Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Food Community

Food is likely to be a key issue out to 2030. Already long term food prices are rising as demand starts to outstrip supply. This could be a mixed blessing for Suffolk. As an agricultural county, Suffolk is well placed to benefit from the rising prices of agricultural produce. However, this benefit may not be shared generally as rising food prices squeeze the living standards of everyone and act as a tax upon consumption in general. This reduction in disposable income has the potential to keep the economy in Suffolk subdued for some time to come.

It is expected that disruptive climate change could start to become evident within the next twenty years. Rainfall could become more extreme, whilst long periods where no rain falls also become manifest. There are those who argue that we are already seeing this changing weather pattern, and warn that it could become even more extreme in the years to come. This may change our ability to produce food within the county. In turn, it could have major implications for the water infrastructure that is needed to irrigate the crops grown.

It is also expected that the impacts of peak oil could start to become evident within the next twenty years. The disruptions caused to the food distribution system caused by peak oil could mean that food is not necessarily delivered to market in a timely manner, and the possible cost of food storage could become an issue by 2030. As much of agriculture is now dependent upon products derived from oil, the possibility of the increased cost of oil is likely to have the effect of increasing the cost base of farming.

How the balance of increased crop prices and increased input costs will play upon the farming community is largely uncertain at the moment. What is more evident is that the price of food paid by consumers is set to increase. This could have all sorts of consequences, but is likely to impact upon patterns of rural crime within the county. Just as the proceeds of crime increase in value, the ability of rural policing efforts to deal with those crime patterns is set to diminish.

This is not a given future though. It is possible to act now to mitigate the more dystopian effects of this future. For example, we could encourage less waste in our consumption of food. Households could be encouraged to grow more of their own food. Communities could develop strategies of resilience to counter food poverty. There is a great deal of scope for social enterprises to act as an alternative distribution method for those in food poverty. The basic infrastructure is currently in place. All we have to do is use it to secure a better future.

© The European Futures Observatory 2012

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Coastal Community

It is expected that disruptive climate change could start to become evident within the next twenty years. The disruptions caused by climate change are likely to manifest themselves through changes to the water cycle. Rainfall could become more extreme, whilst long periods where no rain falls also become manifest. For those communities based on the coast, this could imply threats from both river flooding and from tidal flooding resulting from stormier weather.
It is unlikely that coastal communities will experience an inundation from the sea due to rising sea levels by 2030. In this time, the level of the sea can be expected to rise by 6cm on average, which suggests that stories of parts of the coast becoming islands are something of an exaggeration. The root of this exaggeration lies in our inability to think in climactic timescales. A far more likely case is that the processes of sea erosion and deposition may act to reposition the coastline over this period.
The Suffolk coast ought not to be seen as a homogenous entity. Parts of the coast have a high industrial value, whilst parts of the coast have a high residential value. And yet again, parts of the coast have been scheduled to be abandoned to the sea on the grounds that the cost of sea defence is far higher than the economic value of the land to be protected. Whilst this may be an argument of economic efficiency, it is hardly likely to be seen as a good solution in terms of community equity. It is by no means certain that we have an adequate structure to balance the needs of equity and efficiency at present. This is unlikely to change too much as we go into the future.
It is also the case that, when we view the water cycle throughout Suffolk, a high degree of externality exists within current and future land use patterns. The construction of residential property on river flood plains has led to a much faster throughput of high rainfall onto coastal communities. The investment to protect the downstream communities from high peaks of river flow hasn’t been adequate for the job required, leaving the coastal communities to pay the external costs of development upstream. There is a case for a greater sensitivity to downstream impacts when planning applications are considered by the planning authorities.
The issue of the water cycle and the Suffolk coastal communities is one that is dominated by externalities. It calls into question what economic efficiency means, and leads us to ask where equity fits into that calculation. As we move into the future, we can expect key parts of the infrastructure, which reflect a different weather cycle, to be placed under severe strain. It is by no means evident that sufficient funds will be made available to fill those gaps in infrastructure. This suggests that we can expect the number of disruptive events to occur more regularly as time goes by.
© The European Futures Observatory 2012