Saturday, March 24, 2012

NECSI Update

The New England Complex Systems Institute and their President, Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam who's study I quoted when writing about debt and food prices, have issued an update to the landmark study done on the relationship between corn ethanol production, food commodity speculation and food prices. And Professor Bar-Yam is pretty convinced we're not done with the madness yet.
The Institute's web site hosts three very interesting short videos (regretfully, not embeddable) about the relationship of corn ethanol production, food commodity speculation, and food prices. The first shows how food prices between 1980 and 2000 fluctuated moderately around a consistent value, where prices neither spiked nor collapsed. Then food prices begin a dramatic upward climb peaking in 2008 and 2011. These two spikes are rather dramatic, and Professor Bar-Yam draws a direct link between the price spikes and social unrest. This is shown in the second video which links social unrest (like the Arab Spring) with food prices between 2004 and 2011.
The third video graphs actual food prices with increases in demand from ethanol production and speculation. To quote the update:
Our analysis shows that dominant causes of price increases are investor speculation and corn to ethanol conversion. Models that just treat supply and demand are not consistent with the actual price dynamics. The two sharp peaks in 2007/2008 and 2010/2011 are specifically due to investor speculation, while an underlying upward trend is due to increasing demand from ethanol conversion.
 Models that just treat supply and demand are not consistent with the actual price dynamics. I thought that bore repeating with emphasis. There is a consistent firm upward pressure on food prices from the increased demand from ethanol conversion programs, but the big driver of food prices is "specifically due to investor speculation."
"The food price bubble of 2011 caused widespread hunger and helped trigger the Arab spring. In 2013 we expect prices to be even higher and may lead to major social disruptions." said Professor Bar-Yam President of NECSI, who has just returned from Davos where he presented his findings on speculation in global commodity markets. His paper "The Food Crises: A Quantitative Model of Food Prices Including Speculators and Ethanol Conversion" was called by Wired magazine one of the top 10 discoveries in science of 2011.
In 2008 and 2011 increases in global food prices triggered hunger, food riots and social unrest in North Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere, at a cost to global stability which policy makers can no longer ignore. Over the past decade, world unrest has sharply increased at time of peak food prices; now the long-term price trend is getting close to what used to be episodic peaks.
According to the new study, the next food price peak will take place in about a year. The results will be dramatically higher prices than we have encountered thus far. The study warns that should ethanol production continue to grow according to multiyear trends, even the underlying trend will reach social-crisis levels in just one year.
from the update
So get a garden in, build a chicken coop in you backyard, and plan to do a lot less of everything, because you're going to need your $$ for food. Our refusal to find a way to put the brakes on global capitalism means that we're in for a rough few years. A lot more people are going to fall from "working poor" into "destitute poor" and none of it needs to happen. I don't want to go off on a rant here, but really people:

 Is it really going to have to take a revolution to get the comfortable to pay attention?

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