Fresh Water, Food and Energy in a Market-Integrated, War-Torn World

QR-Code-Water-Food-Energ-ntThe war in Ukraine is having global consequences. No precise predictions can be made about its outcome or its impact, but the forces that have been unleashed are not encouraging for those concerned about threatened fresh water supplies, the evolution of the global food system and the world’s precarious energy transition away from its dangerous dependence upon climate-altering fossilized carbon.

Consider, for example, the immediate “multiplier” impact that the lack of a continuous supply of fresh water could have very quickly upon besieged strategic targets in the midst of warfare.  As we are beginning to learn when pumps fail that keep fresh water flowing to cool spent nuclear waste, the entire world can be affected very quickly.

Beyond this immediate crisis, because of the global market in energy and the heightened role that fossil fuels play in international relations there are larger and longer-term problems that have been unleashed around the world as a consequence of the Ukrainian war.  Consider, for example, the impact of rapid alteration in the flow of fossil fuels on a global scale and the the consequent influence this will likely have upon the use of fracking to obtain further carbon fuels from geological formations near ground-water supplies.  The BBC reports that decisions about the future of fracking in the U.K. may well be altered by the changing availability and price of fossil fuels previously obtained from Russia.  The calculus about the future of fracking in the United States and elsewhere in the world is likely to change as well if the recent changes in the flow of fossil fuels from Russia become prolonged or permanent.

The Ukrainian War and the Revival of Global Fracking: Marketplace Radio – 10 March 2022

In addition, the war-torn regions of the Ukraine figure very importantly in the international production and marketing of grain and other food-stuffs. This is amplified by the strategic power of Russia in the total production and global distribution of grain and agricultural produce. Alterations either in production or in the flow of these commodities will have a measurable impact on the price of food around the world, affecting most severely those food importing countries that have become dependent upon reliable and inexpensive food imports. As in the “food-crisis” that occurred in 2008 when Russia decided to withhold grain exports, it was the world’s poorest populations who most immediately suffered from the market disruptions that Russia’s changed strategy provoked on a global scale. Consider, for example, the current anxiety about this foreseeable circumstance on the part of the World Food Program (WFP).

The Ukrainian War and its Potential Impact on the Global Food System: Marketplace Report – 10 March 2022

Noted economists — including, among others, Jeffrey Sachs — have already emphasized the inequities that continue to underlie the global food system.

These inequalities are likely to be accentuated on a global scale as refugee populations increase around the world and these inequities, in turn, drive further patterns of displacement, conflict and open warfare among food-stressed populations across the globe.  Populations from the drought-stressed Sahel regions of West Africa have been migrating for some time toward more southern regions.  Others individuals, driven by the changing climate, food scarcity or civil strife that has marked the Sahel region have been motivated to engage in increasingly desperate attempts to enter Europe with the assistance of those organizing human trafficking in across the Mediterranean.  The individual dangers of this trans-Saharan flow of migrants have already been highlighted by the United Nations.  Increasing food insecurity and civil strife in these sub-Saharan regions may well contribute to an expansion of this migration.

Meanwhile, at the same time, throughout the world, social scientists have noted that human populations have been moving on every continent towards the continental margins — that is to say, the coastlines, while (as it happens) these coastlines are themselves being radically altered by an escalating global rise of sea-level.  This is not a recipe for global stability.

In short, these large-scale trends in the availability of fresh water, food and energy do not bode well in a market-integrated, war-torn world whose human population continues to grow exponentially.

Those who are seeking to plan for sustainable water, food and energy systems need to focus on the hyper-coherent nature of these inter-related “sectors.”  Simply allowing the “private sector” to resolve these dilemmas through the accustomed operation of market mechanisms may not be prudent because globally integrated and unregulated markets in these essential goods of food, water and energy have the potential to exacerbate and accelerate syndromes of rapid system-wide collapse both in particular regions and within the global ecosystem as a whole.

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