Global food prices:

Andrew Hewett, executive director, Oxfam Australia, writes: Re. “Food prices soaring thanks to global warming” (yesterday, item 10). Simon Copland is right to sound the alarm on increased food price volatility and its grave impact upon poor people in developing countries.

The World Bank has just recorded a 10% rise in global food prices following the US drought. On Wednesday September 5, three major UN agencies called for swift, co-ordinated action to ensure the current situation in world food markets does not hurt tens of millions over the coming months. And Oxfam released a first-of-a-kind study into how future drought and other extreme weather events may impact food prices over the coming decades.

The report, titled Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices, shows, among other things, how the world is increasingly dependent on US exports of corn and wheat, just as climate change increases the probability of crippling droughts in the US mid-west. A drought in 2030 in the US of similar severity to the one in 1988 could see world market prices for corn jump by 140% and wheat 33%.

Price shocks of this magnitude impact even the most advanced economies. But for developing countries, where many people spend up to 75% of their income on food, it becomes a matter of life and death.

Governments must act now to slash rising greenhouse gas emissions and reverse decades of under-investment in small-scale agriculture in poor countries. The Australian government should sign on to the second phase of the Kyoto protocol, as a major stepping stone towards a global agreement to reduce emissions.

The national security debate:

John Richardson writes: Re. “National security hysteria, the fastest-growing crime in Aust” (yesterday, item 1). While Bernard Keane is quite right to question the efficacy of the competing claims being made to shape the national security debate, including the latest vacuous contribution from the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, the sad truth is that the greatest, fastest-growing crime of  all didn’t even rate of mention in his piece.

Notwithstanding the plethora of existential threats that our political leaders claim to be defending us against, the latest report from the British group YouGov has found that the most significant threat to our democratic system is the collapse in public trust, occasioned by the collective criminal behaviour of our politicians; in particular their chronic propensity to lie, deceive, cheat, obfuscate and double-deal.

Ironically, by letting our leaders think that their conviction that being smart is better than being good and that the only real concern that anyone should have about committing a crime is to ensure that they don’t get caught, we will all have become accomplices, as well as victims.

The economy:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “A precarious global outlook, says new S&P chief” (yesterday, item 18). Stephen Koukoulas and “terrific operator” Paul Sheard need to lift their sights a bit. The economy is, after all, a subset of the environment; it’s not independent of it.

Can I suggest you seek alternative perspectives on China that take into account a few factors that are among this pair’s glaring blind spots. Perhaps you could ask a soil microbiologist to report on Chinese agriculture and soil erosion. Or an expert to report on the effects of pollution on human and other life in China. Or an informed observer to speculate on social pressures like the migration to the cities, glaring inequality, the masses of local (and under-reported) protests against corruption, land speculation, ethnic suppression and pollution. Or an epidemiologist to write about the sharp increase in lifestyle diseases and dementia in China. Or even another economist who is aware that China’s low-wage advantage is diminishing. Or a global strategist to look at the pressures on China to purchase land and favours in Africa and elsewhere and the knock-on effects in their target nations (that is, among their people, not just their economies).

They also assume that a contracting economy and population will be a bad thing for Japan. Yet, given its limited internal resource base and its continuing heavy dependency on imports of basic commodities, contraction may be the most prudent course that nation can take. That Koukoulas and Sheard apparently think economic and population growth is always a good thing and should continue indefinitely tells me, at least, that they need to get real — by taking into account the reality of the finite natural world and the social dynamics among the blue-collar masses they never speak to or even think about, let alone invite to their breakfasts.

Barnaby Joyce:

Martyn Smith writes: Re. “Why the Coalition should (again) sack Joyce” (yesterday, item 9). Bernard Keane wrote a powerful article on Wednesday urging the Coalition to sack Barnaby Joyce. They keep him in their shadow cabinet as part of a cunning plot, because he manages to make the rest of them look good. Joe Hockey isn’t considered economically expert from what I’ve read and Tony Abbott’s stay in university seems to have been mainly about boxing. Joe’s and Tony’s pronouncements on economics only look good when compared to Barnaby’s.

Ethics in schools:

Alan Corbett writes: Re. “Why your kids should be taught ethics in school” (yesterday, item 13). Michael Parker, I’d really love to be a fly on the wall and see you conduct an ethics class at Bundaberg Christian College and the other two schools in Queensland that still use physical punishment.

The ethical questions could be: 1) is it right for your headmaster to hit a kid with a cane or paddle simply because the kid has disobeyed the school rules?; and 2) if it isn’t right, does it make it right if the headmaster prays with the kid after hurting them? I can give you the address of the school’s websites if you like. If the schools welcome your visit, I’d be happy to help with your airfares.