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The Forum > Article Comments > It's the government, stupid > Comments

It's the government, stupid : Comments

By David Leyonhjelm, published 22/3/2012

It will mainly be government policies that determine how well the world eats in 2050.

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This is really stating the obvious. I mean; of course government policy will have a huge influence on food supplies / quality of life / sustainability.

But its not just the government, stupid.

Its all the influences on government decisions - most significantly; what the voters want and will turf out the government if they dont get, and what big business wants and will basically screw the government if they dont get.

Both of these pressures very strongly push governments to develop policies for the short term at the expense of longer term wellbeing.

Even if a government was really tuned in to the right sort of future planning, theyd have enormous pressures working against it. In fact, I would argue; insurmountable pressures in countries like Australia.

So it is hard to escape the notion that were pretty much screwed, dude!
Posted by Ludwig, Thursday, 22 March 2012 8:37:49 AM
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I wish I had an economist's brain and could take such a simplistic view of the world. This essay is straight out of the free-market textbook. But the real world is finite, and all fossils fuels will be produced at lower rates in 2050 - not because goverments get in the way of a free market but because the world is finite and energy cannot be harvested from fossil fuels if it is not profitable ENERGETICALLY (not economically) to do so. High tech "solutions" like nuclear are not viable either since they are subsidised by fossil fuels that provide 87% of world primary energy. So we are indeed "screwed dude" but not because governments refuse to get out of the way so much as because economic theory and economics as currently practised is at odds with fundamental laws of nature (e.g. laws of thermodynamics).
Posted by michael_in_adelaide, Thursday, 22 March 2012 8:51:36 AM
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"...a couple of billion who would have been at risk two or three decades ago can now afford to eat what they like, mainly beef, chicken, pork, dairy foods, because their governments abandoned central planning of their economies and allowed markets to operate more freely."

Wonderful!...and all without repercussions (not).

India is a great example of letting the free market run roughshod over wise regulation and long-term sustainability. Aside from highlighting structural adjustments imposed by the World Bank and agreed to by successive Indian governments, the indebtedness of poor farmers, their suicides - the other critical outcomes are soil degradation (due to the massive injection of inorganic fertilizers and leaching and erosion from over watering) and water depletion. This is the globalised free market at work in a developing overpopulated country.

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/india_water.html

http://www.seminarpaper.com/2012/01/soil-degradation-threat-to-indian.html
Posted by Poirot, Thursday, 22 March 2012 9:40:23 AM
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Governments will indeed have to be the ones that ensure the world is fed. Because of declining oil supplies over coming decades, governments will have to direct limited supplies to farmers to keep up production and distribution through machines, fertilisers and transport. They will have to divide river water up between rural, town and environment. They will have to curb greenhosue gas emissions through various policies to ensure the climate remains relatively stable. They may have to introduce population policies to ensure demand is kept down. Feeding 9 billion will be difficult if not impossible - forget trying to feed 15 billion which is at the high end of projections for the end of the century.
Posted by popnperish, Thursday, 22 March 2012 11:26:05 AM
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"The same is true of water maintaining environmental flows and keeping the mouth of the Murray open, for example, will be at the expense of water that could be used for food production further up the river."

Err, Sorry "withough maintaining environmental flows" is a critical biological systems function. Let them eat cake comes to mind!

"The IFPRA has modelled the impact of a 50% real increase in energy prices by 2050, not at all unrealistic, and showed it would lead to a significant rise in the price of cereals and meat and expose many more to the risk of hunger."

Err, again sorry but how about you contemplate 50% real increase in energy prices by say 2015 or 2020, and this, in my humble opinion, would be to err on the side of caution. Energy supply/demand factors are about to give a real shock to the economic, agricultural, social system.

I would suggest that you, David, learn a little more about energy, energy-return-on-energy-invested and the fractional reserve banking economic system that you base your assumptions on!

I would think that the whole food future front will be a societal issue at large. Governments, industry and the general community are in for a real shock in terms of food production, transportation and our inane just-in-time supply systems for food distribution
Posted by Geoff of Perth, Thursday, 22 March 2012 1:44:33 PM
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Thanks for a thought-provoking article David. I think we're all agreed that governments will have an increasing role in agricultural regulation to feed the world.

A couple of points:
- Most arable land in Australia is probably already cropped (maybe too heavily to be sustainable) - 23m ha out of a total 41m odd dryland agriculture. About 3 m ha more are irrigated for crops, veg and dairy. the rest, too rugged or rainfall too unreliable, is grazed.

- A carbon price on agriculutral emissions (and of course sequestration as well, though emissions will probably always exceed sequestration) will I think be positive for agriculture in the long run. It will work against the relatively inefficient meat production from methane producing ruminants - cattle and sheep. More land would go over to feeding pigs, chickens and , yes, kangaroos. All of have less than a quarter of the emissions of cattle.

- Pigs and chickens are much more efficent meat producers because one breeder produces 10 - 100's of offspring per year, compared to less than one per cow.

The other big question is how much organic is optimal. While synthetic N and P fertlisers and herbicides deliver much beeter yields with less land disturbance (less cultvation), they are require lots of fossil fuels to produce. So there's a lot to be gained from better modelling and implementation of the optimal degree of 'organicness' for each system / location. e.g. One could pour an extra 100kg of N fertilizer on a crop of potatoes and just pay for it from the increased marginal yield but it wouldn't cover the cost of nutrient pollution in adjoining wetlands.
Posted by Roses1, Thursday, 22 March 2012 3:07:15 PM
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