 million square kilometres of permafrost in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe becomes a major new source of carbon emissions.
“Our model projects a starting point 15 to 20 years from now,” Schaefer told IPS. Read the rest of this entry »
60 percent of factory farms in poor countries
[This is a re-post from 2007. Meat production in factory farms are major animal health and welfare issues, they also produce more emissions than cars and trucks. Not to mention creating perfect conditions for diseases like bird flu and swine flu and who knows what else. -- Stephen]
Cramming 100,000 chickens into a single facility to produce low-cost meat also creates the perfect atmosphere for the spread of disease
By Stephen Leahy
Feb 20 (IPS) 2007
Factory farms are responsible for both the bird flu and emissions of greenhouse gases top those of cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), according to a report released Monday.
Sixty percent of global livestock production, including chicken and pig “confined animal feedlot operations” (CAFOs), now occur in the developing world. Unregulated zoning and subsidies that encourage these CAFOs or factory farms are moving closer to major urban areas in China, Bangladesh, India, and many countries in Africa, said the report, “Vital Signs 2007-2008” by the Worldwatch Institute.
Although there is no definitive scientific proof, those farms are very likely where avian or bird flu started and will continue to be responsible for new outbreaks, said the author of the report, Danielle Nierenberg, a Worldwatch research associate. Read the rest of this entry »
Burning Fossil Fuels Bringing Heavy Rains and Flooding
(Bonus: How we can kick the fossil fuel addiction)
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 16, 2011 (IPS)
Human-induced heating of the planet has already made rainfall more intense, leading to more severe floods, researchers announced Wednesday.
Two new studies document significant impacts with just a fraction of the heating yet to come from the burning of fossil fuels. Fortunately, another new report shows the world can end its addiction to climate-wrecking fossil-fuel energy by 2050.
“Warmer air contains more moisture and leads to more extreme precipitation,” said Francis Zwiers of the University of Victoria.
Extreme precipitation and flooding over the entire northern hemisphere increased by seven percent between 1951 and 1999 as a result of anthropogenic global warming. That represents a “substantial change”, Zwiers told IPS, and more than twice the increase projected by climate modeling.
Zwiers and Xuebin Zhang of Environment Canada used observations from over 6,000 weather stations to measure the impact of climate warming on the intensity of extreme precipitation for the first time. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The planet is currently 0.8 degrees C hotter from the burning of fossil fuels. However, global temperatures had not yet started to increase in 1951, the first year of rainfall data Zwiers and Xuebin examined. By 1999, global temperatures had climbed by about 0.6 degrees C. The average temperature increase over that 50-year period is relatively small compared to the present but major impacts have been documented in terms of storm and flood damage even with this small increase in temperatures.
This suggests that the Earth’s climatic system may be more sensitive to small temperature increases than previously believed.
Canada Slashes Charity’s Funding To Protect Giant Tar Sands Project P.S. Oil companies get $2+ billion in subsidies
How can Canadians in good conscience try to help African women get water when it is carbon emissions from the tar sands are part of the reason they face drought?
And then Harper and his Minister Bev Oda lied and tried to cover up their vindictive actions claiming they want to improve the lives of the poor “efficiently”. (This from a govt giving billions in public subsidies to oil companies)
Here’s the first paras of Porter’s column:
A few years back, the staff at Kairos planned a trip to Nigeria’s oilfields to examine environmental damage, corporate responsibility and human rights abuses.
The board of the faith-based development organization rejected the idea. It sent them to Alberta’s tar sands instead.
“I remember saying, ‘They’ll kill us — that will be considered very political,’ ” recalls Mary Corkery, Kairos’ passionate executive director. “The churches said, ‘This is our work. Our work is inspired by faith to tell the truth. It’s a development issue if it’s far away. It’s a political issue if it’s at home. Or if it offends anyone.’ ”
Think it’s a stretch to compare Canada to Nigeria? A government that forges documents, that makes things up, that smothers dissenting opinions, that accuses the media of lying.
About the Tar Sands:
By Stephen Leahy*
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 10, 2011 (Tierramérica)
The booming tourist industry along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, particularly in the area of Cancún and the “Riviera Maya,” is polluting the world’s largest underwater cave system and harming the world’s second largest coral reef, a new study has found.
Pharmaceuticals, cocaine residues, shampoo, toothpaste, pesticides, chemical run-off from roads and many other pollutants have been found in the immense system of underground rivers and aquifers south of the resort city of Cancún, located on the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo state.
“There is little question the pollutants we detected have come from human activity along the coastal region,” said Chris Metcalfe, a researcher with the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
The British journal “Environmental Pollution” published a study by the Institute this month, titled ” Contaminants in the coastal karst aquifer system along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.”
Metcalf told Tierramérica that pit latrines, septic tanks, leaking sewer lines and golf courses were the most likely sources of groundwater pollution.
The flow of groundwater takes much of this pollution into the coastal zone and the region’s famous Mesoamerican Barrier reef, the second largest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.
Land-based pollution is just one of the impacts on the coastal reefs, Metcalf said. Overfishing, coral diseases, and climate change have also contributed to an estimated loss of up to 50 percent of coral since 1990.
“Without serious attention to preventing groundwater contamination, tourist development will kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” Metcalf said.
Read the rest of this entry »
More than 1 metre (three feet) last weekend – 50 cm more coming
The heaviest snowfall in more than a century on South Korea’s east coast is causing widespread chaos. Hundreds of houses have collapsed under the weight of the snow. One newspaper described it as a snow bomb. The South Korean government has deployed 12,000 soldiers to rescue stranded residents.
Warmer than normal ocean temperatures are being blamed. This is similar to the warmer Arctic ocean temps in late Dec that contributed to the big snows and cold in North America, UK and parts of Europe.
[Update: Great sat pix from NASA showing the entire eastern half of Korea covered in snow. See also pix of Southern USA blanketed in more record-breaking snow last week]
NASA reports: “The heavy snowfall arrived on the heels of South Korea’s coolest January since the 1960s. The unusual cold might have been driven at least partly by the Arctic Oscillation (AO). A negative phase of the AO lowered temperatures in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere in January 2011.”