Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Real Doom & Gloom Story

This is potentially a very disruptive event that is looming. This is something to seriously worry about for all those doom & gloom specialists. From a NY Times article. I've bolded the key bits:
The United Nations’ food agency issued an alert on Tuesday warning that a severe drought was threatening the wheat crop in China, the world’s largest wheat producer, and resulting in shortages of drinking water for people and livestock.

China has been essentially self-sufficient in grain for decades, for national security reasons. Any move by China to import large quantities of food in response to the drought could drive international prices even higher than the record levels recently reached.

“China’s grain situation is critical to the rest of the world — if they are forced to go out on the market to procure adequate supplies for their population, it could send huge shock waves through the world’s grain markets,” said Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los BaƱos, in the Philippines.

The state-run news media in China warned Monday that the country’s major agricultural regions were facing their worst drought in 60 years. On Tuesday the state news agency Xinhua said that Shandong Province, a cornerstone of Chinese grain production, was bracing for its worst drought in 200 years unless substantial precipitation came by the end of this month.


Typically, world food reports barely mention China, partly because many details of the country’s agriculture production and reserves are state secrets. But China, in fact, is enormously important to the world’s food supply, especially if something goes wrong.

The heat wave in Russia last summer, combined with floods in Australia in recent months, has drawn worldwide attention to the international wheat market, because Russia and Australia have historically been big exporters. But China’s wheat industry has existed in almost total isolation from the rest of the world, with virtually no exports or imports, until last year, when modest imports began. Yet it is enormous, accounting for one-sixth of global wheat output. The statistical database of the United Nations’ food agency shows that in 2009, the last year available, China produced almost twice as much wheat as the United States or Russia and more than five times as much as Australia.

Currently, the ground in the country is so dry from Beijing south through the provinces of Hebei, Henan and Shandong to Jiangsu Province, just north of Shanghai, that trees and houses are coated with topsoil that has blown off parched fields.
It looks like China is suffering from a "dustbowl" with heat and drought like the US experience in the early 1930s. This isn't "global warming". It is just normal climate variation. But tragically the world is not prepared because there is no systematic program to build up reserve stocks. (Think of the Biblical tale of Joseph interpreting the Pharoah's dream and building graneries to store grains from the seven fat years to protect the people from the seven lean years.) Sadly, we live in an era where governments are under attack by fanatics who think "the only good government is no government" and who have the fantasy that "private markets can provide everything". They can't private markets don't prepare for once-in-a-century events. These are things that require mobilization across a society -- or in our case today, across the whole world -- and are beyond the scope of "private markets". But ideologues aren't interested in facts or theories. They have the truth by the tail and don't care. On their heads will be the great suffering which is coming for the next year or two.

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