New report’s world ag outlook is bleak
10. If food pressures recur and are reinforced by fuel price increases, the risks of social collapse and global instability increase to a point where they probably become the major source of international confrontations.
China is particularly concerned (even slightly desperate) about resource scarcity, especially food.
11. The general public, the media, the financial markets, and governments badly underestimate these risks. Only the military of some countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., seem to appreciate them appropriately.
12. Natural gas supply increases buy some time, mainly for the U.S., but seem more likely to create complacency and continued dependence on hydrocarbons. The energy situation is less pressing globally in the short term than is the food problem. Supplies are sufficient to cause merely a slow and erratic price increase. The main problem with oil is in its contribution to the food problem through higher farming costs and generally increasing cost pressures on poorer countries.
13. In the longer term, in contrast, energy costs and absolute shortage in the case of oil form a serious problem second only to food shortages and will result in prices so high that they will impact global growth and even the viability of modern, rather fragile, economies.
14. On paper, though, the energy problem can be relatively easily addressed through very large investments in renewables and smart grids. Those countries that do this will, in several decades, eventually emerge with large advantages in lower marginal costs and in energy security. Most countries including the U.S. will not muster the political will to overcome inertia, wishful thinking, and the enormous political power of the energy interests to embark on these expensive programs. They risk being left behind in competiveness.
15. Availability of metals is, in contrast, a minor problem in the next few decades. The prices will steadily rise but the consequences will be less. In the long run though, metals are the most intractable problem. There is no brain-intensive solution as there is for agriculture (i.e., organic farming), nor is there any capital-intensive or technology-intensive solution as there is for energy. We will just slowly run out and prices will rise.
16. The results of these problems will be felt mainly as price pressure in rich countries. The need to obtain adequate resources will squeeze national budgets, profit margins, and economic growth. For poor countries, though, it is literally a matter of survival.
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