Lester Brown is at it Again

I guess it is not surprising that Lester Brown continues to scream "famine" despite being wrong about global food shortages and agricultural collapse for forty years running.  What is amazing to me is that respectable journals like Scientific American still give the guy the time of day.  But here they are this month, giving Brown plenty of print space to repeat his warmed-over apocalyptic visions and manipulated data.  Ronald Bailey has the whole story.

One of Brown's problems is that he looks at food capacity  way too narrowly.   For example, a large amount of food growing capacity are currently used for fuel.  Farmers receive billions of dollars to divert huge portions of the world's crops from the food supply to motor fuel.  Should the world ever face a real food emergency, this capacity could quickly be freed up (as it should have been already) by elimination of ethanol and other biofuel mandates and subsidies.

Further, what Brown always seems to ignore is the fact that every year, the amount of farmland dedicated to growing crops is actually shrinking around the world.   Just as he doesn't look at the capacity that is diverted to the fuel supply as an effective food inventory that can be tapped, the same is true for millions of acres of farmland that, while by definition more marginal than current acreage, could again be pressed into service should the need arise.

  • More proof (if any was needed) that these days "peer-reviewed" equals "politically correct." If they were really interested in Truth, they'd rename their publication Scatophilia American.

  • mjh

    If there is a sudden crisis in food supply, won't that drive the cost of food up? And if the cost of food goes beyond the subsidies, won't farmers divert their sales from fuel to food almost instantaneously?

    Now, I'm not in favor of the artificial scarcity of food that the ethanol subsidies have created. But if you take them as a fixed fact, it seems to me that the market will not be impeded by this in the event of a food shortage.

    Am I missing something?

  • Will H

    We already have a solution to the food supply problem when global warming and over population creates a dystopia. It's called Soylent Green. 🙂

  • Pieter

    Minor comment: there's no reason to believe that the agricultural land currently being taken out of use is less productive (you said "by definition more marginal") than the rest of the agricultural land remaining in use. Simply, the decision to switch land from agriculture to something else is not determined simply by whether it is more or less productive than other agricultural land, but by the productivity of its current use and an alternative. For example, a city may have been established because it was close to good agricultural land. When the city grows, that good agricultural land might be converted into even more productive, urban uses, while agricultural activities are pushed to worse land.

    Regardless, overall, you're right that increased agricultural productivity has more than offset the growth of the population.