Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Food Security
November 6, 2011
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.
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
“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.
Learn more about UCC Environmental Ministries.
For more information on climate change, peak oil,
and food, explore these sources: