Posts Tagged ‘world politics’

From Gary Peters, another guest article, this time in response to the current world food crisis.

Below is Hunger Hypocrites, an article from Le Monde, short but worth looking at:

Hunger riots having erupted on the television news, it’s time for mobilization. From Paris to Washington, everyone has their own idea about how to come to the aid of poor countries’ populations unable to withstand the price increases in basic foodstuffs, notably rice. We can only commend this surge of generosity. To fail to respond would be criminal and would provide a very tarnished image of the West.

Nonetheless, how is it possible not to feel ill at ease with these tender impulses? For those who are the most generous today are those perhaps the most responsible for this planetary malfunction. The new eating habits of emerging countries, largely imported from developed countries, explain a large part of the explosion in demand and consequently price tensions.

That’s not the only reason. Biofuel competition is another, essential, cause. Now, the United States – so generous with the World Food Program – has confirmed its resolve to double the already-very-significant surface it devotes to biofuels. Opposite the American driver, the Haitian peasant doesn’t carry much weight. The same is true for Europe. Not only does it want to develop biofuels, but in international negotiations, it maintains a protectionist policy that has long destabilized third-world agriculture and slowed down poverty reduction.

The responsibility of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is also considerable. For decades, these institutions have explained to emerging countries that the future of agriculture was behind it. So, emerging countries favored export crops in order to bring in foreign currency; they are harvesting the bitter fruits of that policy today. Thus does Senegal export food products – which Europe taxes when Senegal has the gall to want to process them domestically – but has to import 80 percent of the rice it consumes. Now not only has rice become scarce, but speculators are making its price climb as much as 30 percent in a day. The West’s sudden generosity cannot erase its share of responsibility for the major crisis that threatens today.

Consider the last sentence, “The West’s sudden generosity cannot erase its share of responsibility for the major crisis that threatens today.” Maybe it is just me, but that sentence seems to have implications far beyond the current hunger crisis that is sweeping the globe.

Since at least 1492, the West has been affecting, often negatively, life in the rest of the world. One of the West’s great contributions to the Americas, for example, was widespread disease and death, though it took a long time for us to admit that. Expansionist policies have long taken the West into other lands, mainly to extract resources and to dominate local cultures and peoples. We encouraged others to “develop” along with us, but seldom made it easy for them or created the “equal playing fields” that were so fond of talking about, even as we avoid them when they might do us harm.

Today it is food, but tomorrow what else? Fossil fuels, especially oil, have provided the means for a steady growth of people and affluence during the last 200 years or so, but that growth has, despite its promise, remained vastly different for different peoples and regions. Some aspects of the West have certainly “trickled down” to the poor countries, including some public health measures and medicines that helped bring mortality downward, sometimes quickly. However, until much more recently at least, fertility remained high throughout much of the Third World, leaving it with rapidly growing populations and locking it into often unequal economic relationships with the West.

Right now, as Earth Day approaches, we have reached a point that I’ve not seen before, one in which we are directly using a growing portion of Earth’s food supply to feed hungry vehicles rather than empty stomachs. At least temporarily we are feeding our own addiction to oil and fossil fuels at the expense of those who remain for the most part in a very uneven relationship with us, driving food prices up everywhere in the process. Westerners may seem generous as they try to help the suffering poor of the world, but seldom do we connect the dots in such a way that we see that population as in part our own creation. Vast agricultural subsidies in the U.S. and the E.U. turn trade terms against most poor nations. For example, in the U.S. we subsidize vast acreages of cotton in California and elsewhere, even though it would make much more sense not to do that and to import cotton from producers in Asia and Africa instead. All of us would be better off except a few wealthy landowners and their political lackeys.

The West largely does the same with energy, subsidizing local production of fossil fuels and doing what we can to take what we need from the rest of the world, preferably paying as little as possible. Before the 1970s and OPEC this worked fairly well for us and for a few wealthy Middle Easterners as well. However, population growth in the Middle East, the rise of OPEC, and now the sudden “Westernization” of China and India in economic terms have left the world facing some energy problems that are not new but are now occurring on a much larger scale. One result is rapidly rising energy prices; another is rapidly rising food prices; yet another is rapidly rising CO2 and CH4 concentrations in Earth’s lower atmosphere. There are many more, but most suggest to me that the great era of Western dominance may be slowly unraveling, but it will not end without considerable struggle, and the price will be paid, as always, by those who can least afford it.

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