Monday, 25 April 2011

"Never Right, But Never in Doubt": The sad story of Lester R. Brown

Brown has manipulated the data for twenty-five years to advance his overpopulation vs. food production claims.

Brown's forecasting record was a hundred percent wrong then and it is a hundred percent wrong now.
Professor Julian Simon, 1994

For over 40 years now, Lester R. Brown, the, has been the darling of leftist and liberal believers in a soon to come world population and food catastrophy. In spite of being wrong for all these years - "Never Right, But Never in Doubt, as Reason magazine´s science correspondent Ronald Bailey describes him - Brown is still allowed to regularly spread his doomsday propaganda in mainstream media. His latest scaremongering "analysis" is published in the Foreign Policy magazine:

The New Geopolitics of Food

THE DOUBLING OF WORLD grain prices since early 2007 has been driven primarily by two factors: accelerating growth in demand and the increasing difficulty of rapidly expanding production. The result is a world that looks strikingly different from the bountiful global grain economy of the last century. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity? Even at this early stage, we can see at least the broad outlines of the emerging food economy.
On the demand side, farmers now face clear sources of increasing pressure. The first is population growth. Each year the world's farmers must feed 80 million additional people, nearly all of them in developing countries. The world's population has nearly doubled since 1970 and is headed toward 9 billion by midcentury. Some 3 billion people, meanwhile, are also trying to move up the food chain, consuming more meat, milk, and eggs. As more families in China and elsewhere enter the middle class, they expect to eat better. But as global consumption of grain-intensive livestock products climbs, so does the demand for the extra corn and soybeans needed to feed all that livestock. (Grain consumption per person in the United States, for example, is four times that in India, where little grain is converted into animal protein. For now.)
At the same time, the United States, which once was able to act as a global buffer of sorts against poor harvests elsewhere, is now converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars, even as world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 billion metric tons per year, is growing at an accelerating rate. A decade ago, the growth in consumption was 20 million tons per year. More recently it has risen by 40 million tons every year. But the rate at which the United States is converting grain into ethanol has grown even faster. In 2010, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain, of which 126 million tons went to ethanol fuel distilleries (up from 16 million tons in 2000). This massive capacity to convert grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil. So if oil goes to $150 per barrel or more, the price of grain will follow it upward as it becomes ever more profitable to convert grain into oil substitutes. And it's not just a U.S. phenomenon: Brazil, which distills ethanol from sugar cane, ranks second in production after the United States, while the European Union's goal of getting 10 percent of its transport energy from renewables, mostly biofuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops.
This is not merely a story about the booming demand for food. Everything from falling water tables to eroding soils and the consequences of global warming means that the world's food supply is unlikely to keep up with our collectively growing appetites. Take climate change: The rule of thumb among crop ecologists is that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the growing season optimum, farmers can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields. This relationship was borne out all too dramatically during the 2010 heat wave in Russia, which reduced the country's grain harvest by nearly 40 percent.
 At issue now is whether the world can go beyond focusing on the symptoms of the deteriorating food situation and instead attack the underlying causes. If we cannot produce higher crop yields with less water and conserve fertile soils, many agricultural areas will cease to be viable. And this goes far beyond farmers. If we cannot move at wartime speed to stabilize the climate, we may not be able to avoid runaway food prices. If we cannot accelerate the shift to smaller families and stabilize the world population sooner rather than later, the ranks of the hungry will almost certainly continue to expand. The time to act is now -- before the food crisis of 2011 becomes the new normal.

Read the entire article here

Here is a "response" to Brown´s latest doomsday "forecast"  by two leading agricultural academics, Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer:

(Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). Harwood D. Schaffer is a Research Assistant Professor at APAC)

Current projections hold that the population of the world will increase from 6.9 billion in early 2011 to somewhere between 9.0 and 9.3 billion by 2050, an increase of over 30 percent. When that increase is coupled with increased prosperity in developing countries and the desire for a diet that includes more meat, it is projected that the production of agricultural crops will need to increase by 70 to 100 percent.
The question facing policy makers is what it takes to accomplish that amount of increase over the next 40 years. The multinationals that are engaged in seed research and sales argue that such an ambitious agenda will only be achieved if trade policies are liberalized and they are given free rein to sell their genetically modified seed everywhere. They also argue that farmers in the major grain exporting countries will be needed to feed the world.

Before moving forward, let us look at what has happened to grain production over the last 40 years. In 1970, the production of corn, milled rice, and wheat was 788 million tonnes. By 2010, the production of those three grains was 1.912 billion tonnes, an increase of 142 percent.
Looking at the grains individually, corn production increased from 268 million tonnes to 814 million tonnes, an increase of over 200 percent. The production of milled rice increased from 213 million tonnes in 1970 to 452 million tonnes in 2010 - an increase of over 110 percent. Wheat production, the largest of the three grains in 1970, was 307 million tonnes. By 2010, wheat production had increased by over 110 percent to 648 million tonnes.
For all three grains, the 40-year increase was over 140 percent. If you had asked most people in 1970 if they thought that production would more than double over the next 40 years, they probably would have said, "No." (Lester Brown would most certainly have said no! NNoN)
In the 1970s, it was expected that grain production in India would lag consumption and India would continue to be dependent upon imports. In 1970, India was a net importer of 3.2 million tonnes of the three grains, mostly wheat. By 2010, India was a net exporter of 4.8 million tonnes of the three grains. The 2010 exports were almost evenly divided between corn and milled rice.
In addition, soybean production was 42 million tonnes in 1970. By 2010, world production of soybeans had increased to 258 million tonnes - that's a whopping 513 percent increase. So, the two commodities that are most critical to meat production have seen dramatic increases the last 40 years.
Can farmers worldwide make the make the 70 to 100 percent production increases that are projected to be needed? If the last 40 years is any indicator, the answer is yes, though perhaps a guarded yes.

Read the entire article here


Ray and Schaffer - cautious as they are - also mention climate change as a possibile influence, but they clearly do not think it will lead to the kind of catastrophic development that Brown predicts.

However, there actually is one issue on which Brown for once is right, as Ronald Bailey, writing already in 2009, points out:

the U.S. should stop subsidizing bioethanol production (turning food into fuel)

PS 2

Fortunately there is a lot of good news now about food production in different parts of the world:

Australia set to create new farm output record

India is estimated to harvest an all-time record output of 235.88 million tonne (MT) of foodgrains in the 2010-11 crop year

Russia’s winter grains harvest this year may be between 33 million and 35 million metric tons due to sufficient snow, good crop conditions and sufficient moisture in the soil, according to the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies, or Ikar.

The U.S. will ship 34.7 million tons of wheat in the crop year ending May 31, compared with almost 24 million tons a year earlier and the most since 1993, USDA estimates show.

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