Saturday, June 4, 2011


"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must...undergo the fatigue of supporting it." - Thomas Paine

A family friend is loaning me a book entitled Enough: Why The World's Poorest Starve In An Age Of Plenty written by two Wall Street Journal(ists). When she gave me the book, said friend told me I would probably have to read it in stages, because it's just that depressing up until a bit more than halfway through when they start talking about current initiatives.

I haven't even made it to page one yet (there's a preface), and I'm already angry at the world. 

In the 70s and 80s, the Green Revolution did a lot of good for hunger in Asia, India, and Latin America. Things looked good in Ethiopia, too. Farmers brought in their biggest harvests in a long time. However, that didn't go so well for them when they took the crops to market; the huge surpluses caused an enormous drop in prices, so they didn't make much (if any) money. It might have been possible to pull themselves out of it next year, but the weather was horrible.

There's a specific man whose story is told in the preface. He sold his oxen (which pulled his plow), and then his cows, and then his goats, all to be able to buy food for his family. They ran out, and didn't have any crops to sell. That year, the man carried his five year-old son, who weighed only 25 pounds, to a humanitarian/starvation aid camp instead of carting his crops to the market. Basically, the problem was that money went into boosting the farmers, rather than into building an infrastructure that could sustain more prosperity. 14 million Ethiopians alone died from starvation in 2003.

And then there's some stupid rule that says if some of the African governments subsidize their farmers like we do in America, the U.S. and some European governments will stop loaning them money. And humanitarian aid has become an entire industry over here, so it becomes more about the people giving the money than the people getting the money. $500 million in American-grown grain was given to Ethiopians who needed it in 2003, but only $5 million went towards building aforementioned needed infrastructure.

There really is enough money in the world to feed everybody. I'm not exactly sure where all of that money is going (again, I've only read the preface so far), but I highly doubt all of it is needed wherever it currently is.

It's ridiculously inefficient to feed food (cows, for instance, eat insane amounts of corn), so even just cutting back on meat in general would free up a ton of resources, both food-wise and land-wise.

Yes, loads of projects are worthy endeavors, but...isn't starvation a more important thing to focus on? One of the "lesser" initiatives mentioned in the book is the space program. And as much as I really hate to admit isn't going anywhere (well, technically space itself is expanding-- not just the matter within it). We literally have the rest of the lifetime of the human race in which to explore it.

So now I'm mad. Partially because it seems like a fixable problem, partially because I don't know how easy that would actually be, partially because people (including me) are rather ignorant about the matter, and partially because I have very little idea as to how to help at this point. 

Off to FreeRice, then.


  1. Actually, I think Space becomes increasingly important as you battle starvation. Think about it. The less people are starving, the fewer die. The fewer die, the more live. The more live, the less space is here on Earth for them to live on. Eventually, we're going to have to make a choice: either stop trying to feed so many mouths or look to the stars for new real estate. Neither is an easy option to pursue: Letting these people die is wrong on an ethical and moral level, but space colonies will not be practical for decades at the earliest. There are tough waters ahead, and we may have to make some hard decisions if we want to survive as a species.

  2. That's true. If a few years of diverted funds can do huge wonders for hunger, though, we'll have that much _extra_ money in the following years, which can then be devoted towards exploration/colonies/technology with which to explore/colonize. And there'll be less opposition, since people won't be going "You want to send people to Mars when there's CHILDREN STARVING IN AFRICA? YOU MONSTERS! SPACE IS STUPID!" (Because there ARE people who think like that.)

  3. It's terrible because both space colonization and hunger could have been solved in the 70's; there were workable plans for large stations in space. We could easily do it now and block the worst of the radiation with polyethelene Similarly there are workable ways to make sure people have enough to eat, but flawed institutions often prevent the really helpful changes or at least slow them down.
    Your point about meat is applicable in very poor agricultural countries or very rich countries that indiscriminately use land, but on a global level there are places where you can't grow crops or at least you can't grow crops efficiently but animals are raised quite easily (argentina or new zealand for example.) Though I agree we'd be better off eating jellyfish and goats (goats won't really "eat anything" but they're much more efficient than cows.)

    I never did free rice, because I thought that it was something people do to make themselves better and so they might not actually do something big when given the opportunity. oddly enough I feel better for having done it, even though I know that it can't make an appreciable difference. Ahh, the wonderful irrationality of humanity...

  4. My dad says that once we beat the Russians to the moon, the government stopped really caring about space.

    I used Free Rice to study Chemistry back when I had to learn a bunch of elements...haha. I don't use it much, though, because I agree with you about it.


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