Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Let Them Eat...Jellyfish?

Today there's a report which says that wealthy nations are being hit by water shortages, often using more than they receive, and that there is a developing global crisis over control of this precious resource. In a timely co-incidence regular reader Kat, who is one of the news editors at The Daily Grail, sent me her first guest-post which addresses some of the causes, effects and long-term consequences of climate change on water and food supplies. In this century, water and wheat are as likely to be causes of war as oil. Here's Kat's article:

Yesterday The Independent had an environmental article that scared the hell out of me. It's now pay-per-vew, so here's a mirror of the original. The over-fishing of our oceans has caused an explosive proliferation of jellyfish worldwide.

The point being, fishermen worldwide are now catching twice as many jellyfish as they did just 10 years ago. As Jeremy Jackson, Marine Ecologist at the Scripps Insitution of Oceanography said, "We're pushing the oceans back to the dawn of evolution, a half-billion years ago when the oceans were ruled by jellyfish and bacteria."

Jellyfish are predatory on real-fish eggs and young, while very few real-fish eat jellyfish. Jackson and others are worried that we're already at a tipping point where real-fish can't recover because jellyfish will outnumber them by 4 to 1, as they already do along the over-fished coasts of Africa.

And when I read all this, I thought, with fish stocks worldwide already depleted from over-fishing and jellyfish eating the eggs and young of even more fish, how is the world going to feed over 6 billion people.

I haven't posted anything about it at TDG - or send you anything about it either - but have you noticed there's a bit of a crisis developing lately with regard to both the supply and/or the rapidly escalating price of food, and the fact that there's a perfect storm developing with regard to the production of food? Drought, high oil prices, and no fish add up to a big problem. And I'm not just talking about the starving masses in Ethiopia or wherever -- I'm talking down at the Albertson's and Krogers.

I did some searching yesterday, accumlating articles about droughts - all over the world - affecting agricultural production. The problem is unbelievably widespread.

In the US, drought has severely affected crops and livestock in all the western states, the midwest, and the south - all extremely hard hit, and in the northeast, PA's agriculture has been affected by flooding. There are severe droughts all over Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, Afghanistan and that area of the world, India, Australia, and in China, the drought is so bad, 17,000,000 people are now without adequate supplies of drinking water and millions may starve. I didn't have time to check on the Asian Pacific nations. On top of this, supplies of stored grain worldwide are at historic 25-50 year lows. There's a bumper rice crop this year, but the amount that's being produced is still not expected to meet demand. The price of rice has gone up 48% in the past year, and is expected to double over the next 2 year.

Food is about to become a LOT more expensive. And if these droughts are due to climate change, and thus continue for even a few more years, the cheapest, most plentiful food is going to end up being all that damn ocean snot - jellyfish. -- And we thought textured soy protean tasted bad!

Then there's the water itself - the stuff that these droughts is making an ever more rare and lucrative resource. One worth fighting for.
Veteran Dallas oilman T. Boone Pickens set up a hedge fund specialising in water-related investments in 1997 and has spent more than US$50 million on water rights round his north Texan ranch, claiming to have enough water to serve 20 per cent of the Dallas-Forth Worth area.

Terrapin Asset Management, a US$50 million hedge fund investing only in water-related companies and rights, has made a return of 22 per cent since it was started in April last year.

Bloomberg boasts a World Water Index which has got investors a 35 per cent annual return in the past three years, compared with 29 for oil and gas stocks and 10 for the S&P 500. Worldwide, the water industry makes US$450 billion in revenues a year, second only to electricity and oil.

In 2000, Fortune magazine ran a special feature on the global industry, saying: "Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th: The precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations."

It can only become more lucrative as the population grows.

The International Food Policy Research Institute forecasts that the use of fresh water for human consumption, agriculture and industry may rise 22 per cent by 2025 compared with 1995. The UN Environment Programme estimates that a third of the world's population suffers from shortages or "water stress".

There are estimated to be 1.1 billion people without access to clean water and 2.4 billion without access to sanitation; half the world's hospital beds at any one time are believed to be taken up by people with water-borne diseases.

By mid-century, the UN reckons that seven billion people in 60 countries could be facing water scarcity. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, has forecast that, if present trends continue, two out of three people on the planet will be "water stressed" by 2025.

We are all aware of the geopolitical mayhem caused as governments and firms compete to secure the world's oil and gas resources; the "blue gold" rush is perhaps less well known but it is potentially even more far reaching. Without oil, industry dies; without water, we die. Water is already a key strategic concern for governments.
Consider the assault on southern Lebanon. Yes, the justification is defending Israel from terrorism, but Israel also depends for its water on the West Bank and the Golan Heights. It is certainly arguable that an element of "hydro-nationalism" has been present in Israel's policy towards both.

On three occasions in 1965 and 1966, for instance, Israel attacked the site of a project that, by diverting the Jordan's headwaters, would have cut the Jewish state's water capacity by 35 per cent. In 1973, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said: "It is necessary that the water sources upon which the future of the land depends should not be outside the borders of the future Jewish homeland." He went on to specify that Israel should include the southern banks of the Litani River - and, in this latest conflict, Israel has warned the Lebanese to evacuate to the north of the Litani
Food for thought.

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