Food, Climate Change, Economy: Connections

Earth Policy Institute article, forwarded by Jackie Bonomo:

Can the United States feed China? by Lester Brown

…An estimated 24,000 villages in northwestern China have been totally or partially abandoned since 1950 as sand dunes encroach on cropland, forcing farmers to leave. Unlike the U.S. Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when many farmers in the Great Plains migrated to California, China’s “Okies” do not have a West Coast to migrate to. They are moving to already heavily populated eastern cities.
..

Overpumping, like overplowing, is also taking a toll. As the demand for food in China has soared, millions of Chinese farmers have drilled irrigation wells to expand their harvests. As a result, water tables are falling and wells are starting to go dry under the North China Plain, which produces half of China’s wheat and a third of its corn. The overpumping of aquifers for irrigation temporarily inflates food production, creating a food production bubble that eventually bursts when the aquifer is depleted. Earth Policy Institute estimates that some 130 million Chinese are being fed with grain produced by overpumping—by definition, a short term phenomenon…

For U.S. consumers, China’s worst nightmare could become ours. If China enters the U.S. grain market big time, as now seems inevitable, American consumers will find themselves competing with 1.4 billion Chinese consumers with fast-rising incomes for the U.S. grain harvest, driving up food prices.
 
This would raise prices not only of the products made directly from grain, such as bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals, but also of meat, milk, and eggs, which require much larger quantities of grain to produce. If China were to import even one fifth of its grain, there would likely be pressure from U.S. consumers to restrict or to ban exports to China, as the United States did in the 1970s, when it banned soybean exports to Japan.

But in dealing with China, the United States now faces a very different situation. When the U.S. Treasury Department auctions off securities every month to finance the U.S. fiscal deficit, China has been a major buyer. It holds over $900 billion worth of U.S. Treasury securities. China is our banker. In another time, another age, the United States could restrict access to U.S. grain as it did in the 1970s, but with China today this may not be possible.
 
For Americans, who live in a country that has been the world’s breadbasket for more than half a century, a country that has never known food shortages or runaway food prices, the world is about to change. Like it or not, we are going to be sharing our grain harvest with the Chinese, no matter how much it raises our food prices…

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