In a recent article on genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food crops, the New Yorker quotes an Indian farmer pushing back at Western crusaders against GMOs: “Why do rich people tell us to plant crops that will ruin our farms?” Indeed such “rich people,” usually eco-leftists, tend to fall into one of two categories. They are either conspiracy theorists who rail against lifesaving agricultural advancements and wonder drugs/vaccines as capitalist plots, or they push false environmental “science” intended to stop progress on energy development that lowers the cost of living while improving air quality.
These activists are, in other words, often exceedingly harmful to the planet. But GMOs aren’t the only aspect of feeding children eco-leftists oppose; sometimes their anti-science environmentalism and their anti-medical-advancement conspiracy theorism combine to form a potent enemy of genuine progress. Such is the case with fracking. As a result, more liberal-leaning states and politicians have restrained oil and gas extraction. More conservative, reality-based states and politicians have not. The results are clear: as Bloomberg reports, North Dakota is showing that fracking is not just about energy companies’ bottom line or the price at the pump. It’s about food security:
North Dakota’s oil and gas production boom has boosted incomes and, according to a government report today, left the state with the lowest percentage of households struggling to afford food.
An estimated 8.7 percent of North Dakota households were at risk of hunger in 2013, compared with 14.3 percent of U.S. households, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an annual report. Virginia was second lowest, at 9.5 percent, the USDA reported, and Arkansas was highest at 21.2 percent.
“The prevalence of food insecurity varied considerably from state to state,” according to the report’s authors.
North Dakota, which has become the nation’s No. 2 oil producer after Texas as drillers use hydraulic fracturing to extract trapped oil and gas, had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in July at 2.8 percent.
The state’s economic health index — which measures indicators such as employment, income, tax revenue and home prices — was up 2.7 percent in first quarter from the same period last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That put it among the top-performing states in the nation.
There are two caveats. The first is that this isn’t exactly earthshattering news. If you enable an economy to thrive, people will have jobs. If they have jobs, they can buy food. If they can buy food, they can feed their children. It’s not rocket science, it’s just a bit beyond the grasp of the average eco-leftist.
The second caveat is partially mitigated by the first, but is worth discussing. There are real problems with the way the government measures food insecurity. This is an annual report, and thus it is an annual argument, so much of this is repetitive. Nonetheless, the federal government seems to go out of its way to exaggerate Americans’ lack of access to food.
As James Bovard notes in today’s Wall Street Journal, the USDA, at the behest of the National Academy of Sciences, dropped its reference to “hunger”–the food insecurity it warned of was not the same thing as a lack of access to food. Bovard points out what it does mean:
Is being “food insecure” the same as going hungry? Not necessarily. The USDA defines a “food insecure” household in the U.S. as one that is “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food” at times during the year. The USDA notes: “For most food-insecure households, the inadequacies were in the form of reduced quality and variety rather than insufficient quantity.”
Reduced quality and variety is not starvation. Of course, it certainly can mean a less healthy diet. Bovard says that low-income children, according to studies, consume more calories than others. But in raising this objection he might actually be falling prey to the kind of pro-government-regulation arguments that have been used here and in developing countries, which put too much emphasis on total calories consumed and thus often work at cross-purposes with those trying to improve health outcomes in poor populations.
On the other hand, Bovard is certainly right that the government tends to inflate such statistics, at times, in order to justify more government intervention, such as food stamps, which the data show do not improve overall food security. What does improve food security, however defined, is a serious energy policy like North Dakota’s, which shows the kind of prosperity that is possible when the government doesn’t let eco-leftists hijack policy.