Far too much about this year is reminding me of 2008. Rising oil prices aren’t the only commodity which is climbing again, and certainly not the only frightening one. Food riots, once again, are rearing their ugly head as the rising price of food is again rising out of reach of the global poor.

Gwynne Dyer’s recent article, The Future of Food Riots, lays this out in a very frightening way. Heat waves have devestated the Russian and Ukranian crops, and floods have crippled nations like Pakistan and Australia. With large-scale water shortages looming in areas like China and America, the global food markets are getting stressed to the limit. As always, the first casualties are of course, the poor,

And just like oil, it’s clear that surging food prices are the result of large-scale speculation. But again, that kind of speculation tends to show up wherever rapidly rising prices become predictable and obvious. It doesn’t address why they’re exploding in the first place. Extreme weather events – caused by global warming or random bad luck – also don’t tell the whole story.

“Conventional farming” simply is not sustainable. Under conventional farming techniques – particularly those championed by the “Green Revolution” (mechanization, chemicals etc), land can only be farmed for a certain amount of time before suffering serious, long-term damage and forcing production to move to “greener pastures”. Chemical, mechanical and genetic farming technologies are enormously expensive, wasteful and often toxic. They kill off the soil’s web of life (fungi, bacteria, bugs etc), drain it of it’s carbon (hummus) content, break up layers (plowing) and encourage pests (with monocultures). This is not farming so much as mining the soil, and it’s driving farmers to bankruptcy in record numbers worldwide. Don’t worry about the unbelievably rich multinational corporations that manufacture those chemicals, though, as it sounds like Cargill is doing just fine.

As we see the same patterns emerging as we did in 2008, we have to be prepared for the fact that the market meltdown we saw might only have been one of the first of many. As the global economy struggles to get back on its feet, we’re seeing all the same enormous market distortions which brought it down last time. Another crash is coming, and it has a lot of potential to get uglier than the last one. Where will the bailout come from this time?

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