Peak wheat: ‘Himalayan tragedy awaits India, China’

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.

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.

China

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?


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16 Responses to Peak wheat: ‘Himalayan tragedy awaits India, China’

  1. Anonymous says:

    CO2 doesn't cause global warming. Sunspots do.

    Our country has become scientifically challenged to the point that facts no longer matter. Only politics.

    Gary
    Delaware

    http://www.kusi.com/weather/colemanscorner/19842304.html

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nuclear is not the solution. Look at
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EROEI
    and
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_uranium
    The actual fossil fuel consumption cannot be replaced with nuclear.
    Sadly, world drought is unavoidable, be this year or 2011.

  3. 9Robert says:

    This kind of alarmism seems out of place on this blog, and it won't affect near term commodities except psychologically. (perhaps that is it's intent, as with peak oil and the recent run-up and then crash of oil prices) The glaciers could start to grow again (as many are!) because temperatures are now falling.

    Peak oil is a total scam, the dead dinosaur theory of oil origination is totally bogus and has zero scientific support. Oil seems to be a product of pressure and certain rock formations. It's called the Abiotic theory, and it actually has scientific support. I urge you to research it. The bullshit doesn't begin and end with gold manipulation, that's for sure.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ganges dry up?

    Sacrilege.

    Global warming scare pieces should be on marketskeptics mostly as references for how certain commodity prices will artificially effected by dubious carbon taxes.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I agree with anonymous point on nuclear power as future solution and problems with peak uranium, but i can't agree with what Robert said on peak oil. I mean, if peak oil is a scan, how come US oil production is declining since '70ies? Regardless on how oil was "cooked" down in the Earth trust, was is dinosaurus or natural process, it doesn't matter, oil is still a finite resource.

    Eric, congrats to this article. Nothing more to say, expect, keep up the good work!

  6. 9Robert says:

    I can see anon 6:39 did no research into Abiotic Oil. Oil is not a finite resource.

    read this. It's science:
    http://freeenergynews.com/Directory/
    Theory/SustainableOil/

    read this: It's insider industry info:

    http://www.oilandgasreporter.com/stories/
    090101/cov_opinions.shtml

    Resource scarcity is being used to justify war, as well as wild price swings in commodities. American oil production "peaked" in the '70's because Saudi oil was so much cheaper. It's called outsourcing and increases the profits of your overlords.

    Anything to scare the masses. Anything to foster fear, which makes us easier to control and to make us fight their wars.

    read/watch this for more on the Peak Oil ruse:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3340274697167011147

    http://www.davesweb.cnchost.com/nwsltr52.html
    http://www.davesweb.cnchost.com/nwsltr70.html

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3340274697167011147

  7. Anonymous says:

    I personally think that geothermal holds the most promise for future energy generation and water production.

    My theory is if you could drill a hole wide enough lets say 5,000 feet in circumference and deep enough (about 10 miles down) into the ocean floor, you could get fresh water,electrical power and hydrogen (via electrolysis).

    Quite simply you could use gravitational forces to generate power as the water falls, the farther you go down in the earth the warmer it gets till the water gets converted into steam used to power other turbines that generate more power. You could either use that power directly as electricity or convert electricity to hydrogen to power vehicles, planes etc. The steam is then harvested as fresh water.

    Although this option poses significant technological obstacles, I like to think big and that is big thinking. There is as much heat energy as we could possibly use only 10 miles down, we just have to get there. In fact if you just let a nuclear reactor have a "controlled meltdown" for a "China syndrome" effect you could use Nuclear energy to actually "melt down" to the area you need to tap the geothermal energy.

    Sorry gang if I'am getting a little too fanciful for you, it just seems logical to tap a source of energy (geothermal) hot enough to melt rock with a byproduct of fresh water.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Don’t underestimate renewable energy. There have been quite a lot of new scientific and technological developments and discoveries in the last few years.
    Just look here:

    1. storing solar energy.
    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Fuel_cells

    2. solar-thermal power plants
    http://www.solarmillennium.de/index,lang2.html
    http://www.desertec.org/
    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2009-02/19/content_7491243.htm

    Nuclear power really is a cave technology - befitting the stone-age.

  9. Anonymous says:

    A hundred years from now we will be flabbergasted about the stupidity of man in 2009 and our disability to safeguard our own living environment. I'd wish nuclear technology was never invented: seen any documentaries on Chernobyl?? Nuclear energy and its waste are a big problem for our planet which we pass on to future generations. The future is in sun, water and wind.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Eric, you may be interested in this link, seen today in Martenson's site: http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/09/03/Gavin.pdf

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi Eric,

    regarding Nuclear: I live quite close to two of the biggest nuclear waste facilities of the world: "Asse II" and "Morsleben". Asse II was only taged and operated as "nuclear deposit research facility" and hold all the atomic waste of Germany up to the end of the 70ties... testing meant leave the shit down for ever.. do not recover. Morsleben was the deposit of the old East Germany, but less known after the fall of the wall western Germany dropt all its atomic shit produces up to the mid 90' in it, which accounts for over 50% of the total stuff in there.

