After reviewing the problems of an atomic war, or some ultimate disease epidemic, a crop failure is to be considered when thinking globally about disaster. Crop failure could be brought on by drought, disease, insects, supply chain failure, high price of oil, insecticides and or some unsuspected other thing. The exact thing which becomes a worldwide problem will probably be known and seen coming as a possible problem but will suddenly explode because of some unexpected positive feedback cycle. There could be a sudden famine because of a seemingly local political problem disrupting confidence in global transportation which prevents the easy flow of shipping.
What would be the consequences if one of the major food crops were caught in some problems such as a deadly crop disease which eliminated that food source from the world supply? How would modern Americans respond to a serious worldwide famine. America is usually the biggest exporter of food especially maize but if the maize crop caught a disease and failed, which way would food flow?
In 1845 Ireland suffered a deadly famine because of that countries dependence on a single food, potatoes which failed, even though there was other food available a short distance away in England. The Irish people were living at the maximum sustainable by their most productive local crop when that crop suffered a devestating disease. The whole world is now is a similar situation to Irelands. Now there several major crops such as rice, wheat and maize upon which we are totally dependent. In some ways it is more precarious now than it was in Ireland was before their famine. If any one of our three major crops develops a truly destructive disease, like the one which struck the potatoes, and wipes out even one of those crops there will be a famine. With three crops capable of failing and placing us in that risky situation we are at three times the risk. When the food is being consumed to the limit and anything falters there is instantly a problem. One would assume that if one crop failed people would just eat the other crop but that can’t happen if everything is working at maximum capacity with no reserve.
If some person currently spends one third of their income on food what happens to them when in these normal times without a crop failure there is a price surge tripling the price of food.
What would happen if there was a crop failure and the price of maize went to twice that price. America almost suffered a catostrophic crop failure in 2007 from drought.
These things happen, occasionally, which all farmers are keenly aware of but city folks are isolated from food production and they only see these problems in the form of higher prices. The day may come when you go to the grocery store and everything costs twice as much, which would be hard to cope with. But what happens when it is ten times a much and you simply can’t pay. What will happen when there simply isn’t enough food to go around? The price will rocket.
At the moment the arguments in the media are about genetically modified foods. Actually this is about laboratory modification of genes because modifying the genetic qualities of foods has been an ongoing process for thousands of years. Ever since agriculture got its start people had sense enough to keep the most desirable plants for planting the next years crop. If those people didn’t like some of the crop that resulted they fed it to their animals and didn’t replant it. That is genetic modification. That is what is going on in the laboratories but at a much faster rate which is giving us both better and worse results, but much faster. The laboratories are giving us more food by being able to grow more and grow it where it didn’t grow before.
But to return to my main point, what do you do when there is a truly serious shortfall of the world supply of food? Do you let the market decide and those who have money can buy food and those who can’t just die. That policy has strange ramifications because some countries are purchasing land in foreign countries and when the famine hits they will have economic ownership of food in countries where the people can’t afford to buy the food they grow with their own labor. Workers in poor countries will starve and indigents in rich ones will eat.
What do you do with poor people in rich countries? Are people with enough money to buy food going to watch people starve in their presence? What do you do with convicted felons who have perpetrated heinous crimes but are out of sight? Are you going to feed them at the expense of some person outside of the prison system who will be more visible. Or are you going to support an early release policy so those felons can go out into society and fend for themselves but prey upon whomever they find available? Are you going to have elections, and votes to decide what categories of people are to get food and which are not or will a dictatorship make the policy? Are police and army personnel and their families going to get food when farm workers do not? These are questions which haven’t faced modern people very often because usually with modern transportation almost anyone can just move off to where there are better conditions. But, if the famine is world wide, where do you go?
If the governments respond to this eventual emergency the slow way they have responded to the current flu epidemic the problems will get really ugly.
With explosive human population growth young people will probably have the opportunity to see how famine problems are worked out.