Sustainable Wallingford

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Will the Increase in grain costs, get us focused on the right things in 2011?

What is the best way to kick off 2011 with the new congress, seemingly intractable squabbling at every level of public discourse and the tragedy in Tucson?  Lester Brown's summary of the current grain price increases is challenging but refreshing in that it might just get us to focus on what the real issues are.  it is about 1 page.


Food shortages and dramatically increased food prices quickly lead to social unrest in poor countries and discontent in wealthy ones.  The summary form the Earth Policy Institute, describes the dynamics in play for the current increase in grain costs.   News from around the world and increased food costs at home could lead people to realize that the most basic form of national security is our ability to feed ourselves, and really look at why that is getting more challenging.  Failed states around the world will lead to new threats to our national security as we and the UN cannot solve all the emerging problems.  


We can change our national priorities on how we spend our money and how we use our land and water.  These things can be done quickly and could put us ahead of the curve of the tidal wave of change that is quickly approaching.  We want to be in a leadership position, not just to make money (the usual US goal), but mitigate human suffering here and abroad and to stabilize areas that are increasingly destabilized by food shortages, changing climate and water shortages. This leadership ultimately makes the US more secure. 


What can we do?  Be aware is number 1. Talk to our neighbors about these issues. Write our views to local and national papers. Whether we like to think about these issues or not, they are the driving forces behind how we will be living in the 10 to 20 years. There is a huge need for a larger group of people to feel the urgency.  Get involved with local issues that can make a difference and model the change we need. The environmental priorities coalition has four priorities for the current session of the state legislature, what you can do all worked out


The New Year will have lots of challenges.  If we are prepared we will see the opportunities and know how to ride the waves, break the tide and land standing tall with real accomplishment for our friends and families where ever they may be.

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Comment by John Chapman on January 25, 2011 at 9:15am
We need to be careful about focusing too much on what is likely to be a short-term crisis. Grain prices are currently being affected by both the rising demand talked about in this article, and the drought in Russia. The drought is most likely connected to climate change, but droughts are also weather events - it is difficult to say that this drought or that hurricane "was caused by global warming" as severe droughts and hurricanes have been going on for ever. Global warming increases the chances of certain extreme weather events, but the real issue is the long-term trends.

The danger is that the chances are good that we will not see a repeat of the same conditions this summer, which will mean that grain prices may well go down next year. If we over-emphasis a short-term peak as a "crisis", then it can create a false sense of security when prices inevitably go down, even if the “down” is still above long-term averages. It is similar to the tendency for people to take any unusually warm or cool week and use that to either support or deny global warming – confusing the short term weather noise with the long term climate signal.

I understand the desire to capitalize on the concern caused by a short-term fluctuation. In some cases it can create an enormous outpouring of support and lead to positive long-term change. But the danger is that it becomes the cause du jour, creating support that is shallow, short lived, and unsustained – and more than anything we need a sustainable movement for sustainability.


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