Geography, For Example

Some things we can’t control.  Geography, for example.

Mountains ranges in Europe tend to run east-west; in North America, they run north-south.  A new report by the reinsurance company Munich Re cites this fact as one reason North America experiences more weather related disasters than Europe – there’s no east-west mountain range to separate cold air from warm.

(I’d never considered that.  Perhaps the difference in temperatures north and south of the Pyrenees and Alps suggests the perceived differences in temperament between Northern and Southern Europeans.  Just a thought.  Might help with all those financial negotiations.)

Droughts and floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, thunderstorms, blizzards and wildfires – North America gets it all.  The effect of this extreme weather is not only unhappiness in the suites of reinsurance companies, but real misery for millions of people around the globe.  Food prices are expected to rise precipitously in the early months of 2013 as a result of last summer’s drought, which withered corn and soybean crops across so much of North America.

The extreme weather mentioned above has always been with us, but as Munich Re points out, the frequency and intensity of weather battering North America has risen – also precipitously – in the past 30 years, as a result of the tons of carbon emitted in North America and tonnes of carbon emitted in Europe.  Those carbon emissions are something we can and should control, but even our best efforts (and please, let’s make them) will not change weather patterns in the short term.  For the rest of my lifetime, we’ll be paying for our past and present mistakes.

There is, however, a mistake we need not make.  There are steps we can take now regarding the imminent food crisis.  In the United States, federal law requires that 40 percent of the corn crop is diverted to ethanol biofuel.  No matter how good or how poor the harvest, regardless of how many people around the globe doomed to suffer malnutrition in the weeks and months ahead, US law says four out of every ten bushels of American corn have to be fed not into hungry bellies, but into the fuel tanks of automobiles.

Nor is it just the American cousins with their north-south mountains.  Biofuel production in the EU is growing, although the European Commission this week proposed reducing the target for EU biofuel production from ten to five percent biofuel for the transport sector, a step in the right direction.  In the US, there are calls from across the political spectrum to reduce or suspend the grain-to-fuel mandate.

While politicians, reinsurers, scientists and, yes, environmentalists argue over all this, bear in mind: This is the once-thin edge of the wedge getting thicker.  The polar icecap is melting; people will starve in the next year, either from absolute scarcity or economic incapacity.  Every bushel of grain that goes in a fuel tank not only deprives one person of its nutrition, the constricted supply prices other people out of the market, in part because after the burnt carbon has altered the weather, the same speculators that ruined the economy will make their next fortune on corn.

This is the future being born.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

One Comment

  1. Azur
    Posted 10/21/2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Reinsurance can pay for wetland restoration – cheaper than building levees!

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