While We Weren’t Watching…

The global pandemic has not yet run its course and, if the several dangerous mutations now in circulation are any indication, the world may live with Covid for some time longer – perhaps much longer. But while we have all been paying attention to Covid, the world’s natural systems have continued their accelerating decline, to the point where it seems Covid will have strong competition for the attention of our global human society in relatively short order.

Let’s start with sea levels. That they are rising is not in doubt. The denial industry has a hard time convincing people to ignore something so readily apparent as tidal flooding. The concern with sea-level rise is not so much that the ocean-front dwelling rich of the world will lose assets. It is more about damage to already decaying road and water infrastructure, irreversable damage to low-lying agricultural areas, and infiltration of salt water into municipal water systems. In the end, even a modest sea level rise will do trillions in damage and displace millions of people around the earth, and that modest rise is already baked in to the system – it is seemingly inevtiable. And, of course, all the news in regard to sea-level rise continues to be bad so who knows what the full extent of the rise will be? It is striking to me that there has not been one report that I have seen – not one – in the past decade where the authors joyfully reported that sea level rise wasn’t going to be as bad as feared. Every report I have seen – every one – has declared that the problem is actually worse, and moving faster, than previous reports estimated. I won’t link to a specific study here, but all you have to do is go to Google News and search “sea levels rising”. Whenever you choose to do it – whether it is today or six months from now – it is extremely likely that you will find, within the prior week or so, a study confirming that sea levels are rising faster than previously thought. That kind of trend – constant increases in expectation – is more exponential than linear, and it will give you an idea of where we are headed with just this single impact: seawalls around cities, roads being raised, beach houses being moved back from the sea, aquifers and community water systems ruined, low-lying crop lands ruined, etc., etc. Multiply that to a global impact and the net result is massive, with knock-on effects throughout human society as people are forced to migrate and food production is decreased.

We can next look at climate impacts – steadily increasing global temps that alter climate patterns and bring forest fires, desertification, and fresh-water shortages as a result of changing rainfall patterns and persistent drought. All of these have happened over the last two years or are happening now in significant portions of the globe. But while these impacts put significant and steadily increasing pressure on human society, they do not move human relations to the point described in Matthew 24. To recap: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (verses 7&8).

So what we have been warned about is the convergence of conflict, severe food shortages, pandemics and raging diseases (probably in both man and beast) and waves of earthquakes. While we have not, mercifully, experienced the earthquakes yet, our understanding of human society has increased to the point that we understand that impacts n our natural systems decrease food production and increase food prices. We also understand that when those food prices increases are sharp and sustained, that conflict results – people either blame other people or their government for their problems, and become increasingly willing to resort to violence to change the situation. In that context, are we seeing food prices spike? The answer is yes. The spikes are yet small compared to the last price spike (2008 through 2016) but we’re still seeing what may be the beginning of a food price spike, with all the shock to human society that will follow. The vulnerable around the world (there are 2 billion who live on $2 a day or less) are already beginning to clamor for government intervention on food prices.  You can take a look at a Bloomberg report on the issue here and can look at the latest surge in the UNFAO food price chart here.

If we are indeed seeing another food price spike in our increasingly unstable global food production system, then hold on, because there are conflicts, wars, pestilences – and probably earthquakes – coming on its heels.

–Scott Christiansen