The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
What Everyone Should Know about the Link between Our Food and Fuel Supplies
Food is fuel. It powers us through our daily routines, from breakfast to bedtime. Food is a given easily taken for granted, day in, day out, that gives us no great cause for concern. But it should.
The consumption of food and traditional fossil fuels are inextricably linked. Their production is nearing capacity, and shortages in both are a very real near term possibility. Rising prices at the pump become increased costs (or decreased portions) at the grocery, and the combination effectively shrinks already stretched paychecks for millions of Americans. Without a concerted effort to develop both component and systemic solutions to agricultural and energy shortcomings, we will be faced with a global crisis.
As daunting as the outlook is, there is hope on the horizon. Our goal is to bring together like-minded groups to foster awareness through open dialog and educational outreach, and act as a catalyst for the development and funding of real solutions to the impending food/fuel crisis.
Only by thinking and working together can we cultivate the change that fuels our future as a Sustainable America.
The Food/Fuel Crisis Is Real. And It's Closer Than You Think.
Our global oil system is operating near full capacity. And that can’t last—for our wallets or our stomachs.
As many Americans feel the financial squeeze when they go to the gas pump or to a lesser extent, the grocery store, there is not always a good understanding of the larger forces at work. Supply and demand imbalances exist for the two consumer staples most vital to sustaining daily American life: food and oil. Both industries are currently operating near capacity and forecasts indicate that this situation will only get worse due to increased demand on a relatively fixed supply.
A Voracious Appetite
20,000,000 Barrels of Oil Consumed In The USA-Every Day
Though the food and fuel markets have always been somewhat connected because oil is an input into the agricultural process, this connection has grown as we have begun to turn food into ethanol to supplement our oil supply. The growing imbalances and this connection have several consequences. At best, we can expect higher prices which in turn affect the economically vulnerable the most because they spend the highest share of their income on food and fuel. At worst it could lead to physical shortages, as both markets are volatile; oil because of political upheaval and food due to sensitivity to global weather patterns and drought. The link between these two markets also means that any change in one will alter the other so prices will rise (or fall) in unison.
More Than Our Fair Share?
The U.S. accounts for 24 percent of global consumption, while having only 5 percent of the world's people
GLOBAL CALORIC DEMAND EXPECTED TO GROW BY 50 PERCENT BY 2050
The food market (which includes commodity markets for grains, sugar, dairy, proteins and other key nutritional inputs) is a global market today, similar to the market for oil. Global demand for calories is expected to grow by almost 50 percent over the next 40 years, due to population growth and increases in per-capita consumption.
STOCKPILE-TO-USAGE RATIOS AT LOWEST LEVELS IN 30 YEARS
The challenge of meeting accelerating food demands is a chief concern as a broad range of factors tightens supply and creates an unsustainable relationship between food usage and production. World grain usage has exceeded production in recent years, with a capacity utilization of more than 100 percent, driving stockpile-to-usage ratios of corn and wheat to their lowest global levels in 30 years.
FOOD STAPLE PRICES UP BY 200—300 PERCENT SINCE 2000
The increased cost of essential staple items has a direct impact on the purchasing power of a paycheck. Tight capacity utilization, along with rising demand, have contributed to many main food commodities like sugar, cereals and dairy doubling or tripling in price over the last 10 years.
A connection we can afford to break—Before it breaks us.
This interconnectedness has broad, negative consequences, especially for low-income populations. Tight global supply and disruptions in either market will continue to drive up food and fuel prices. Food, and in many cases, fuel, are non-negotiable expenditures. Price increases on these staple items strain already-tight budgets with little if any leeway because these items make up a much greater proportion of their total income. In 2010, the lowest quintile of earners spent a combined 43 percent of total income on food and gasoline, whereas the top quintile of earners spent only 9 percent on these items.
A Big Bite
The Lowest 20 percent of Earners Spend a Combined 43 percent of Total Income on Food and Gasoline
Beyond affecting the most disadvantaged economically, these price shocks hamper economic growth as a whole. Each of the last six recessions in the U.S going back to 1972 have been preceded by an oil price spike that increased the percentage of consumer spending that was devoted to energy. The unsustainable use of resources responsible for these shocks has significant national security implications and environmental costs as well.
The worst possible outcome is that this tight balance of food and fuel could move beyond higher prices and weakened budgets to something with which U.S. society is currently unfamiliar: actual physical shortages. This would be a massive detriment to social well-being and economic productivity, but when armed with this realization we can view the possibility as a call to action. We must work together, in measures small and large, to break the connection between food and fuel.
Together We Can Shape the Future. Short term goals for long term gains.
The big picture of the Food/Fuel Crisis can seem overwhelming, but with small steps we can foster great change. The challenges we face today will be overcome through increased awareness of the problem and encouraged innovation toward new solutions. Fortunately, the U.S. has the resources, both societally and technologically, to lead the world in developing ideas and infrastructure for sustainable systems. Sustainable America aims to reduce U.S. oil consumption while increasing U.S. food production.
Simple starter ideas for sustainable societal change.
Food For Thought
- Reduce food waste at all levels
- Grow and eat more locally sourced food
- Foster more Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives
- Make more sustainable use of food resources and diversify supplies
Fuel for Change
- Develop and use oil substitutes like Solar Electricity (EV), Natural Gas (NGV), and advanced biofuels
- Encourage shorter commutes or increased rideshare and public transportation use
- Diversify fuel supplies and reduce consumption
- Launch a comprehensive public education campaign on precarious state of food and fuel systems
- Communicate these possible solutions and motivate positive behavior changes for sustainable lifestyles
- Foster new entrepreneurs and investors in sustainable food and energy innovations
- Build human and financial capital in these new fields
- Create jobs through new industries
Get Connected. Connect with Others. Community Building Through Communication.
The first step toward a Sustainable America is an open discourse and common language. Stay up to date and in touch with Sustainable America through our newsletter. Tailor the information you’d like to receive based on the Components of Change most important to you.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective measures we can take in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, millions of Americans in some of the most vulnerable communities face the prospect of having their water shut off during the lockdowns, according to The Guardian.
Aerial photos of the Sierra Nevada — the long mountain range stretching down the spine of California — showed rust-colored swathes following the state's record-breaking five-year drought that ended in 2016. The 100 million dead trees were one of the most visible examples of the ecological toll the drought had wrought.
Now, a few years later, we're starting to learn about how smaller, less noticeable species were affected.
Natthawat / Moment / Getty Images
Disinfectants and cleaners claiming to sanitize against the novel coronavirus have started to flood the market, raising concerns for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which threatened legal recourse against retailers selling unregistered products, according to The New York Times.
The global coronavirus pandemic has thrown our daily routine into disarray. Billions are housebound, social contact is off-limits and an invisible virus makes up look at the outside world with suspicion. No surprise, then, that sustainability and the climate movement aren't exactly a priority for many these days.
By Molly Matthews Multedo
Livestock farming contributes to global warming, so eating less meat can be better for the climate.