5.19.2022 – modularity

globally contagious back
up redundancy

Gloom and doom again.

This time it is the world’s food system that is tottering on the brink.

In reading the article, The banks collapsed in 2008 – and our food system is about to do the same, by George Monbiot in the Guardian today, I was struck by the polysyllabic string of words in this paragraph.

So here’s what sends cold fear through those who study the global food system. In recent years, just as in finance during the 2000s, key nodes in the food system have swollen, their links have become stronger, business strategies have converged and synchronised, and the features that might impede systemic collapse (“redundancy”, “modularity”, “circuit breakers” and “backup systems”) have been stripped away, exposing the system to “globally contagious” shocks.”

Anyone experiencing the ‘supply chain’ issues of recent months or the current baby formula crisis will find it hard to not be overcome by cold fear.

I am reminded of Mr. Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods, about his efforts on the Appalachian Trail, where Mr. Bryson comments on the Chestnut Tree Blight that hit the United States in 1904.

Mr. Bryson writes, “At the height of the American chestnut blight, every woodland breeze would loose spores in uncountable trillions to drift in a pretty, lethal haze onto neighbouring hillsides. The mortality rate was 100 per cent. In just over thirty-five years the American chestnut became a memory. The Appalachians alone lost four billion trees, a quarter of its cover, in a generation.

Then Mr. Bryson states, “A great tragedy, of course. But how lucky, when you think about it, that these diseases are at least species specific. Instead of a chestnut blight or Dutch elm disease or dogwood anthracnose, what if there was just a tree blight – something indiscriminate and unstoppable that swept through whole forests?

I feel that that is just what the world is facing.

Something indiscriminate and unstoppable.

‘Just in time’ supply chains have converged and synchronised the world’s food system into one huge network that works if everything works but if one thing link in the chain breaks, an indiscriminate and unstoppable force brings the network down.

Maybe the world could handle shortages of one of two items, much like the baby formula problem right now, but indiscriminate and unstoppable is pretty much all encompassing.

Mr. Bryson was writing about nature and we have done to it through our interactions with nature.

With the food system, we have done to ourselves.

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