Empty Promise – Have we got the world food forecasts wrong?

George Monbiot in the Guardian 15 October 2012.

Could scientists have got the impacts of climate change on food supply wildly wrong?


By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 16th October 2012

I believe we might have made a mistake: a mistake whose consequences, if I am right, would be hard to overstate. I think the forecasts for world food production could be entirely wrong.

Food prices are rising again, partly because of the damage done to crops in the northern hemisphere by ferocious weather. In the US, Russia and Ukraine, grain crops were clobbered by remarkable droughts. In parts of northern Europe, such as the UK, they were were pummelled by endless rain.

Even so, this is not, as a report in the Guardian claimed last week, “one of the worst global harvests in years”(1). It’s one of the best. World grain production last year was the highest on record; this year’s crop is just 2.6% smaller(2). The problem is that, thanks to the combination of a rising population and the immoral diversion of so much grain into animal feed and biofuels(3), a new record must be set every year. Though 2012’s is the third biggest global harvest in history (after 2011 and 2008)(4), this is also a year of food deficit, in which we will consume some 28 million tonnes more grain than farmers produced(5). If 2013’s harvest does not establish a new world record, the poor are in serious trouble…

(Editor’s note: Here is a good plot for a conspiracy theory – are the developed countries dragging their heels on climate change mitigation action because many of them stand to benefit from better agricultural yields when the earth hots up?)

Click here for the full, frightening article