As Sharon states in a comment,
Saudi Arabia announced it was phasing out wheat production a few years ago, so this is largely expected, and Saudi Arabia has been a major new landowner in the global land grab for grain-growing land. But yes, it is a factor because Saudi Arabia absolutely needs to be able to buy grain on the world markets - as does China and several other major nations with deep pockets. So what happens when the entire Canadian Wheat harvest, say, is needed on the marketplace?
My answer to Sharon:
You paint a grim picture, Sharon. If China and other major nations are bidding up the price of wheat and other grains - what does that mean for the poor and those in less affluent countries?
As for where we would be now, having started to take things seriously in 1998? I would like to think we wouldn't be shipping milled steel at junk prices - i.e., old model cars and farm equipment, some of which is repairable - to China, instead of letting China spend the energy we will have to, to mine and process steel and iron to replace the implements and material we are now throwing away. We might all be living within walking distance of work, or at least see the average commute distance - via public or private transport - diminish significantly each year. We might see communities and cities denigrate the entertainment and shopping centers in favor of neighborhood, around the corner stores and services. We might be seeing more green (planted garden/grassland habitat) roofs and insulation-clad siding projects to make current structures more energy efficient.
We might see Washington, D.C. have to report not just the dollars they spend, but the energy loading for each program dollar (fuel, support for administration, material procurement and maintenance, support for each government employee, etc.). Heavens, we might have and actual, court-enforced, national energy budget, that even the President and Congress would have to honor. That might make an interesting Constitutional amendment, actually: Require the budget to 'balance' energy consumption without consuming any foreign energy or any hydrocarbon fossil fuel or other non-renewable mineral source.
Unfortunately, people are willing to drive longer distances to commute to work in this tough economic climate. Employers are even less interested in keeping employees energy usage under control. Stores can hardly afford to worry about the fuel their customers consume in getting to the store. And the government wastes energy in profligate amounts on projects with little actual use (that is, high speed rail, intended to address a wrongly perceived issue from a couple of decades back). Oh, and the nation and world want to buy their way back to living the way we did back before we ran into food, money, and energy constraints.
I look at how long ago the space shuttle program was supposed to be a brief transition to an efficient transport to space. I look at how long now they have been 'retiring' the space shuttle, and how the Hubble telescope was in use years after it was supposed to have been replaced. And I really have to wonder if any project that takes longer than the 12 months between swearing in a Congress and the next campaign season could have made a difference.
Kennedy's adventure to put a man on the moon, that happened in what? seven years? That built on technology already in development, and McNamara's predecessor to today's big government 'Federal Acquisition Regulations' hadn't really kicked in yet. Today the government cannot do anything without first creating a new bureaucracy (to assure that all hindrances and regulations are observed, with added costs rolled into the expected program over-runs). What won WWII was the ability of contractors to talk to the military, and come back with a plane or ship, and say, "What do you think?" "We'll take a thousand!".
I have lived much of my life being told that the US Dept of Education has outlived its purpose - yet it is still a bulwark of union teachers and Democratic social engineering.
I don't think starting in 1998 government would have accomplished much, nor allowed industry to accomplish much, either. My fear is that with the weak economy threatening national security, and the rising tide of violence (with food prices and oil prices), that we may not be able to depend on the government to keep hostile forces out of our back yards.
Because I don't believe for one minute that the unrest in the oil producing nations is an accident, or that they are each spontaneous. Nothing I have read in history, or that I have read of our world today, imputes stupidity to all those people. There is no reason for anyone to believe that changing the government will change food and energy prices - so, where did the organization come from to raise all the protests? And is there any reason to think they aren't aimed at weakening the US for future hostile actions?