Right And Left Agree: OK To Risk Starvation Of The Poor

  • Published on November 15th, 2010

The anti-climate-science politicians from the Right and the anti-technology activists from the Left are independently, but quite successfully, increasing the risk of malnutrition and/or starvation for the poorest people of the world.  This may not be their intended agenda, but it is the likely outcome from what they are doing.

Another food price spike looming

There are rumblings today of another “food crisis” like that in 2007/8.  There is every reason to believe that food shortages will become more frequent and severe over the next few decades of overall human population growth. (See map above for where projected population growth will occur).

By 2050 we will need between 50% and 100% more food.  This cannot come from farming new land – it needs to come from producing more on the land we already farm. Fortunately there are a lot of dedicated people striving to make that possible.  However, because of the enormity of this challenge, there will be shortfalls because of weather extremes or pest pandemics.  There will be times that food is too scarce and far more expensive.

For those of us who live in relatively rich countries, the risk is that our lives will be somewhat disrupted, but for the hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest inhabitants, the risk is true suffering and even death (not to mention political instability, mass migrations…).

This risk is real and it is increased by the powerful forces that drive the  anti-climate-science agenda from the Right and anti-technology agenda from the Left.

How the right wing is increasing starvation risk

It is no surprise that the science behind something as complex as Climate Change carries some uncertainty and some disagreement among scientists.

Unfortunately, that normal feature of science has become fodder for conservatives who don’t like the policy implications that come with the consensus conclusion: we have a problem, and we are likely the cause of that problem.

If climate change is real, we can expect to see a wide range of weather extremes and other basic shifts that will make food production even more challenging than it has always been.  If we do nothing (and the recent election results make that almost certain), we will eventually see exagerated food supply crises.

The greenhouse gas emissions are driven mainly by the rich.  The increased food insecurity will be felt by the poor.  If the anti-science Right is wrong about climate change, the risk isn’t so much about “charismatic megafauna” like polar bears – it is about starving kids.

How the left wing is increasing starvation risk

There are a number of very influential environmental NGOs who have been quite successful at impeding the development of agricultural technologies.  They have done this with the aid of many academics, media, bloggers and celebrities.  In Europe this agenda has also been driven in the political realm by the Green Party. Their “achievements” to-date include:

  • Blocking the commercial development of new GMO crops by driving major food companies to reject them purely for reasons of “brand protection.” (Potatoes, wheat, sweet corn, sugarbeets..)
  • Convincing most developing nations to adopt a European-like regulatory structure for GMOs, so that it is now unlikely that biotechnology will be developed in time to help feed the most rapidly increasing populations over the next 50 years (e.g. virus resistant cassava, drought tolerant corn for sub-Saharan Africa).
  • Convincing most developed world governments to dramatically reduce their investment in agricultural development research that includes any technology component and attacking groups like the Gates Foundation for stepping in to fill that void.
  • Using intensive litigation to make the cost of developing newer, safer and more effective pesticides prohibitively expensive.
  • Pushing the EU to apply the “precautionary principle” to agricultural technology regulation.  This limits crop productivity in the EU at the same time that rich population is doing a “virtual land grab” for food imports that is equal to the land mass of Germany and growing.

All of these actions combine to slow the rate at which food production can be increased, and that increases the probability of shortfalls in the future.  Most of this anti-technology activism is again concentrated in the rich world which will be largely insulated from food insecurity.  The poor people they “protect” from technology will be the ones at risk of insufficient food.

Both sides can probably see how the other one is raising risk for the poor, but they seem to have difficulty seeing how they are doing the same thing in a different way.  In any case, these forces on the Right and Left are succeeding, and there seems to be little we can do about it.

You are welcome to comment on this site or email me directly at feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com.

More background:

(Global Population Growth Map from Lauren Manning)

About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)


  • The whole over-population thing is a total farce

    Ignorance is the only real problem on the planet today.

    There is sufficient technology to grow food even in the desert with high levels of salt in the soils. youtube greening the desert.

    People have lost repect for God’s law and I believe we must return. Our rejection of God leads to our acceptance of government as a god-replacement with devastating consequence. God says GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY anyone who says different is unfortunately working for Satan like it or not

    Granted, people should be taking reponsibility for their lives-environments, but this would happen if we truly had respect for God’s law, which can only happen though a realtionship with Him. Besides that, the world is run by satan, does anyone have any proof to the contrary? Anything which can be understood through common sense rather than that of arrogant unnecessary technocratic jargon?

    We can’t level the planet to feed everyone? What are people talking about? Food forests anyone? Non-monocrop farming practices? We could easily create tons of food, we could easily create abundance…the only thing that stands in the way are the courts-legislation here in america. They shut down whomever they want whenever they want cause they have passed so many “statutues”, they know we are all in violation of some “statutue” every second of every day. There is absolutely no way to avoid this. I know cause banking is much different than anyone understands and people have no idea what they are doing when signing checks.

  • @Nonsequitor
    It turns out that what gets people to stop having lots of children is a modicum of economic development and security. If we would invest the kind of money that we spend on wars on building up the infrastructure in places like sub-Saharan Africa, the birth rates would drop and so the local food production could increase. Letting people starve has never worked as a means of population control, nor is it morally acceptable

  • Producing more children than food available is the biggest contributer to starvation. At what point do we quit trucking “emergency food” to people?

    I am all for saving lives, but… geez, when you notice that everyone around you is lacking in food… STOP HAVING CHILDREN!

    I hate to sound cold, but some day, we’ll hit a wall of resource expansion. We can’t level the planet to feed everyone.

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