Food Shortages

By James M. Rochford

Regarding the end of human history, John writes,

When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’” (Rev. 6:5-6 NIV)

Imagine paying a full day’s wage for only two pounds of wheat! This no doubt means that food will be scarce during this time, if prices are inflated to this extent.[1] Other passages of Scripture predict the plight of “famine” at the end of human history (Lk. 21:11; Rev. 6:8). Of course, food shortages are part and parcel with the problem of overpopulation, and this is a major global concern in our modern time. Richard Heinberg writes,

Demand for food is slowly outstripping supply. Food producers’ ability to meet growing needs is increasingly being strained by rising human populations, falling freshwater supplies, the rise of biofuels industries, expanding markets within industrializing nations for more resource-intensive meat and fish-based diets; dwindling fisheries; and climate instability. The result will almost inevitably be a worldwide food crisis sometime in the next two or three decades.[2]

Meadows and Randers write,

A great agricultural achievement, a tremendous increase in food production, has been largely absorbed not in feeding people more adequately but in feeding more people inadequately… The increase in food production has been attained by policies that damaged soils, waters, forests, and ecosystems, a cost that will make future production increases more difficult.[3]

Economist David Korten writes,

Even at present population levels, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each night. Yet the soils on which we depend for food are being depleted faster than nature can regenerate them, and one by one the world’s once most productive fisheries are collapsing from overuse. Global economic output expanded from $3.8 trillion in 1950 to $18.9 trillion in 1992 (constant 87 dollars). This means that, on average, we have added more to total global output in each of the past four decades than was added from the moment the first cave dweller carved out a stone axe up to the middle of the present century.[4]

The bottom line for our species is that because of population growth and the fivefold economic expansion since 1950, the environmental demands of our economic system now fill the available environmental space of the planet… Rees estimates that the population of the Netherlands, for example, consumes the output equivalent of fourteen times as much productive land as is contained within its own borders… They argue for a population of 1 to 2 billion, which by their calculations would allow a level of consumption roughly equivalent to the current per capita standard for Europe… It is a physical impossibility, even with the most optimistic assumptions about the potential of new technologies, for the world to consume at levels even approximating those in North America, Europe, and Japan.[5]

In addition to food shortages, others note the shortage of freshwater supplies. Heinberg writes,

There is now widespread concern among experts and responsible agencies that freshwater supplies around the world are being critically overused and degraded, so that water scarcity will increase dramatically as the century wears on. Rivers and streams are being overdrawn, aquifers are being depleted, both surface water and groundwater are being polluted, and sources of flowing surface water—snowpack and glaciers—are receding as a result of climate change.[6]

Sir John Beddington (the chief science adviser to the U.K. government) told a symposium of scientists in 2011:

By 2030 we are going to need 50% more food, 40% more available fresh water, and something on the order of 50% more low-carbon energy… We need a radical redesign of global food systems.

Go back to article: “Predictions of the End of Human History”

[1] Most commentators would agree with this interpretation of John’s vision. Osborne writes, “A ‘denarius’ was the average days’ wage for a laborer. A quart of wheat was enough food for one person for a day, and three quarts of barley were barely enough for a small family (there were few small families except among the wealthy in the ancient world). Therefore a man’s entire earnings were barely enough to feed himself, let alone his family, and all the other costs like home or incidentals could not be met. These were famine prices, about ten to twelve times the going rate according to ancient records (Mounce 1998: 144 cites Cicero, Verr. 3.81).” Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 280.

[2] Heinberg, Richard. The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society, 2011. 136-137.

[3] Meadows, Donella, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2004. 46.

[4] Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian, 1995. 21.

[5] Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian, 1995. 28; 33; 35.

[6] Heinberg, Richard. The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society, 2011. 125.