Peak Farmland?

More land for nature in our future

“Humanity now stands at Peak Farmland, and the 21st century will see release of vast areas of land, hundreds of millions of hectares, more than twice the area of France for nature,” declared Jesse Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, in a December lecture. Ausubel was outlining the findings in a new study he and his collaborators had done in the Population and Development Review. Unlike other alleged resource “peaks,” peak farmland reflects not the exhaustion of resources but the fruits of human intelligence and growing affluence.

The trend toward reducing farming’s impact on nature took off with the Green Revolution of the 1960s. That leap in agricultural productivity was sparked by plant breeder Norman Borlaug and his colleagues, who created new high-yield varieties of wheat and rice, an effort so successful that Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. 

While Borlaug was working to avert famines, others were declaring them inevitable. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now,” the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich declared in his 1968 dystopian screed, The Population Bomb. The epicenter of Ehrlich’s alarm was impoverished India.

In 1960 India’s population was 450 million, and the average Indian subsisted on a near-starvation diet of just more than 2,000 calories per day. Indian farmers wrested those meager calories from 161 million hectares (400 million acres) of farmland, an area a bit more than twice the size of Texas. By 2010, Indian population rose by more than two and half times, national income rose 15-fold, and the average Indian ate a sixth more calories. The amount of land devoted to crops rose about 5 percent to 170 million hectares. Had wheat productivity remained the same that it was in 1960, Ausubel and his colleagues calculate that Indian farmers would have had to plow up an additional 65 million hectares of land. Instead, as people left the land for cities, Indian forests expanded by 15 million hectares—bigger than the area of Iowa.

The trajectory of rising agricultural productivity was similar in post-Mao China. China’s population doubled, and its GDP rose 45-fold. While the amount of land harvested for corn in China also doubled, each acre produced 4.5 times more than it did in 1960. Ausubel and his colleagues calculate that rising Chinese corn productivity spared 120 million hectares (an area more than twice the size of Texas) that would otherwise have been plowed up. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization reports that Chinese forests expanded 30 percent between 1990 and 2010. 

In the United States, corn production grew 17-fold between 1860 and 2010, yet more land was planted in corn in 1925 than in 2010. (The area planted in corn has started increasing again, thanks to the federal government’s biofuels mandates and subsidies.) Today U.S. forests cover about 72 percent of the area that was forested in 1630. Forest area stabilized in the early 20th century, and the extent of U.S. forests began increasing in the second half of the 20th century.Land spared for natureCredit: earthdotcom

If global crop yields had remained stuck at 1960 levels, Ausubel noted in his lecture, farmers around the world “would have needed about 3 billion more hectares, about the sum of the USA, Canada, and China or almost twice South America.” Plowing down this amount of the world’s remaining forests and grasslands would have produced what Ausubel calls “Skinhead Earth.”

What about the future? The researchers offer a 50-year forecast via their ImPACT equation, which calculates how much land will be used for crops (Im) by multiplying population trends (P), affluence (A) as GDP per capita, consumption (C) as calories per GDP, and technology (T). The United Nations expects population growth to continue to slow, global affluence to increase at around 1.5 percent per year, people to spend relatively less on food as their incomes rise (Engel’s law), and the amount of crop per each hectare to rise by 2 percent annually. (In aggregate, farmers today can produce nearly three times the food they did in 1960 on the same amount of land.) The authors also take into account the growing global desire for meat, which means growing more grains to feed animals, and the diversion of crops into other non-food products such as biofuels.

Currently, American corn farmers average about 180 bushels per acre, and the world average is around 82 bushels per acre. The authors assume a modest 1.7 percent per year increase in corn yields between 2010 and 2060, which implies that “the average global yield in 2060 would resemble the average U.S. yield in 2010.”

One concern is that farmers may be approaching the biological limits of photosynthesis, which would constrain crop yields. But the authors note that the winners of the annual National Corn Yield Contest currently produce non-irrigated yields of around 300 bushels per acre, nearly double average U.S. yields. Ausubel suggests that the difference between the global average of 82 bushels and contest-winning 300 bushels per acre yields means that “much headroom remains for farmers to lift yields.”

