Hotter Planet Doesn't Have to Be Hungry

I'm live at Bloomberg. The usual bailiwick about weather, crop yields and food prices.

My suggested title was: "On the Precipice of a Warming World: Will We Feed Everyone?"

It's interesting how a title can change the tone from one that leans dismal to one that seems optimistic.


I basically gave three policy suggestions in my Bloomberg piece.  What else might I suggest?  Well, I find myself in the blurry area of my career that lies between focusing on positive "what is" kinds of questions and normative "what should we do" kinds of questions.  I'm still much more comfortable entertaining questions of the "what is" variety, so policy ideas come slowly.

With that caveat in mind, here are four (or three and one-half) policy ideas that I didn't mention in the Bloomberg piece.

1) End ethanol subsidies and mandates.  There has been some talk of ending the subsidy, but I think that would be meaningless from a food price perspective unless the mandates were also ended.  I'm not at all confident about the political feasibility of such a plan.

2) If ethanol subsidies/mandates cannot be ended completely, perhaps Congress could make mandates and subsidies contingent on price.  The idea is to have a safety valve of sorts, so that if prices hit some announced threshold the mandate and subsidies would be curtailed.

3) Develop international agreements that would ensure reasonably low food prices for the world's poorest in exchange for keeping trade open.  The idea here would be to reduce the likelihood of export bans and reduce inventories held in speculation of possible future export bans.

4) Similar to point 2, we could make the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contingent on price.  The CRP, which I've written about before, basically pays farmers not to plant crops and establish natural wildlife habitat, buffer strips, etc.  We have about 30 million acres in the program right now--nearly the size of North Carolina.  CRP contracts could be written with an escape clause that allows farmers to exit the contracts early if prices get high enough.  This would probably make CRP cheaper in the first place, since farmers would be more willing to enroll, and would help to relieve prices when they get too high.


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