As Americans, it is easy to take for granted the relatively easy access to food — sometimes too much food -- and water.
It is only when tragedy strikes, as it has in Japan, that the finite nature of those basic necessities are put into perspective. Day by day the situation on the ground in Japan deteriorates for reasons due to the unstable nuclear reactors, as well as the fact that millions of survivors have gone without food and water since the deadly earthquake and tsunami hit last Friday.
In the midst of Japan's disaster, it cannot be forgotten that unrest across Northern Africa and the Middle East -- largely sparked by the limited access to affordable food -- still rages on.
With food prices at an all-time high and crude oil above $100 a barrel, Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute says, "We are hitting, right now, some serious limits in food supply and energy prices….[which] will divide the world even more widely between the haves and have-nots."
Sachs, who has championed the idea of peak resource for years, says rampant global population growth is not helping matters and will only "intensify [the] struggle and competition over scarce resources" in years to come.
This year the world's population is set to hit 7 billion people, and if something is not done to slow birth rates, that number could double by 2100.
U.S. national security actually depends on helping poorer countries stabilize population and food scarcity, Sachs tells Aaron in the accompany clip. He points to Egypt where the population along the Nile doubled from about 40 million to more than 80 million in the last thirty years that Hosni Mubarak held power. More than half of those people lived in abject poverty and struggled to get by on unthinkable wages.
We all know how that ended. ( See: After Mubarak: "Virtually Zero" Chance Egypt Becomes Islamist State, Ian Bremmer Says.)
And, now all eyes are on Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and especially Libya where the U.S. is becoming more involved.
The Way Forward
There are solutions for food and energy scarcity and population growth, says Sachs, if only the U.S. would take the lead on the issues. But, before that can happen, he says Congress needs to change its stance on two key issues:
#1 Family Planning
In today's day and age, Congress has to get serious about population stabilization, he says. We have a "crazy congress, which cuts any funding for family planning."
#2 Campaign Contributions
On energy, the U.S. needs to take the lead from China and look towards alternative sources and renewable energy. But that is unlikely to happen if politicians remain beholden to huge special interest groups like "big oil and big coal" that "stop any progress" on an organized energy policy, he says.
On food, the U.S. has got it all wrong. "We are putting roughly 40 percent of our corn production into the gas tank," says Sachs. "Ethanol is purely a corrupt game…. If Iowa weren't the first caucus state in the country, we'd never have such a dumb policy. It is not good for the environment … it is very expensive….it is not carbon efficient."
How worried are you about "peak resource" and global population growth?