After expensive energy, food: welcome to the era of urgency

One of the best-known quotes from world cinema is probably that of Marty Feldman in Frankenstein Junior“It could be worse: it could rain.”

And it starts to fall. Today this flood, far from being the worst that can happen to us, is on the contrary the relief that half of Italy has been waiting for months. One hundred and eleven days to be exact. The long drought – followed moreover, instead of a beneficial rain, by a frost which caused serious damage to the landscape – is the last of the elements of a scenario that can only be a good science book- fiction could have imagined. Without however being very believable. We have emerged, or at least hopefully, from two years of global pandemic, caused by a virus of unknown origin and even more unknown fate. We have just come into conflict at the gates of theEurope that no one really believed he could burst. A conflict which, although it is near the end of its bloodiest part, has called into question diplomatic and economic relations already strained in the past but which, even more seriously, could also call into question traditional friendships, such as those between countries of the European Union. All, let’s not forget, in a long-term trend that sees the Earth warming at a rate never seen before. And we are also experiencing the effects of this warming at home: disappearance of glaciers, reduction of rivers, water emergencies in the south of the country during the summer and, increasingly, in the north also during the winter. What should we expect for the future? How will our lives change? What will be the effects of these phenomena on the world we have known so far?

THE FATE OF GLOBALIZATION

Broad questions and difficult answers. To try to deal with it, it is better to focus on certain specific aspects. The first is the fate of globalization, that is to say commercial (but also political) relations between the countries of the world. The second is the ability of nations, especially European ones, to continue to collaborate on two fundamental issues, namely that of energy needs and that of food needs. First, globalization. The phenomenon itself is certainly destined to survive. The globalization, understood as international trade but also as economic and cultural interdependence, was certainly not born in this century and, with hindsight, not even in the previous one. Just think of Marco Polo’s 13th century Silk Road stories. Or, if one wants to examine the history of economic thought, to the work of Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher and economist according to whom international trade was the means of increasing the wealth of nations: he wrote it there more than two centuries ago. The question today is rather to know what will guide the exchanges: the politics of comparative advantage, as taught by economics and common sense? Or increasingly diplomatic relations? The conflict between Russia And Ukraine it forces us to wonder what will happen when the war is definitively entrusted to the history books.

THE INDECENT EXCHANGE

Will the world still trade with Russia? If the leader of this country will always be Putin, it will be very difficult for many democracies to justify exchanging money to their constituents with what, for many, is now considered a real war criminal. It is also difficult to think that a new Eastern bloc will be formed, led by Russia and China, against a Western bloc. The Russian market is not big enough for China to compensate for the loss of the West; Nor can large Chinese investments in Europe and the rest of the world simply be abandoned after years of patient and strategic Chinese penetration into these markets. It will probably be true, however, that values, understood as fundamental principles expressed by constitutions and as modes of selection of the ruling class, will have an impact in the choice of trading partners. Not that the story about it is particularly reassuring. Our own country, for example, is much more exposed today on the energy front with Russia than it was before 2014, that is to say before the outbreak of this crisis in Crimea which, in fact, was only the beginning of the current invasion of Ukraine. Then come the issues related to strategic raw materials, including energy and especially food. Energy signals are mixed. The first European economic communities, born from the ashes of a continent destroyed by the Second World War, aimed to produce, share and fairly distribute energy sources among the participating countries: the Czech Republic (European Community of Coal and Steel) of 1951 and Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community) of 1957. However, for many years, this Community vision has become blurred. Energy strategies today are mainly national; all collaborations are mainly guided by internal interests and not by a cooperative logic. And this, to tell the truth, also applies to many other infrastructures, such as major communication axes. Recent divisions among European countries over sanctions and stockpiling options following the Russian-Ukrainian conflict are the effect of this selfish approach. Finally, food raw materials. Perhaps the most sensitive point, especially because, wrongly, considered a secondary problem. A few weeks ago, when certain European leaders met with a Versailles to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, a journalist asked the Italian Prime Minister if we were in a war economy. The answer of Mario Draghi she was very determined and without hesitation: “You have to prepare: but it’s absolutely not a war economy. Hard to blame the prime minister. The workers continue to exercise their activities, no capital (physical or monetary) has been confiscated or adapted to new needs. How, it is worth remembering, happened two years ago, when entire factories devoted themselves to the production of masks instead of their typical products. But we must, in fact, prepare ourselves. And not just to look for alternative energy suppliers. What has been happening in recent weeks on the world market for wheat and other foods destined to end up on our tables should give us pause because it is not just speculation, destined to run out when the devastating images of cities Ukrainians are beginning to fade. In fact, there are many who fear that autumn will be less generous with the products of the earth, with serious repercussions on the shelves of the distribution chains.

HIGH VOLTAGES SCENARIO

The feeling is that States will be much less inclined than before to sell their food resources, even developing forms of autonomy to no longer depend on international trade. A scenario intended to create enormous tensions within countries which, due to territorial conformity or population density, do not or no longer have these spaces. Or, and here we return to the original problem, these spaces see them slowly disappearing under the rays of an increasingly hotter and more frequent sun, even during the cold months. It’s a pessimistic scenario, beware. But, like all worst-case scenarios, it must also be the benchmark for measuring our ability to react to an emergency. A matter to be dealt with immediately, even in our country. Thinking only about the next election campaign, as usual, could condemn us to unpreparedness and a new, more pernicious emergency.

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