Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The centre's answer to food inflation? Eat less!

Bhonk, Bhonk! Living large in GK II
Life is like a room full of mirrors; if you're not careful,  you can end up seeing things backwards!

A year or so ago, a pair of scientists from New Zealand claimed that having a pet dog is actually worse for the environment than having an SUV. Apparently, it's not a joke--dogs are carnivores and eat a lot of meat. Meat takes a lot of land to raise, which means forests are cut, which means more greenhouse gases in the air--and less land for vegetarian food crops. The fall in food supplies that results means higher prices, as any first year student of economics knows. I'm not saying, as plasticgraduate did, that we should eat our pets. But maybe we should think twice before getting new ones.

Or maybe we could solve the food inflation problem by asking poor people to eat less food.

Before you think I've gone off the deep end, consider that the centre is blaming food inflation on increased consumption by poor people. That's a strange way of framing the problem, but it does leave rich people and their pets--both here and abroad--off the hook. Which is probably why George W. Bush said something similar back in 2008

On a strangely similar note, US president Obama recently blamed high oil prices on increased consumption in India and China, which may be half true, but obviously ignores who's historically consumed--and who continues to consume--most of the world's oil.

Arguing that poor people or poor countries are responsible for tight supply when they begin to consume more food or oil is a little like looking at the world through a mirror; it makes sense when you are combing your hair, but it can lead to problems when you are attempting tasks that require higher order thinking--like reading the newspaper or pondering the world's many problems.  And we'll never be able to lower food inflation--or solve the oil supply problem--by blaming poor people.

When it comes right down to it, this all reminds us of something we'd do well not to forget: sometimes our perspective really does matter; sometimes we can come to conclusions that seem perfectly reasonable--demonstrably true, even-- by looking at a problem from exactly the wrong point of view. It's time we stop putting up with this kind of backward logic, and look at the problems facing us straight on.


  1. The Dog/SUV comparison arises because one confuses means and ends. We want to make the earth a better place to live in. We don't do that by getting those who live in it!

    From a strict point of view it's far more ecologically nasty to have babies :). It might be most environmentally friendly for me to eat my mother!

    Here's the difference between dog and an SUV. A dog is an natural inhabitant of planet earth and has a right to exist on it. SUVs do not. It's that simple.

  2. Bhagwad, Yours is an argument based on sound principals, which I like. I would just add this: both people and dogs are natural inhabitants of the earth. But the people--and their pets--who fully participate in the modern industrial economy are much less ecologically friendly than street dogs or poor people. Yet when we complain about "population"--both of dogs and people--it is almost always the lowest consumers we target--the street dogs, the poor people in the poor countries. Yes, over-population is a problem, along with overconsumption. But when we look at those problems, we've got to include in our view the fact that some communities of dogs and humans are consuming way more than their share, no?

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