Tomorrow, fresh off the success of Earth Hour, is Earth Day. Earth Hour was about saving energy, so let us pause on Earth Day to reflect on why this is important.

Of course we have a moral obligation not to cause the extinction of plants and animals that share this planet with us. But humans are also species of the Earth and we, too, will be harmed by environmental degradation.

A connection between environmental issues and social issues can be seen in the food shortages that have been inciting riots in Haiti, and anxiety elsewhere in the world. These shortages have been causing food prices to rise and in some of the poorer countries these price increases mean the difference between full and empty stomachs. Since 2000, the price of wheat, butter and milk has tripled and the price of rice, maize and poultry has doubled.

There are several reasons for these shortages and corresponding price increases. First, global warming. Global warming has contributed to droughts in Australia, India and Argentina and here in Canada, which have significantly impacted the global supply of wheat. Flooding and unseasonal frosts in the U.S. have further harmed wheat crops. Rains and flooding in southern Africa have also destroyed crops and arable land. The winter rice crop for this year in Bangladesh was all but destroyed by a cyclone that hit that country, and similar weather anomalies have impacted Chinese and Indian rice crops.

Other reasons for food shortages include subsidies given, notably by the U.S. government, to biofuel production, meaning that land formerly used to grow food is now being used to grow fuel. Also, growing prosperity in China means that millions of Chinese are able to move up the food chain and eat meat instead of plants. One kilogram of meat takes more land, water and energy to produce than one kilogram of plant-derived food.

The irony of these issues, and this is where environmentalism meets social justice, is that the effects of food shortages will be felt disproportionately by those who had nothing to do with the causes. We, who admittedly use fossil fuels and contribute to both global warming and the demand for fuels that is propelling interest in biofuels, and who have set the meat-eating, resource-intensive standard that the Chinese are now following, have seen our grocery bill increase.

But we can offset this by choosing less expensive foods or cutting back on discretionary spending, or we can simply absorb the extra cost. Our three squares a day are not really in danger. But for those who already live on the margins, who can’t afford much in the way of fossil fuels and don’t own cars, and therefore contribute little to global warming and don’t drive the demand for biofuels or meat, they are the ones who risk going hungry because of these rising food costs.

If you are already buying the cheapest food available and have no discretionary spending, then there are no corners to cut and no fat to trim.

So on Earth Day let us think about the human face of environmentalism.

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