"This book is a wake-up call. It deals with the most urgent issue facing humanity in the twenty-first century, perhaps in all of history: the planetary emergency over whether or not we can sustain our food supply through the midcentury peak in human numbers, demand, and needs. It reflects on the likely consequences of our failure to do so."--Julian Cribb, Preface, The Coming Famine
This book brings us a message that we all need to hear: that resource depletions, climate change challenges, and growth in human numbers and appetites pose a dire threat to our food supply. An Australian journalist and Director of National Awareness for Australia's national science agency, Julian Cribb joins a growing chorus of other writers who have looked at food issues from a variety of angles. There are three major differences between this book and most of the other "end of food" books, however.
1) "The Coming Famine" deals systematically with all the major threats to the food supply: water shortages; soil depletions; nutrient loss and waste; fishery collapse; the Green Revolution and private ownership of genetic material; war and mass migrations; peak oil; climate change; uncontrolled human population growth; and unfair trade practices.
2) It focuses attention on the twin demand pressures of population growth and increased human appetites--the twin "elephants in the kitchen."
3) It offers practical suggestions in every chapter that encourage the reader to commit to positive actions. For example, in his chapter on climate change, Cribb suggests rebalancing our diets toward foods with a smaller carbon footprint; reducing consumption of meat, oils, and dairy products; selecting seasonal, locally-grown foods. (Losing hope? Plant a garden.)
Chapter by chapter, Cribb builds the argument that our habits of wasteful, irresponsible, and ignorant consumption have already created the conditions for an inevitable global famine, and that the only way to avert it is to alter our current practices. He bolsters every assertion of fact with a recital of terrifying and nearly irrefutable evidence, fully documented in the notes and delivered in a dispassionate voice that is all the more compelling because it is neither angry nor accusatory.
Cribb doesn't claim to have all the answers, and some of his solutions are contradictory. (For example, it will be hard to develop a second, high-tech "Green Revolution" at the same time that we're running out of fossil fuels and coping with rising sea levels.) But this important book organizes the challenges that face us in a clear and understandable way, provides convincing factual support for the problems he describes, and reminds us (with a note of hope) that humans are a highly adaptive species that can meet the challenges if they can muster enough global will to get the job done.
Cribb's journalist style and his blizzard of facts do not make for pleasant reading, and you may be tempted to put the book down before you've finished it. Don't. It deserves to be read to the end. "Today's food is too cheap to last," Cribb writes, in the book's final section. "To avert the coming famine we all need to start paying its true price--not blindly transferring the cost of what we consume today to our grandchildren tomorrow."
Put The Coming Famine at the top of your reading list. And when you've finished it, go out and tell your friends and colleagues about it. It's that important.