Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Food Security

Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Food Security

November 05, 2011
Written by Jessie Palatucci

If the predictions of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community are accurate, people of faith will face one of their greatest moral challenges ever in the near future. Climate scientists tell us that the continued burning of fossil fuels has brought us an ever-warming and unpredictable climate. And energy experts tell us that we are consuming more oil now than we are replacing with new discoveries, leading to a term called “peak oil.” Oil will still be available, but increased demand from developing countries like India and China - and decreased supply - means higher prices. How do these facts affect the issue of hunger? And what is “food security?”

First, we acknowledge that the “green revolution” that provides over 90% of our basic food crops is based on fossil fuels. Industrial fertilizer comes from natural gas and energy from petroleum makes and runs our farm machinery. Petroleum also delivers food through a complex transportation system, and now 40% of our corn crop in the U.S. is producing ethanol for fuel rather than food for families.

Climate change means that weather patterns are less predictable for crops and, because warmer air holds more moisture, rain tends to come in larger amounts than usual and droughts last for a more extended period. These effects on the global agricultural system from peak oil and climate change mean less stability for supply and increasing costs for production – coincidental with a growing world-wide population.

“Food security” simply means that people have access to affordable and nutritious food that sustains their bodies. If food costs more, becomes less available, or takes up an increasingly larger percentage of total income, then individuals and families move towards “food insecurity.” In short, they are not sure if they can feed their families a nutritious meal.

In the U.S., we already see food insecurity in communities where quality grocery stores are more than a mile away from one’s home and transportation options are limited. In those “food deserts,” fresh and affordable food is often scarce and junk and packaged food is more prevalent and more costly.

So why is food security an issue of faith? The Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry sums it up succinctly, “Agriculture involves questions of value and therefore of moral choice, whether or not we care to admit it.”

How we use or abuse the arable land we have been given by a benevolent Creator is a moral choice. Do we use it to produce feed corn for cattle or ethanol for vehicles, both high energy-intensive practices that add to global warming? Do we gradually strip the land of its nutrients with the practices of modern industrial farming, or do we practice organic farming and composting to renew and sustain the soil? What impact do our personal eating choices have on the planet and the availability of good food for all people? These are questions that will be answered by the choices and actions of people of faith.

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