Cranking various population, economic growth, and yield trends through the ImPACT equation, the authors conservatively conclude that in 2060 “some 146 million hectares could be restored to Nature, an area equal to one and half times the size of Egypt, two and half times France, or ten times Iowa.” Under a slightly more optimistic scenario—one where population growth slows a bit more, people choose to eat somewhat less meat, agricultural productivity is modestly higher, and there’s less demand for biofuels—would spare an additional 256 million hectares from the plow. That would mean nearly 400 million hectares restored to nature but 2060, an area nearly double the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River.

As Ausubel notes, sparing land usually also means sparing water, which would lessen pressure on the world’s fresh water supplies. Crops need nitrogen to grow, but excess nitrogen fertilizer running off fields pollutes streams and is responsible for algal blooms that produce low-oxygen dead zones in many coastal regions. Researchers are hard at work on producing biotech varieties that need far less nitrogen.

Efforts to dramatically boost the photosynthetic efficiency of staple grain crops are moving forward, prompting optimistic conjectures that “farmers could grow wheat and rice in hotter, dryer environments with less fertilizer, while possibly increasing yields by half.” Currently about 40 percent of the world’s grain is fed to livestock to produce meat. In the ultimate move toward what Ausubel calls “landless agriculture,” the biotech company Modern Meadows hopes to use tissue engineering and 3D printers to make meat. Obviously, such breakthroughs would free up even more land.

“Now we are confident,” the authors conclude, “that we stand on the peak of cropland use, gazing at a wide expanse of land that will be spared for nature.” Now that’s a real Green Revolution!

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  • Jesus H. Christ||

    Ooh, but GMOs are bad.

  • jcw||

    "near-starvation diet of just more than 2,000 calories per day."

    is this analysis correct? Were they running marathons between their meals?

  • SKR||

    farming is hard work

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I wondered about that too. Their activity level must be much higher than mine. If I eat 2k Calories a day I'm fat (which I am, currently).

  • An0nB0t||

    That's a little disturbing given that Easter/loincloth season is only a week away.

  • phandaal||

    That sounds extremely suspect. I'd like to see verification for that number.

  • Ron Bailey||

    jcw: Perhaps this will be of interest.

  • ||

    You sf'd the link, Ron.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    is this analysis correct? Were they running marathons between their meals?

    I think this is correct. I remember reading Barbara Tuchman's excellent A Distant Mirror, and being surprised learning the average feudal peasant in France was consuming ~6,000 calories a day .

  • Sevo||

    Ditto the caloric requirements for various occupations in Tooze' "Wages of Destruction".

  • SKR||

    It's an agriculture dividend. let's spend it on organic farming.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I got called some nasty names on a different forum when I defended modern food production. I don't get why people can benefit so much from something and still piss all over it.

  • rts||

    Likewise. Emotion trumps reason (drink) for those people.

  • Aresen||

    Because Luddites hate people.

  • Dweebston||

    This might sound malign, but I've always thought Ehrlich's suppositions were borne of wishful thinking rather than a lack of imagination.

  • Sevo||

    "This might sound malign,"
    Not nearly what the idiot deserves.

  • Bill||

    When the stupid sun-of-a-bitch dies I may throw a party.

  • Bill||

    Oops, meant sunuva-bitch or some spelling I've seen before with a "u" sunufa-bitch ?? Oh, never mind.

  • Wind Rider||

    May? I've already booked a caterer.

  • KPres||

    In his defense, he probably thought (hoped) the world was going to go Communist, in which case maybe his prediction would have realized.

  • allen||

    I don't know. Maybe Ehrlich is an example of free enterprise in action - he found a customer base and they rewarded his efforts.

    Of course in this case his customers are lefties who are desperate for any support for their certainty that they're better, more refined and more intelligent then "the masses" they despise.

    Ehrlich supplied those lefties the illusion that they were superior and they rewarded him with non-illusory cash.

  • Sevo||

    "Ehrlich supplied those lefties the illusion that they were superior and they rewarded him with non-illusory cash."

    And A1 says idiots can print anything they want, including flat out lies. And I support that.

  • fish_remote||

    Because Luddites hate people

    Just other people.

  • John Galt||

    People are icky and aweful.

  • GILMORE||

    Jesus H. Christ|3.22.13 @ 4:44PM|#

    ...I don't get why people can benefit so much from something and still piss all over it.

    People spend a lot of time and energy convincing themselves of counter-factual positions because it fits some larger conceived Narrative.

    in this case, the Narrative is, "The increased Corporatization of Agriculture is a) Destroying the Earth, and b) Poisoning Human Beings with Synthetic Chemicals and Cancer-Causing Bioengineered Organisms."

    When you point out that a) Modern Food Production is *far more* positive for the environment than historical, 'traditional' inefficient farming, and that b) Organic food and production methods provide ZERO benefits either for human health or the environment (and may arguably be significantly worse)... they are forced to turn you into a Corrupted Deluded Partisan Fool who is a Tool of the Evil Corporations = either you're LYING or you are fooled by Lies and Fake Science which is HIDING THE TRUTH.

    meaning, a disproportionate reaction to your perfectly legitimate case is to be expected - they dont need to argue the position anymore (because facts rarely support their ideas), they need to DESTROY YOU as a creature that is inconsistent with their preferred narrative.

  • Sevo||

    "meaning, a disproportionate reaction to your perfectly legitimate case is to be expected - they dont need to argue the position anymore (because facts rarely support their ideas), they need to DESTROY YOU as a creature that is inconsistent with their preferred narrative."

    You are threatening their religion.

  • Wind Rider||

    ^^^ this. You'd have better luck walking into a Southern baptist Convention and talk to them about Darwin.

  • Sevo||

    Shermer claims it's easier to sell so-cons on evolution than lefties on market.
    I live in SF; I agree.

  • Dweebston||

    "Peak farmland" sounds like a national disaster in the making. Who's going to think of our impoverished small farmers? Clearly, we need more agricultural aid.

  • Aresen||

    The "impoverished small farmers" will be kept around just so agribusiness has someone to front their appeals for subsidies.

    They'll be "Anti-Potemkin" farmers: Kept around just to show how poor farmers are.

  • KDN||

    My father-in-law would fit the bill nicely there and, as a retired member of the Operating Engineer's union collecting disability after barely surviving cancer, is the perfect tool to drum up voter sympathy. I've just gotta figure out a way to leverage this into a gig at big-Ag to juice my future inheritance.

  • Homple||

    If you're interested in an inheritance from you father-in-law you'd better first concern yourself with keeping your wife sweet.

  • R C Dean||

    I could have sworn global warming was going to ravage our food production. What is this about "surplus" farmland being released from service?

  • CE||

    It'll all be underwater either way, hence no dividend.

  • buybuydandavis||

    I think Reason had a recent article which hypothesized that the planet was greening because of increased atmospheric CO2.

    More rainfall, and more CO2, the two fuels for photosynthesis, makes more plant and better farming productivity.

  • CE||

    Because liberals think 6 billion people is 5 billion too many?

  • An0nB0t||

    You'd think that 5,000,000,000 extra tax cattle would be a good thing, but noooooo...

  • Jason S.||

    I suspect "peak farmland" won't bring back the vast grasslands of CA's Central Valley where grizzly bear, tule elk, antelope, and gray wolves once thrived -- the Serengeti of the West as it was described.

    A shame that the humble native living with the cycles of seasons became the hunted target of genocide.

    http://www.ditext.com/diamond/mistake.html

  • Sevo||

    Jason S.| 3.22.13 @ 7:22PM |#
    "I suspect "peak farmland" won't bring back the vast grasslands of CA's Central Valley where grizzly bear, tule elk, antelope, and gray wolves once thrived -- the Serengeti of the West as it was described."

    You're right; people live there now, and probably wouldn't be happy to find a grizzly on the front lawn.

  • Jason S.||

    Well, sometimes you eat the bar. And sometimes the bar eats you.

  • Sevo||

    "Well, sometimes you eat the bar. And sometimes the bar eats you."
    Nope. I always eat the bear.

  • Wind Rider||

    Besides, everyone needs nice bearskin rugs, even if it doesn't match the sofa.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and Diamond is every bit as an authority as that sleazy Ehrlich, just so you know.

  • Jason S.||

    Takes one to know one. Har har.

  • Sevo||

    "Har har."
    No, it takes one who can identify one to know one.
    Try Diamond's riff on qwerty keyboards in "Guns, Germs and Steel"; it's a centerpiece to his supposed critique of market forces. It's a shame he didn't realize the claim had been debunked several years earlier.
    He's a lefty post-mosaic preacher, and he cares only about that religion.

  • Jason S.||

    Looking in the book, qwerty is used as an example of how vested interests affect whether societies adopt tech or not. Another example is Britain's use of gas lighting til 1920 because municipal gov't had invested in gas and regulated electric companies out of competition.

    Reads more like a critique of cronyism, not market forces.

  • Sevo||

    "Reads more like a critique of cronyism, not market forces."
    Uh, that is a *very* sympathetic read. Especially from one who proposes the Central Valley be turned over to grizzlies and wolves.
    Are you surprised I'm calling bullshit?

  • Jason S.||

    Yes, I'm surprised. Why do people call bullshit all the time? Bullshit doesn't even own a phone. Pffft.

  • Sevo||

    Jason S.| 3.23.13 @ 3:46PM |#
    "Yes, I'm surprised. Why do people call bullshit all the time? Bullshit doesn't even own a phone. Pffft."

    How..................
    infantile.

  • Jason S.||

    It's not a sympathetic read. Nowhere in "Guns, Germs and Steel" does it say that we still use qwerty keyboards because of the failure of "market forces". We adopt a technology, and it becomes habitual. Habits are hard to break, IOW.

    Why did Britain continue to use gas lighting when America and Europe were adopting electricity? Because vested interests affect society. That's croynism, isn't it?

    Take a look-see at how Beverly Hills liberals use their clout to high jack a publicly funded water storage system.

    the Kern County Water Bank is an underground reservoir in the hottest, driest, southernmost edge of the Central Valley with a capacity of 1 million acre-feet, enough to convert the entire state of Rhode Island into a swampland one-foot deep or supply the City of Los Angeles with water for 1.7 years...During wet years, it would serve as a repository for excess water coming in from Northern California and the Sierras, and pumped out in dry years. California spent nearly a hundred million dollars to develop the underground reservoir and connect it to the state's public canals and aqueducts, but in 1995, California's Department of Water Resources suddenly, and without any public debate, transferred it to a handful of corporate interests.
  • Sevo||

    "Nowhere in "Guns, Germs and Steel" does it say that we still use qwerty keyboards because of the failure of "market forces"."

    P248 of the 2005 edition:
    "The vested interests of hundreds of millions of QWERTY typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer salespeople, and manufacturers have crushed all moves toward keyboard efficiency fo over 60-(sic)years."
    You Are Full Of Shit. Is that clear?
    --------------------------
    "Because vested interests affect society. That's croynism, isn't it?"
    No, it's simply that new products have to show an advantage worth the cost of the change.

  • Sevo||

    "Take a look-see at how Beverly Hills liberals use their clout to high jack a publicly funded water storage system"

    Uh, goody. So what? WIH does this have to do with peak farmland?

  • Jason S.||

    It's corrupt.

    Hunters and gatherers are not corrupt. Didn't you ever watch the movie "The Emerald Forest" or "Avatar"?

  • Jason S.||

    Oh, I see where you're wrong. You confuse the law of diminishing returns with comparative advantagement scales.

    Do you see now?

  • Sevo||

    "Hunters and gatherers are not corrupt. Didn't you ever watch the movie "The Emerald Forest" or "Avatar"?"
    and:
    "Oh, I see where you're wrong. You confuse the law of diminishing returns with comparative advantagement scales.
    Do you see now?"

    OK, that's FUNNY stuff. Who's pulling the sock here? Too funny to be anything other than that.
    Avatar reference; is it you, sloopy?

  • Jason S.||

    No, I'm not a sock puppet.

    What's so funny about "Avatar"? Like you said, we only have one home. Our house keeping can come back to eat our lunch, like when the Joad family fell on hard times.

    Maybe we should cut the water supply to LA.

  • Sevo||

    Jason S.| 3.23.13 @ 11:21PM |#
    "No, I'm not a sock puppet."
    OK, so you're an ignoramus. So far you've offered all sorts of 'well, the world might end if..." without a shred of evidence.
    So, again, what in hell is you point?

  • Jason S.||

    Yes, I'm an ignoramus. Why are you arguing with me?

    Here's a blog post from Bailey, from January, 2013:

    In Nature, researchers disturbingly find that the yields of four major crops - corn, rice, wheat, soybeans- are slowing and even falling in various regions around the globe.

    Is that an iceberg up ahead, captain? No, it couldn't be; global warming has melted the Arctic. Full speed ahead! I. can't. drive. FIFTY FIVE!

    That's a great song.

  • Jason S.||

    Consider the proposed water project for the Sacramento Delta, in part, because of farming water demands:

    Water from the Delta serves 25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland from San Jose to San Diego. This water demand has contributed to the collapse of numerous fish species in the Delta, the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.

    In total, the plan seeks to restore 57 imperiled native wildlife species, 11 of which are fish. Others include the Swainson's hawk and sandhill crane, birds that will benefit from specific types of habitat restoration.

    "We're talking about a restoration potentially observable from space," said Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    More crops = more resources. While the poor salmon suffer.

  • Sevo||

    Jason S.| 3.24.13 @ 3:16PM |#
    "Yes, I'm an ignoramus."
    And how much is cherry picking paying these days?
    Read the article, ignoramus.

  • Jason S.||

    Oh yeah, you're right. It says that socialist and communist soil has remained healthy, vigorous and productive, while western industrialized soil has become a barren and rocky place where seeds can find no purchase.

    Yet another example of why
    Berkeley and Oakland's urban community gardens are thought of as a vision of what tomorrow's healthy society will look like.

  • John Galt||

    Californians are many things, but humble they are not, herp derp.

  • JeremyR||

    Drive across the country sometime. We are nowhere near peak farmland.

  • Sevo||

    JeremyR| 3.22.13 @ 8:18PM |#
    "Drive across the country sometime. We are nowhere near peak farmland."
    Did you read the article? Driving across the country wouldn't tell you a thing about whether we are at peak farmland or not.

  • Jason S.||

    The tissue engineering start up, Modern Meadow, that Bailey points to, lists the USDA and the NSF as investors.

    Also, UC Davis is a leader in ag research, but they rely on state funding to support their work.

    How does this fit the libertarian world view? Or, what percentage of the progress in crop production is built with public funds?

  • Sevo||

    "How does this fit the libertarian world view?"
    I'd rather there weren't state funding involved.
    Are you suggesting we should all revert to gamboling because ag research has state funding?
    What is your point?

  • lendapatricia||

    uptil I looked at the paycheck saying $6337, I have faith that my best friend was like actualie taking home money parttime online.. there neighbor has been doing this for only about and by now repayed the mortgage on there appartment and got a great new Renault 5. go to,
    http://JUMP30.COM

  • SumpTump||

    There is a dude that clearly knows what time it is. Wow.

    www.Anon-Today.tk

  • dinkster||

    Peak time, no less

  • Wind Rider||

    Something not noted in the calculations presented is the effect of the rise in CO2 ppm that everyone is going batshit insane over these days. We're barely experiencing 395ppm (a historically LOW number), and IIRC, since someone mentioned UC Davis AG research, they ran testing a few years back that upping the PPM of CO2 to around 9-1200 ppm yielded lima beans (the test subjects) twice as large and in less time than the ambient 380 or so. If true across the board (and it does work with pot also, btw), wouldn't that just piss the luddites and hysterical Gore-bots right the fuck off?

    I'm patient, and it'll be worth the wait.

  • Sevo||

    "I'm patient, and it'll be worth the wait."
    The danger, of course, is that we humans have no alternative 'home', so anything that made this one toxic is bad news.
    That danger is clearly offset by the history of humanity adapting to various climates even when that adaptation meant nothing more than more of the bear-skins you mention up-thread.
    Climate change? We got an ap for that.

  • WhatWouldSeattleHaveDone||

    This whole article is based on a false premise: That Borlaug's methods are sustainable. In fact, they are not.

    The "Green Revolution" is anything but. Currently we use 10 calories of fossil hydrocarbons for every calorie of food we produce. Synthetic fertilizer, plastic sheeting, petrochemical pesticides, fuels and lubricants for the tractors, harvesters, trucks and coal for the electric power generation that powers the lights and refrigerators at the grocery stores. This is the real reason for our "success" in agriculture. We are using fossil fuels at a rate never imagined. All energy is solar energy, when you think about it. We should be in "solar balance", yet we use SEVEN YEARS worth of stored solar energy in fossil fuel, EVERY DAY. Food production is responsible for the largest share of that.

    Borlaug promoted a kind of game of Russian roulette against nature, ruthlessly killing every living being on the farm, except the one crop he was interested in. Pitting ever stronger pesticides and other methods trying to outmaneuver nature. It is a game destined to fail catastrophically.

    The only sustainable model is Permaculture (a kind of food forest). Similar to what the American Indians did, before we "civilized" them.

    Borlaug was an environmental barbarian.

    Reason should stop being a blind mouthpiece in support of raw capitalism and really analyse every article before publication.

  • John Galt||

    Thankfully no one gives a flock what Seattle would've done.

  • Tman||

    Why are fat people in Seattle so whiny? Is it the rain?

    Put on a raincoat or something dude and go outside.

    Jesus.

    "Whaaaa!!Norman Borlaug used stuff I don't like to save a billion people from starving to death!!Whaaa!!!"

    Seattle sounds terrible.

  • Sevo||

    Tman| 3.23.13 @ 1:49AM |#
    "Why are fat people in Seattle so whiny? Is it the rain?"

    Dunno, but why are they so full of shit. Look here:
    "This whole article is based on a false premise: That Borlaug's methods are sustainable. In fact, they are not."
    This idiot can't understand English, or is being willfully ignorant, I'm not sure which.

  • Greg F||

    We should be in "solar balance", yet we use SEVEN YEARS worth of stored solar energy in fossil fuel, EVERY DAY.

    Like the rest of your "facts" this is bull $hit.

    The Sun provides Earth with as much energy every hour as human civilization uses every year.
  • SKR||

    permaculture is a nonproductive joke completely incapable of supporting the current human population. Plus it is supportive of spreading horribly invasive and damaging exotic plants.

  • allen||

    Nice recap of the demise of "The Population Bomb" and similar overpopulation-catastrophe psuedo-science.

    Lefties, however, have already come to understand that this particular crusade is no longer fruitful for them which is why leftie hysterics over over-population subsided some decades ago.

  • WhatWouldSeattleHaveDone||

    I appreciate your comments.

    I feel there is an immense level of denial here. I am not making any controversial points. However, no one seems to acknowledge any of them. For example, the last time the US produced as much oil as it used, was 1971. And the rest of the world is not doing much better, the last world discoveries in excess of use, were in the 1980's. Since then, no major fields have been discovered, and they are not likely to be. Our food supply depends completely on petroleum. By promoting unsustainable methods, Borlaug took an obscene risk with the most vital human activity: food production.

    We have to stop blindly believing what is convenient and pay attention to what is really going on. Truth is not "leftie" or "righty" it just is.

  • Sevo||

    "I feel there is an immense level of denial here"

    Look, you're full of shit, you've been called on it. The only "denial" is your idiotic attachment to Malthusiaism.
    Go peddle your silly religion elsewhere; everyone here has heard it many times and it's been wrong an equal number of times.

  • JWatts||

    And the rest of the world is not doing much better, the last world discoveries in excess of use, were in the 1980's. Since then, no major fields have been discovered, and they are not likely to be.

    North Dakota says your wrong about that. You do realize the state is in the middle of a huge oil boom and that they are producing far more oil than they are using, correct? And that the Bakken oil fields boom started in 2008?

    By promoting unsustainable methods, Borlaug took an obscene risk with the most vital human activity: food production.

    So you have dropped out of society, bought a farm and started subsistence level farming, right?

