Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Internation Morals of Energy vs Food policy in the US

An interesting post on Daily Kos yesterday dealing with the climb in staple food item prices worldwide (including the US) and an analysis of some of the causes as well as the opinion (which I agree with), that people are more important that fuel and our current policy and practice are counter to not only what we should be doing morally, but to our own stated goals.

We do need to find ways to reduce our dependence upon petroleum, and there are real reasons to rapidly decrease our dependence upon foreign sources of that item - we do not want to keep borrowing money from China to buy oil from Saudis and others who then use some of the profits to fund the terrorists who we claim to be the reason that we spend billions weekly to have tens of thousands of troops in Iraq - to ensure that oil supply whose use pollutes the very air we breathe. But it makes little sense to address one problem - energy - by creating a problem that is every bit as severe - food. And we cannot solve our problems in isolation from those that exist around the world. Even before the recent patterns of globalization of trade, the world was already too interconnected for us to pretend that we could exist in isolation from the problems in other, perhaps less developed, nations.

I consider this a moral issue. During my lifetime I have seen the ability of this nation to change long-standing patterns fairly rapidly when it chose to address moral issues. I lived through a civil rights era that created more positive change in the lives of million in less than two decades than had been achieved in the previous nine decades since the emancipation of the slaves. I have seen recognition and some addressing of economic inequity for women and minorities other than African-Americans. There has been recognition of the need to address the educational imbalances that exist, although in this arena, in which I labor every day, our policies have been, to put it charitably, less than fully successful.

But economic equity, education, better housing, better transportion, access to medical care - none of these will matter if people are starving. And like it or not, America has for years been a primary source of food for much of the world. We cannot morally abandon that role at a time of increasing need.

At the same time, we need to do what we can to decrease inappropriate demands upon our ability to help feed the world. Farmers are entitled to some economic stability, but our approach to that should not result in our pulling back from our traditional role of helping feed the world. Full gas tanks are less important to me than hungry children, and hungry children are more susceptible to disease, do not learn as well, and thus perpetuate the kinds of inequity that in the long run lead to instability, both globally and at home.

The post mostly focuses on wheat prices, but keep in mind that rice, corn and every other staple grain has been reported recently as having huge price increases, rationing and national moratoriums on exports.