For years, people have argued over “peak oil,” the point at which the planet’s reserves of that energy source will reach the maximum potential to provide for our demands. But now it’s time to forget all that. It’s peak chocolate we should be worried about.
You’re eating more than farmers can produce. The Washington Post says we haven’t seen such a string of consecutive chocolate deficits in a half century. How bad is it? Last year, the world ate about 70,000 metric tons more chocolate than was grown.
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Producers say the deficit could rise to 1 million metric tons by 2020.
Blame is being cast far and wide, and often by cranky people who can’t find that Hershey’s Kiss they know they stashed somewhere. Suspects include global warming (dry weather in West Africa is affecting yields), a fungus known as frosty pod (which, face it, sounds like a rather tasty treat of its own), and the Chinese, who seem to be consuming more chocolate each year.
Governments need to rearrange priorities before “Hand over the chocolate and no one gets hurt” becomes more than a funny bumper sticker. Forget about exploring Mars, who is going to save Mars Bars?
Well, relax. Before you start putting chocolate in your safe deposit box, take a deep breath, and maybe a square or two of one of those rich dark-chocolate bars. There isn’t going to be a chocolate famine. The oil industry provides an example why.
As you may have noticed, no politician has recently called for an investigation into the price of gas at the pump. No one has been fulminating about speculators or the futures market. Prices are falling again.
Given current market values, you could swap a ton of cocoa beans straight up for about seven barrels of oil. Of course, why would you, with Christmas coming? Others of you are now forming a mental image of a ton of chocolate.
Which is a problem when it comes to rational discussions about either chocolate or, more particularly, oil. People become emotional, and when that happens, so do politicians. All it takes is a few observations over recent years to see how this works.
Way back in 1989, I wrote a news story about Utah’s attorney general asking the federal government to investigate why gas prices were rising. The furor died down when prices dropped, but then rose again when they went up.
In 2008, Congress seemed united in supporting more drilling to combat huge price increases, because voters were complaining. But old liberal-conservative standoffs returned quickly when prices fell sharply. In 2011, former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister predicted $5 a gallon gas by 2012, raising a lot of concern. Now, no one remembers this.
Oil prices depend on stark economic realities related to supply and demand, as well as the whims of some rather loose cartels in the Middle East. But major changes are underway, thanks to technological advances in the way oil is extracted. These have helped the United States produce a surplus of oil that has pushed prices downward and left OPEC with little to hope for other than that lower prices will make it less profitable for the United States to continue the trend.
Profit motives generally drive innovation. If there is a buck to be made, someone out there will work to solve a problem. People lose sight of this in the heat of the moment.
This already is happening with chocolate. Researchers are developing cocoa plants that are resistant to frosty pod, while offering greater yields.
Meanwhile, it may be logical to expect the planet to reach peak oil at some point, but that’s not part of the current discussion. It is interesting, however, to contemplate how the current standoff between the president and Congress over the Keystone Pipeline might be different if prices, for whatever reason, were high right now.
The best approach would be a rational national energy policy that encourages innovation and reduces the need to respond emotionally to every change of prices at the pump.
As for chocolate, I’m afraid rational policies are out of the question.