The Times of India reports that a Himalayan tragedy awaits India and China.
(emphasis mine) [my comment]
'Himalayan tragedy awaits India, China'
21 Mar 2008, 0320 hrs IST, Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN
A study says that the world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting glaciers of Asia (TOI Photo)
WASHINGTON: Shrinking Himalayan glaciers are going to turn Chinese and Indian rivers like the Ganga and the Yangtze into seasonal rivers that dry up in summers and could eventually lead to "politically unmanageable food shortages" in the region, a leading environmental scientist has warned.
Climate-driven shrinkage of river-based irrigation water supplies has been on the environmental community's radar for some time, but the alarm put out by Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, while invoking a "civilization-threatening scenario," is the starkest yet.
"The world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting mountain glaciers of Asia," Brown said in a paper released this week.
"In a world where grain prices have recently climbed to record highs, with no relief in sight, any disruption of the wheat or rice harvests due to water shortages in these two leading grain producers will greatly affect not only people living there but consumers everywhere."
Moreover, Brown said, in both of these countries, food prices will likely rise and grain consumption per person can be expected to fall. In India, where just over 40 per cent of all children under five years of age are underweight and undernourished, "hunger will intensify and child mortality will likely climb."
The projections were based partly on the fact that China and India are the world's leading producers of both wheat and rice -- humanity's food staples.
China's wheat harvest is nearly double that of the United States, which ranks third after India. With rice, China and India are far and away the leading producers, together accounting for over half of the world harvest.
In a separate teleconference, Brown said India's Gangetic plain faded the prospect of losing the double cropping that allowed it to harvest wheat in winter and rice in summer. Water tables were also dropping rapidly in both India and China and were dangerously low in many places.
"Both countries have lost momentum in the effort to raise grain production. In both countries stocks are down to minimal levels and both are wrestling with serious food price inflation," [food prices have come down as the commodity bubble collapsed, but they are going back up.] he said in remarks that come amid convulsions already in the world grain market.
Mountain glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau are melting and could soon deprive the major rivers of India and China of the ice melt needed to sustain them during the dry season, Brown's paper said. In the Ganges, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River basins, where irrigated agriculture depends heavily on rivers, this loss of dry-season flow will shrink harvests.
The paper referred to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that Himalayan glaciers are receding rapidly and that many could melt entirely by 2035. If the giant Gangotri Glacier that supplies 70 per cent of the Ganges flow during the dry season disappears, it warned, the Ganges could become a seasonal river, flowing during the rainy season but not during the summer dry season when irrigation water needs are greatest.
The Ganga is the largest source of surface water irrigation in India and the leading source of water for the 407 million people living in the Gangetic Basin, a population larger than any other single country other than China. The Yellow River and Yangtze basin hold a similar position in China.
Brown said that as food shortages unfold, China will try to hold down domestic food prices by using its massive dollar holdings to import grain, most of it from the United States, the world's leading grain exporter. [I am not the only one predicting that it seems.] As irrigation water supplies shrink, Chinese consumers will be competing with Americans for the US grain harvest.
India too may try to import large quantities of grain, although it may lack the economic resources to do so, especially if grain prices keep climbing, the paper forecast.
"Many Indians will be forced to tighten their belts further, including those who have no notches left," it predicted.
Brown said since glaciologists have given a clear sense of how fast glaciers are shrinking, the challenge now is to translate their findings into national energy policies designed to save the glaciers.
"At issue is not just the future of mountain glaciers, but the future of world grain harvests," the paper said, urging that the "The alternative to this civilization-threatening scenario is to abandon business-as-usual energy policies and move to cut carbon emissions 80 per cent -- not by 2050 as many political leaders suggest, because that will be too late, but by 2020."
One route that the paper recommended is for China and India to shift energy investment from coal-fired power plants into energy efficient wind farms, solar thermal power plants, and geothermal power plants.
Wikipedia explains the concept of peak wheat.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Peak wheat is the concept that agricultural production, due to its high use of water and energy inputs, is subject to the same profile as oil and gas production. The central tenet being that a point is reached, the "peak", beyond which agricultural production plateaus and does not grow any further. In fact production may even go into permanent decline.
Based on current supply and demand factors for agricultural commodities (e.g. changing diets in the emerging economies, biofuels, declining acreage under irrigation, growing global population, stagnant farm productivity growth), some commentators are predicting a long-term annual production shortfall of around 2% which based on the highly inelastic demand curve for food crops could lead to sustained price increases in excess of 10% a year - sufficient to double crop prices in 7 years.
Further information: Peak water
Water is a necessary ingredient for food production. Two billion people face acute water shortage this century as Himalayan glaciers melt. Water shortages in China have helped lower the wheat harvest from its peak of 123 million tons in 1997 to below 100 million tons in recent years. Of China's 617 cities, 300 are facing water shortages. In many, these shortfalls can be filled only by diverting water from agriculture. Farmers cannot compete economically with industry for water in China. China is developing a grain deficit even with the over-pumping of its aquifers. Grain production in China peaked in 1998 with 392 million tons. But it fell below 350 million tons in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and has been falling since. The annual deficits have been filled by drawing down the country's extensive grain reserves and now has been forced to turn to depend on the world grain market. Some predict that China will soon become the World's largest importer of grain. [I believe this will be true, but not only because of water shortages. As the Chinese living standard goes up, they will eat more meat and therefore import more grain.]
My reaction: Peak oil, peak water, and peak wheat. Fairly depressing outlook, isn't it?
1) Himalayan glaciers are receding rapidly and that many could melt entirely by 2035.
2) These shrinking Himalayan glaciers will turn Chinese and Indian rivers like the Ganga and the Yangtze into seasonal rivers that dry up in summers, which could lead to "politically unmanageable" food shortages in the region.
"The world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting mountain glaciers of Asia,"
3) Two billion people face acute water shortage this century as Himalayan glaciers melt.
4) China and India are the world's leading producers of both wheat and rice. China's wheat harvest is nearly double that of the United States. China and India together also produce over half of the world rice.
5) China is developing a grain deficit even with the over-pumping of its aquifers.
6) China will soon become the World's largest importer of grain.
7) China will try to hold down domestic food prices by using its massive dollar holdings to import grain, most of it from the United States, the world's leading grain exporter.
Conclusion: The dire scenario depicted above has peaked my interest in nuclear power. In my opinion, the end result of oil/water/food shortages is going to be worldwide migration towards nuclear power. Conservation efforts and renewable energy will help ease the shift away from fossil fuels, but nuclear power is currently the only source of energy which holds the potential to replace them.
Furthermore, compared to the massive ecological problems (droughts, rising sea levels, desertification, violent weather, etc...) created by fossil fuels, the issue of storing nuclear waste in a cave somewhere seems trivial. If all the problems create by fossil fuels could be reduced/mitigated in exchange for storing nuclear waste in a cave somewhere, wouldn't that be worth it?