How Many People Will I KILL?

40 million people die each year from malnutrition and its derivatives. In my life span 1/3 of a billion people will starve to death.

Who is responsible for these deaths?
     a) their parents for bringing them into a competitive world
              where their labor will not feed them? Or
     b) the 1 billion consumers in the developed world who
              collectively raised the price of food beyond their means?

If you assign responsibility for these deaths to the market price of food, a family of three in the developed world indirectly (unintentionally) starves to death one person. Each of us, reading this note, is starving to death 1/3 person.

Now consider that a billion people on earth make less than a dollar a day. They are not dying. But they are chronically malnourished. If the cost of food doubled -- a billion people would die.

The cost of food will double, because one billion individuals in the DEVELOPED world continue to fuel their cars, heat their homes, and eat a hamburger for lunch. Each of them (us) will have to take responsibility for 1 additional death in the third world.

We don't have to like this picture. It's just the way it is. Worse, the population of the world is growing. These population increases directly add to the billion existing on less than dollar a day. The UN projects that global population will reach 7 billion in 10 years and 8 billion in 23 years. Then, with three billion people living on less than a dollar a day, a "doubling in the cost of food" could make you personally responsible for killing 3 people.

Some food grains have already doubled in cost 2006-2007. It is important that we understand what could make the cost of grains to double again.

The cost of food grain partly depends on changes in the costs of water, land, seed, fertilization, labor, transport, storage, process, and capital equipment. The cost of these in turn rise and fall depending on their markets.

For example the cost of land depends on land available for cultivation which depends on rainfall, erosion, salinization, and soil nutrients. It depends on the competing uses for land like homes, parking lots, parks, roads and airports, And it depends on the needs for open space and areas for other species.

The cost of energy depends on:
    a) diminishing oil supplies, higher extraction costs, lower quality extracted product, and making transitions to alternative energy sources.
    b) the demands of other energy consumers, which depends on any new consumer's increase in productivity relative to people living at subsistence (think India and China or China.)
    c) inclusion of externalities which previously have been ignored. For example carbon taxes or green credits.
Because half the cost of grain is energy, a tripling of the cost of energy will cause a doubling in the cost of grain. Something that happened between 2003 and 2007.

Finally the cost of grain depends on the alternative uses of grain. For example the use of corn for making ethanol, and the use of corn to feed live stock.

All these market forces are increasing so we should expect increases in both food prices and starvation.

It would appear that if people do not want to give up their wellbeing, if people wish to improve their wellbeing, then the same biological system that governs all life forms, will respond by starving to death its weakest (in our world least productive) members.

When our largest cities are surrounded by these poor starving wretches, we should expect enough social conflict to make the city unsafe. When starvation spreads to 10 or 20% of a nation's population living in the that nation will become unsafe. The governments of these stressed nations will make their region unsafe. And finally a nation dependent on the flow of supporting resources from other nations will make the resource rich nations unsafe. These national conflicts at a global level will end human civilization.

There is a solution. Rapid population decline will prevent people from starving to death. It will accomplish this by raising the value of labor above subsistence. If rapid population decline is applied vigorously enough it can continuously raise the wellbeing of even the world's poorest members far above subsistence.

The alternative to rapid population decline is, you personally have to (maybe indirectly and unintentionally) kill a lot of people
                                                                   -------- or be killed.


-- end notes ----------------------------------------------------

China's coal use doubles Austrailian coal price

China has been traditionally a big corn exporter: China exported about 15 million tonnes into about a 75-million-tonne corn market, and now ( that they are eating more meat) they’re going to stop exporting altogether (and will become a corn importer).

All of the above dynamics are playing out in Kenya 1/30/08(text only)
   or       WSJ (with full pictures)


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