The present government has up until now taken the view that Britain is a trading nation that is best at producing high tech goods and providing financial services such as banking and insurance. Food should be imported from the cheapest areas while our farmers act as glorified wildlife custodians.
But in documents recently released, DEFRA acknowledges that food security can no longer be taken for granted and pressure on natural resources across the globe is making markets more volatile. Hilary Benn has been on TV and in the press saying that UK farmers should produce a bigger proportion of our food.
The papers state that the UN predicts the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050, and as we have often pointed out, this needs to be done at a time when we will be short of land, water, oil and fertiliser. We will also have severe climatic disruption due to climate change.
We recieved a letter from Mr Benn over a year ago saying that he found the points raised in our book “Famine in the West” interesting and that he would be passing a copy to Defra policy officials for them to read.
On Monday, 3rd of August, The Independent ran a front page article entitled,” Warning: oil supplies are running out fast”.
As the actual warning came from no less a person than Dr Fatir Birol, the chief economist of the respected International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which is charged with the task of assessing future energy supplies by OECD countries, it should have been big news in the rest of the media, but got hardly a mention.
Do most people have no idea of the implications of this for the future of food supplies and everything else the modern world depends on to function?
Dr Birol said that the public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilisation depends is running out far faster than previously predicted.
The first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves , has found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago.
The IEA has concluded that the consumption of oil was “patently unsustainable”, with expected demand far outstripping supply.
These are not the ramblings of some far out pressure group, but still, will governments listen and take the huge and collective steps needed to reduce our need for oil by encouraging extreme energy efficiency, and the collection of a greater proportion of the abundant solar energy reaching us each day.
Richard Branson’s book, “Business Stripped Bear” is a fascinating account of how he started his businesses and how he likes to manage them, but the most surprising fact is that despite running transport companies that consume vast amounts of fossil energy, and is starting a space tourism company, he obviously understands the problems of climate change and oil depletion, and actually is determined to do something about it.
This is in stark contrast to some other business leaders who in the past have spent millions of dollars on campaigns to persuade governments and the public that there is no problem and that we can carry on with present practices.
Branson has taken the time to study the subject and once convinced, he used his celebrity status to contact people who could help him make a difference.
In typical Richard Branson fashion he has come up with headline grabbing but brilliant ideas.
First, he has announced that any proceeds received by the Virgin Group from their transportation businesses will be used to tackle environmental issues, which he hopes could be something like £3 billion over a number of years.
Next, he announced the Virgin Earth Challenge. To win the $25 million prize, participants will have to demonstrate a provable, commercially viable design that will result in the removal or displacement of a significant amount of environmental greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. The challenge will run for ten years.
Sir Richard is now using his money, contacts and influence to try to make a real difference and to get as many people as possible looking for solutions.
Good for him!