Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Food Shock

Summary: British & American scientists, including Joshua Elliot from Chicago, warn climate could bring "food shock" by hitting key crop areas. Will famine return? Maria Gillardin hosts reports from nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen from Fukushima Japan, site of world's worst nuclear accident.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.

If you can support this radio show, I can use your help now. Radio Ecoshock is developing new graphics, a new web site, and blog plus podcast feed - which should make these important themes more widely available. Check out ways to support the show here.


What if extreme weather events, made stronger by climate change, hit a couple of major world food-growing regions? We go into "food shock". Let's explore what that can mean.

On February 12th, 2016 in Washington DC, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancment of Science, a group of British and American scientists provided their latest report on the fragility, and resilience of the global food system. We are joined by one of the presenters, Dr. Joshua Elliot, from the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Joshua Elliot

You can find these reports at the Global Food Security blog, at For example, here is the main report I used: "Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system" which comes as a handy .pdf file in your browser.

Try this blog entry on the program from Tim Benton.

And check out Tim Benton's blog post on UK food security here. I say that because (a) the UK government is a major sponsor of this study/report and (b) as Dr. Elliot tells us, the UK has only TEN DAYS worth of food supplies!

The long-time grain watcher Lester Brown warned for years that rice was within a half degree of it's upper growing limits already. What happens if the world rice zones become too hot for that crop? Joshua Elliot thinks the rice crop will be able to continue past heat limits, because it is generally underwater, which cools it.

This teleconference I recorded with Lester Brown, at the time head of the Earth Policy Institute is a good intro to his work, and continues to be heavily downloaded now 5 years later. Download full conference in CD quality (22 minutes) here.

Brown also warned that world grain stocks could only supply a few months of food at best. It appears we can't cover a whole year of bad crop losses. Should we be creating a long-term food reserve, as the ancient Egyptians did?

That turns out to be a very thorny idea. If there was a centralized food stock, maybe somone would use it to dictate political changes to a starving country? Anyway, most countries do not want to give up control of their own food sources. Remember when Russia experienced a huge crop loss in the heat wave of 2010, the Russians cut off food exports to make sure they could feed their own people. That was one driving factor in the "Arab Spring" revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which import large amounts of grain, which is subsidized for the poor. When prices went up, the patience of the people went down.

So an international food bank seems unlikely at this time.


Unlike my guest, I am not a techno-optimist about our coming food supply. Just in: a new report says 75% of world crops depend on pollination. Yet 40% of pollinators like bees and butterlies are threatened by "total extinction". Bat and bird pollinators are also disappearing.

That is just one driver, not counting heat beyond crop limits, extreme weather events including floods and droughts, human encroachement on nature everywhere, expanding human population, the list goes on and on. Personally, I expect to witness mass famine again in my lifetime, as seen in the 1960's in China in 1959, and Ethiopia in 1984, but hitting more countries. Even in developed countries, it seems likely food will become a much larger part of our budget, and at times difficult to afford for millions.

I have food insurance in buckets in the basement which will last at least 30 years. We grow more of our own food every year. We are plugged into a network of local food producers and community gardens.

In the interview, Joshua Elliot mentioned the United Kingdom has a scant 10 days of food provisions. If the ships and planes stop for any reason, the country is in danger. Food backups in all countries have dropped dangerously low, just at a time of growing threats to agriculture as usual. I say: don't take food for granted.


We're coming to the fifth year after the start of the world's biggest nuclear disaster. In March 2011, three reactors at the sea-side complex at Fukushima blew up. I covered it extensively on Radio Ecoshock, and one of my best sources has been nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education. Find my 2014 blog summary of continuing Fukushima threats here, and you can listen to or download that feature interview with Arnie here.

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen

Now Arnie is back in Japan, checking out the radiation, the impacts, the human costs, and efforts by the operator TEPCO to stem continuing radiation running into the Pacific Ocean. His first telephone reports have been compiled by a hard-working California radio producer, Maria Gillardin. She hosts TUC Radio. Previously Maria was a leading producer at KPFA Radio in Berkeley, and was founding producer of the public affairs program "Making Contact".

Radio Producer Maria Gilardin

TUC Radio stands for "Time of Useful Consciousness". Be sure to support Maria as an independent radio maker, at You can find still more telephone reports from Fukushima by Arnie Gundersen at

Remember, the nuclear accident at Fukushima was not an event in history. Even now, five years later, this horrible outpouring of radiation continues.

It took four years for the government of Japan to admit that ALL the plutonium-laced nuclear materials in Reactor Three were blown into the air in the first days. That went to Japan, to the Pacific Ocean, and around the world in the stratosphere.

As Arnie tells us in detail, the human health impacts of the Fukushima disaster are still not widely known, and still covered up by the Japanese government. It's proving impossible to handle all the radioactive materials. Look for the government to start incinerating even more, which just means dumping dangerous radioactive particles over a wider area.

Every day a throng of workers try to find more space to store still more highly radioactive water. Every day they fail, and some drains into the Pacific Ocean. We have no idea how this will end, or if it will ever end in this century, or the next. A nuclear melt-down is forever in human terms, and this was three melt-downs.

As Helen Caldicott wrote in her book, nuclear power is not the answer to global warming or anything else.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring what happens to this planet.

No comments: