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9.2 billion by 2050. Will We Have Enough Food & Water?

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 06:37:59 AM EST

The answer is no. Since 1950, the earth's population has risen by more than four billion people, to 6.6 billion and UN projections put world population at 9.2 billion by 2050. The world currently faces a food crisis before the full impact of climate change and a 42% rise in population. The Malthusian vision may yet be vindicated. Most economists today are lucky that their predictions don't even have a shelf life. In this modern age of punditry, brass balls are a lot more important than prescience.

Food and water are essential elements that all human beings should have access to in order to live. Access to the minimum essential food & water are considered human rights. All else pales in significance.

Diary rescue by Migeru


Malthus' gloomy prediction earned him the revulsion of people like his contemporary, writer William Hazlitt, who wrote:

when...that curious divine who surely has done more to discredit Christianity with the poor than all infidel writings put together, published his Essay on Population, he made himself conscience-keeper to the rich and great, especially to those of them who are not of a giving disposition, all in coining or at least popularizing for their use the magical phrase or formula 'surplus' or 'redundant' population.

There was an estimated 1 billion on the planet when Malthus penned his famous essay - up from 310 million in 1000 AD and 300 million in 0 AD. In the period to 1924, when the population grew to 2 billion, there was a remarkable advance in technology and fall in the death rate through improved hygiene. American historian David Christian says that in the last two centuries, humans have learned to tap the huge stores of energy buried millions of years ago in the fossilized bodies of ancient plants and microorganisms, and available today in coal, oil, and natural gas. These statistics indicate the astonishing ecological power acquired by our species in the course of its history.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who heads the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has warned that potential for danger from the rapidly growing biotechnology industry was increasing exponentially and urged creating global safeguards. Annan says rightly biotech crops are unsafe, untested and likely to enslave poor farmers to mega-corporations and expensive seeds. Annan says:

"We in the alliance will not incorporate GMOs in our programmes. We shall work with farmers using traditional seeds known to them."

Historian David Christian writes that just to keep their bodies functioning:

"humans need about three thousand calories of energy a day. Ten thousand years ago, there may have been six million humans, each consuming at least this much energy, but not much more. Today, there are one thousand times as many humans (more than six billion), so we can be sure that our species now consumes at least one thousand times as much energy as we did ten thousand years ago. At the same time, each modern human consumes on average about fifty times as much energy as our ancestors did ten thousand years ago."

I wrote in another food diary that if these figures are correct, they suggest that, as a species, we now consume about fifty thousand times as much energy as our ancestors once did. They demonstrate a control over energy that no other species can match.

Christian says that increasing human control over the energy and resources of the biosphere has measurable consequences for the entire biosphere. If one organism hogs so much of the energy needed to sustain the biosphere, less will be available for other organisms. So it is no surprise that as humans have flourished other species have withered.
US stocks of wheat are at a 60-year low and world rice stocks are at a 25-year low. Poor weather patterns such as a long drought in the wheat-growing region of Australia, has cut output.

The rise in the price of oil has resulted in the US diverting 20% of its maize/corn production for biofuels and the European Union 68% of its vegetable oil production. The switch has boosted prices, reduced the supply of the crops available for food and encouraged the substitution of other agricultural land from food to biofuel production.
In the long-term biofuel production using non-food crops may be viable, but the use of food crops in the US in particular has been both shortsighted and a cave-in to the farm lobby.  President Bush wants the US to produce 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels by 2017. I hope President Obama will rescind this absurdity.

Consider the following: the rise in biofuel production in India and China may lead to shortages of water. A report says that both China and India are focusing on maize and sugarcane, which require large amounts of water, to boost biofuel production. Almost all biofuels used today make global warming worse.

Solutions: In a major speech, World Bank president Robert Zoellick recently called for a "New Deal" to address the world food crisis. He said,

"The realities of demography, changing diets, energy prices and biofuels, and climate changes suggest that high - and volatile - food prices will be with us for years to come."

The food crisis is part of a complex and growing matrix of resource questions. But what we really need is political will, pure political will, not talk, not promises. The world leaders must work together and start issueing policy shifts that can help to ease the current crisis, including relaxation of biomass subsidies and repeal of the grain-export restrictions being imposed by the major grain-producing countries. That's a start.

Display:
There are all sorts of ways in which the per capita food/energy/ecological footprint of the human race can be reduced.  Most involve either advanced technology or radically reduced consumption by the wealthy and powerful.  

I am all for new technology and greater equality/equity in resource consumption.  But it is hard to escape the conclusion that at some point the sheer increase in population also has to be tackled.  If we can't do this by rational and humane birth control methods it is difficult to see how huge scale wars, poverty, famine and disease can be avoided.  

However birth control also requires that a universal social security safety net be provided for the aged, because the primary function of high fertility rates in poverty stricken countries is to provide for the security needs of the elderly.  

If we do not act quickly, this will become an ever more vicious exponentially escalating cycle - increased rates of poverty leading to increased fertility rates leading to....

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 11:43:01 AM EST
I agree about reducing population, but quite honestly I think it's too late to manage the situation to prevent significant starvation events.

The lack of water is going to wreck ecosystems, just think how many people are in imminent danger of losing their water supply in the US SW. Think about Northern china which is rapidly desertifiying now and government efforts to prevent this are simply spreading the bad news south. that's without thinking about how pollution is srecking their agricultural capacity.

India is facing a real crisis from half a century of water mismanagement and corruption.

East Africa starves so that Egypt can send soft fruit to British supermarkets.

These things are happening now. Right now. Even as we speak. By 2020 these events won't be beginning, they'll be in the end phase and 100s of millions may well be dead.

I get scared sometimes, really scared, about what is going to happen.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 01:36:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe in solving problems with known, proven technology, not with the hopes that human beings will suddenly "wake up" and stop breeding like rats nor some new technology will answer all of the impending shortages.  And that known, proven technology is .... MASS DEATH.

You don't have to depend upon human cooperation or anything.  Kill them off with bombs ... the Iraq model.  Kill them through starvation ... the Africa model.  And a host of other methods coming on line as I type this.

Time to embrace DEATH, the time honored solution to overpopulation by any species.

What?!  You think humans deserve better?  Please explain without fifty references to some bullshit religion, God this, Christ that, blah blah.  You're talking to a Ph.D. scientist, not some half-wit.

Make it good.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 01:30:48 PM EST
I get really pissed off with your moderate, mealy mouthed, equivocating comments.  I think Malthus was there way ahead of you.  Europe had a good go at it for 30years during the 20th. century.  These things never seem to be self-sustaining.  We need a more sustainable strategy, and humans don't breed like rats when they they have reasonable social security.  Ergo, look after the living and people won't have to die so much.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon May 12th, 2008 at 06:39:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First of all;

"your moderate, mealy mouthed, equivocating comments"

I've been shamingly sober for the past few months and therefore have been acting/typing in a "socially acceptable" manner.  That is rapidly changing.

Second;

"look after the living and people won't have to die so much"

The problem ISN'T I'm not looking after others, the problem is that the ultrawealthy Cheney-ites treat everyone else like processable cattle and that will continue.  Other than the final peace of death, what REALISTIC alternatives exist for the non-ultrawealthy?

Let's have a Soylent Green alternative.  Euthanasia processing centers.  Sign me up!

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 08:22:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™]

I've been shamingly sober for the past few months and therefore have been acting/typing in a "socially acceptable" manner.  That is rapidly changing.

If you intend to go on posting here, please make sure that doesn't change too much.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 09:18:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does that mean I might have to eat you?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:28:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You think 'Eat the rich' is just a t-shirt?
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 06:58:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
its a film too if we're playing charades.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 07:08:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it's not;  It is going to manage very well on its own, thank you.  

I am sure that the rich have some extensive eugenic, mass die-off, cleansing schemes.  

But those don't really count as a solution.  In fact the opposite.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 06:28:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"the ultrawealthy Cheney-ites treat everyone else like processable cattle"

True, but recall that the cattle voted the Cheney-ites into power. That's not quite the same situation as in 18th century France or 19th century Russia, where significant revolutions took place...

by asdf on Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 08:46:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frater Asinus, and all others interested, there's a debate in the Debate Box:

Can The World Feed Its Population?

Contributions welcome.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue May 13th, 2008 at 09:14:57 AM EST
For some reason I can't post in afew's linked archive so I'll post this here:

From Biofuel Conversions (pdf):

Figures based on 2012 harvest estimates:

Maize

1 acre produces 158.6 bushels/acre
2.77 gallons ethanol/bushel
439 gallon/acre

Sugar Beets

23 tons/acre
24 gallons ethanol/ton
522 gallons ethanol/acre

Soy (soya) Beans

42.8 bushels/acre
11.28 libs soybean oil/bushel
7.7 lbs unrefined soybean oil/gallon of biodiesel
63 gallons biodiesel/acre

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 01:38:01 PM EST
To give an idea of how lame-brain this all is:

Meeting Bush's goal of 35 billion gallons of "alternative fuel" would require 79,726,651 acres of maize, 67,049,808 acres of sugar beets, or 55,555,555 acres worth of soybeans .  The estimated

Projected plantings for the eight major field crops in the United States increase from about 246.5 million acres in 2007 to over 252 million in 2008 as the market responds to current high prices prompted by strong demand and lower global supplies of oilseeds and wheat.

Food to Fuel reduction percentages:

Maize - 31.64% or 1,264,464,000 bushels switched
Sugar Beets - 26.61% or 1,542,145,584 tons switched
Soy bean - 22.05% or 2,377,777,754 bushels switched

Total US exports in 2007/2008:

Maize - roughly 1,000,000,000 bushels
Soybeans - roughly 900,000,000 bushels

(Note: Sugar Beets exports are insignificant)

Basically, meeting the goal removes US agricultural production from the world markets.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 02:14:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Darn it.

Forgot to add:

Corn acreage nationally is projected at 86.0 million acreage and soybean at 74.8 million acreage; this is an 8 percent reduction and 18 percent increase relative to 2007, respectively.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Jun 9th, 2008 at 02:25:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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