Suez Canal blockage: A taste of things to come?

This picture of an excavator bravely attempting to free the giant Ever-Given from the sand of the Suez Canal last week is a parable for humanity’s dilemma when it comes to controlling the technological forces we’ve let loose in God’s creation.

To read more, check out this article from Yale Climate Connections

A critical global shipping node – Egypt’s Suez Canal – was reopened on Monday, March 29, six days after being shut down when the 400-meter-long container ship Ever Given became lodged in the canal. A statement by the Suez Canal Authority initially blamed the incident on high winds and a sand storm that reduced visibility, but later said that strong winds were “not the only cause,” and that an investigation was ongoing.

There is no clear indication at this point that climate change played a role in the sandstorm that led to the ship’s blocking the canal, but the incident raises intriguing questions that likely will prompt research into any correlation.

The multi-day shutdown of one of the world’s busiest shipping chokepoints underscores the vulnerability of the global food system and economy to disruptions. That vulnerability is playing on the stage of increasingly extreme weather, rising seas, and an increasingly just-in-time world of shipping.

For background reading on how a small number of “choke points” could affect global food supply this piece from Chatham House is quite helpful if a bit disturbing:

Global food security is underpinned by trade in a few crops and fertilizers. Just three crops – maize, wheat and rice – account for around 60 per cent of global food energy intake.1 A fourth crop, soybean, is the world’s largest source of animal protein feed, accounting for 65 per cent of global protein feed supply.2 Each year, the world’s transport system moves enough maize, wheat, rice and soybean to feed approximately 2.8 billion people.3 Meanwhile, the 180 million tonnes of fertilizers applied to farmland annually play a vital role in helping us grow enough wheat, rice and maize to sustain our expanding populations.4

International trade in these commodities is growing, increasing pressure on a small number of ‘chokepoints’ – critical junctures on transport routes through which exceptional volumes of trade pass. Three principal kinds of chokepoint are critical to global food security: maritime corridors such as straits and canals; coastal infrastructure in major crop-exporting regions; and inland transport infrastructure in major crop-exporting regions.

A serious interruption at one or more of these chokepoints could conceivably lead to supply shortfalls and price spikes, with systemic consequences that could reach beyond food markets. More commonplace disruptions may not in themselves trigger crises, but can add to delays, spoilage and transport costs, constraining market responsiveness and contributing to higher prices and increased volatility.

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