    Because if it's really as big a looming catastrophe as you make it out to be, then that's the logical thing to do. If you haven't done any kind of personal preparation, then maybe your dire warnings are just so much hyperbole?

  • KPres||

    "Our food supply depends completely on petroleum."

    No it doesn't. It relies on energy. It just so happens that the cheapest method available today is fossil fuels, but if peak oil is a reality, that will change. No biggie, though, since we've got 80 years of uranium and 300 years of thorium left. If we haven't figured out how to harvest direct solar energy cheaply in 400 years(!) I'll give you a nod. Until then, you're just another luddite.

  • SKR||

    we can make fertilizer from coal and we have enouh of that to last a long long time. Thebest part is that the sulfur in coal is actually a good thing for fertilizer production.

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  • T Clark||

    An interesting article. Low on Reason's usual overt political agenda. The comments, on the other hand, are standard issue. It's funny hearing global warming deniers calling others "ludites." Science that agrees with me - good. Science that disagrees with me - bad.

  • Greg F||

    It's funny hearing global warming deniers calling others "ludites."

    What is even funnier is hearing the AGW crowd try to explain 16 years of no warming. And that is not all. Try getting a believer in AWG to show proof of the positive feedback (doubling of CO2 only gets a 1 degree increase in temperature) for the projected increase in temperature. It's like an Easter egg hunt without any eggs!

  • KPres||

    What's even funnier is hearing an alarmist crow about Reason's "overt political agenda".

    I believe the objective science surrounding global warming, namely, that it's happening at a significantly slower rate than the alarmists predictions and that it's likely to have either only slightly negative or positive impact on human life.

  • Sevo||

    T Clark| 3.23.13 @ 1:20PM |#
    "An interesting article. Low on Reason's usual overt political agenda. The comments, on the other hand, are standard issue."

    Standard issue brain-dead lefty trolls, too.
    Tell us how Malthus was really right, but just missed some of the details; we need a good laugh.

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    If you think Marvin`s story is impossible,, 5 weeks ago my boyfriend basically also made $7683 grafting eighteen hours a week from home and they're buddy's sister-in-law`s neighbour was doing this for seven months and errned more than $7683 parttime from a labtop. applie the information available on this page... http://www.fly38.com

  • margaretsusen||

    my friend's mother makes $65/hour on the computer. She has been out of a job for eight months but last month her pay was $15949 just working on the computer for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more http://googlejobs.com.qr.net/kgzE

  • mtrueman||

    We live in a time when there have never been so many malnourished people. Almost a billion, over 10% of the world's population are malnourished according to UN figures. We also live at a time when food supplies have never been so high. The world produces enough food to feed everyone and several billion more, besides.

    3D printers and landless agriculture are not the answer to feeding the hungry. Maldistribution of food is a political and economic problem. Throughout the Green Revolution food production has doubled and doubled again, and yet today there have never been so many malnourished.

  • obd2works||

    Obd2works is a China OBD2 supplier. If you have any question, please feel free to contract us.

  • jili5||

    "Researchers are hard at work on producing biotech varieties that need far less nitrogen."

    Why not just stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and instead just take care of the soil. My uncle's farm, which he inherited from his father has never used any chemicals and would be what we'd call organic today I suppose, but he doesn't need any nitrogen fertilizer because he rotates crops, uses cover crops and doesn't kill nitrogen producing organisms in the soil with pesticides. The mainstream of farming in this country spends a fortune (all those subsidies they get offset that) and then they shoot themselves in the foot and need to spend even more (or grovel at the government for more subsidies).

  • TFX||

    I would like to be as optimistic as your article. Unfortunately, the rates of productivity improvement in agriculture in the technologically advanced agricultural countries of North America, Western Europe and Australasia are declining. Improvement in yields for many crops have plateaued. GMOs have not proven to be the technological godsend that we hoped for. Check the track record of delivery for these innovations against investment.

    It is a race between population and income growth in the world on one hand and the ability of lower productivity agricultural countries to catch up with the technological frontier of the technologically advanced agricultural world.

    Even if this should happen I am pessimistic that we can meet the food demand of 2050 with the consequent political and policy problems for lower income people especially in lower income countries.

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