    What happens now? Quite easy the former salt mine (especially Asse II) is now collapsing and outside water is getting in the mine, supposed to be secure for the next 1.000.000 years. The atomic waste has now contact with outside water and the collapsing mountain will press upon the stuff, so that nuclear poisoned water will come to the ground water within the time frame of 100 years (official government estimate!).

    Now no one will be responsible, all big political parties are connected to the shit and block any and every investigation. Recovery is in discussion, but would render two similar salt mine deposits ("Gorleben" and "Schacht Konrad") political impossible.

    Out politicians play duc and cover with the German people. Nuclear sounds fine, but no one solved the problem of where to put the waste. The only thing that was and still is important was to quickly dispose of the waste in a "cost effective" way... without harming the balance sheets of the big energy corporations.... and guess wo pays for all the shit happened? Yeah.. the atomic bailout people: Me, the taxpayer.

    So please be caution of the nuclear disaster!

  12. Anonymous says:

    And after the Chinese run out of US Dollars,what do you think their next course of action is?Meditate?No,the Long March to the bread basket of the world North America!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Robert thanks for your links, I'll do search on abiotic oils.

    Somebody also mentioned hydrogen as future fuel. Unfortunately, the thing with a hydrogen is a total scam by oil companies and loby (because they are producing it with fosil fuels)!

    Energy needed to produce a hydrogen is greated than energy you can get from hydrogen:
    http://www.energybulletin.net/node/11963

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hydrogen could only be produced with fossil fuels? Not any more:
    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html
    That is one of the nice thing about science: It’s developing new technological possibilities. I don’t know when the article “The Myth of the Hydrogen Economy” was written, but it’s not up-to-date, neither regarding catalysts nor regarding solar technology.

    What the article got right is this: “Free hydrogen is not an energy source; it is rather an energy carrier.” It’s a way of storing energy obtained by intermittently working solar or wind energy plants. Not more – but not less.

    But I have to admit, I can’t take a website too seriously, that uncritically reproduces a translation of a very manipulative SPIEGEL-Article “Wind Turbines in Europe Do Nothing for Emissions-Reduction Goals”
    http://www.energybulletin.net/node/48051
    This article puts the blame for not reducing emissions on wind energy, whereas in reality only the emissions trading system is to blame, as any thoughtful reader will easily find out. This was promptly pointed out on the German website “telepolis”:
    http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/29/29730/1.html

    The energy conversion efficiency of nuclear power, by the way, is not quite what the nuclear industry claims:
    http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/29/29859/1.html

  15. Anonymous says:

    Yes, hydrogen can be obtained from clean sources (solar, wind) too, with electrolysis of water, as you suggested, but this is just way too impractical because of the great losses of energy during process of conversion energy from electrical to hydrogen. These pictures speaks for itself:

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v172/lowem/post1/20061214-hydrogen-vs-electric.jpg
    http://static.huddler.com/imgrepo/thumbs/8/8d/Battery_EV_vs._Hydrogen_EV.png/612x612px-LL-Battery_EV_vs._Hydrogen_EV.png

    When you look at this pictures you know that hydrogen powered vehicles is clearly not the future. I would rather say it's an electric cars. This is one interesting video about this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA2u_KbCs6A&feature;=related

    One more good article about hydrogen:

    http://www.energyjustice.net/hydrogen/

    I'm sorry about my bad English, but it's not my native language.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Don’t worry about your English. Mine is guesswork too, same reason.

    The pictures, video and article you named are all about vehicles. And that’s definitely not what I am talking about. Well organized public transport is the answer to that question. (I myself ride a bicycle when not using public transport and I never had a car in all my life).

    What I try to discuss is storing energy obtained by intermittently working solar or wind energy plants. The very same “Fact Sheet: Hydrogen and Fuel Cells” to which you pointed yourself says: “Large stationary fuel cells could be an effective tool for solving grid intermittency problems with wind and solar, storing energy when there is extra power and sending it back to the grid when there is less.” Exactly (only said in better English). There are different ways to store energy, with different grades of efficiency.

    Same for transport of electrical energy: Transmission via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines for example has relatively less transmission loss than by AC (Alternating Current lines).

    Just have a look at the links I gave for
    1. storing solar energy.
    2. solar-thermal power plants

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