The world is becoming short of many things as a rising and more affluent population demands more of everything.
Water is in a class of it’s own when it comes to the things we can’t manage without. We need it for drinking, growing food, industry and household use.
An estimated 1 billion people do not have access to an adequate water supply while the developing world needs much more water per person as they move to a diet with more meat and as fast growing industry and urban development consume vast amounts of water.
At the same time as this is happening, many of the world’s great aquifers are becoming depleted. Water is being pumped from ever deeper levels. In places such as the High Plains in the U.S. and parts of India and China, this is starting to effect food production. But just as bad is the unreliability of rainfall due to climate change. Farmers plan their cropping according to the weather patterns they have come to expect but if rain comes at the wrong time or in quantities much greater or smaller then expected, yields suffer.
It is estimated that in twenty years time we will each have one third less water available than we do now. This will inevitably mean less food per person.
There are many threats to food production that are discussed in our book,”Famine in the West”, but most people think that the biggest threats are climate change and peak oil, the time when oil production peaks and then begins a fairly rapid decline in the face of greater demand.
Climate change will bring much more unreliable weather with extremes of heat, drought and floods that will cause huge fluctuations in supply from year to year. With very low world carry over stocks, we are bound to hit a year when there is not enough to go around, at which time panic buying will make things much worse and starvation will result.
Peak oil, causing very tight supplies and then a real shortage, will make it much more likely that a sudden further reduction in supply caused by upheaval in the middle east or terrorist activity would bring chaos and collapse to our oil dependent food production system. The U.S. is very vulnerable as it imports two thirds of it’s oil. Europe becomes more vulnerable by the day.
It might be thought that oil shortages will help reduce CO2 emissions and therefore global warming but unfortunatly attempts will be made to partially replace oil with liquified coal, oil shales and tar sand, all of which will produce far more CO2.
The only answer is to use much less fossil fuel to both reduce emissions and to slow oil depletion. To do this on a voluntary basis as individuals and countries will be allmost impossible. We need to replace all existing taxes by a massive carbon tax to speed the change and innovation needed. Anything less drastic will mean failure and eventual famine.