If Full Planet, Empty Plates reads less like a cold theoretical analysis and more like an impassioned plea from an activist, it’s because the author’s motives are laid bare: Mr. Brown is dead serious about sustainability and he sees globalization and economic forces as a threat to food security.
For the batter part of the last century, the dominant issues around grain supply were surpluses and overproduction. But as population pressures mounted, climate change was felt, and dangerous economic policies were pursued, the world now faces a future where the opposite holds. Countries are scrambling to secure arable land and to keep up with the food needs of their citizens. Self-interest is shaping markets in ways that portend ill for those on the losing side of these transactions.
Rising food prices and creeping hunger are the result of surging demand and dwindling supplies. Throw in the misuse of arable land, environemntal factors, diversion of food to fuel, not to mention a healthy dose of geopolitics, and the result is potentially calamitous for all involved. Historical lessons are part of this argument. He bookends the collapse of Sumerians and the Mayans, early societies that collapsed due to shortages, with more recent challenges that put the modern world in similar peril. His point is that when hazards are underestimated, ignored, or unanticipated, starvation and chaos follow.
The book offers some potential solutions and given the contentious nature of local politics and international relations, Mr. Brown’s recommendations may come across as simplistic. But with so much at stake, influencers across the world could use them as starting point for implementable fixes.