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Consume Less, Experts Advise as Malthusian Nightmare Returns to Haunt West

le who own automobiles, and the world's 2 billion poorest people."

Already there are signs that the food economy is merging with the fuel economy. The ethanol boom has seen sugar prices track oil prices and now the same is set to happen with grain, Mr Brown argues. "As the price of oil climbs so will the price of food," he says. "If oil jumps from $60 a barrel to $80, you can bet that your supermarket bills will also go up."

In the developed world this could mean a change of lifestyle. Elsewhere it could cost lives. Soaring food prices have already sparked riots in poor countries that depend on grain imports. More will follow. After decades of decline in the number of starving people worldwide the numbers are starting to rise. The UN lists 34 countries as needing food aid. Since feeding programmes tend to have fixed budgets, a doubling in the price of grain halves food aid.

Anger boiled over this week as Jean Ziegler, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the US and EU of "total hypocrisy" for promoting ethanol production in order to reduce their dependence on imported oil. He said producing ethanol instead of food would condemn hundreds of thousands of people to death from hunger.

Robert Thomas Malthus was a political economist who shot to prominence in late 18th century Britain. His Essay on the Principle of Population influenced generations of thinkers with its prediction that the world's population would outgrow its food supply, prompting starvation on an epic scale. "The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race," he wrote. "Gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear."

Man became complacent perhaps because the disaster predicted to strike in the mid-19th century did not indeed materialize.

But a century and a half later he might be proved right thanks to
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