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Page added on February 10, 2019

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Is a key ingredient humans need to live about to run short?

Consumption

Phosphorus is essential for all living organisms. So, it’s not surprising that humans get their phosphorus from other living organisms, mostly plants, that have absorbed phosphorus from the soil.

The introduction of phosphate fertilizers made it possible to ensure that enough phosphorus for healthy plant growth is available in practically any farmland soils. At first, farmers had access to phosphate fertilizers from bone ash and later from phosphate deposits accumulated from bird and bat guano on certain tropical islands (some of which deposits were 30 feet deep before they were mined and completely exhausted). More recently, phosphates have come from mining rocks rich in phosphorus.

All seemed well for the long term as supplies of the rock phosphates were thought to be hundreds of years at current rates of consumption. But a group of researchers upended the consensus in 2009 forecasting that phosphate production could peak as early as 2030. A peak wouldn’t be the end of phosphate production. But it would mark the beginning of an ongoing decline in phosphorus available from mines. This would come as a shock to a world food system accustomed to consistently rising phosphorus supplies needed to feed a growing population.

There are ways to recycle the phosphorus we eat, primarily through the sewage sludge from municipal sewage systems. But one of the easiest and most beneficial ways is building soil using compost. Crop residue, animal manure and human food wastes are important sources for such compost. It’s an old idea that is finding it’s way back into our modern agriculture.

In fact, one of the most important factors in the availability of phosphorus in any soil is the healthy presence of vast colonies of microorganisms that free phosphorus from its inorganic chemical prisons and make it available to organic life. Compost is an excellent way to build such a microbiotic community.

The phosphorus issue has echos of a previous revolution in chemical fertilizer: the discovery of the Haber-Bosch process. The process allows the extraction of nitrogen from the atmosphere (where it makes up nearly 80 percent of the air) to manufacture ammonia, the basis for nitrogen fertilizers today.

Just how important is the Haber-Bosch process? One author explains:

If every farmer in every country on every continent in the world used every inch of fertile land, sprinkled their fields with natural fertilizers, meticulously rotated their crops, and convinced everyone to eat a vegetarian diet, they could feed about four billion people.

These ideal conditions are unlikely to prevail and so the number would likely be smaller if we were unable to produce synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Of course, the world population today is around 7.7 billion.

The point is that we’ve built a food system that relies on one fertilizer input which is finite in its supply, phosphate rock, and another that has terrible environmental side effects:

This excess nitrogen has caused an overgrowth of algae that clouds the water and chokes off oxygen and sunlight to other species, like fish and mollusks. Algal overgrowth has killed streams, lakes, and coastal ecosystems across the northern hemisphere. And it’s not just the fish that are dying. The birds that eat the fish are dying, too. Synthetic nitrogen pollution isn’t limited to the waters; it’s also entered the air and come back to earth as acid rain, further damaging lakes, streams, and forests as well as the animals that depend on them.

But it gets worse. Over time synthetic nitrogen fertilizers actually undermine soil fertility by stimulating microbes that consume organic matter in the soil. The greater growth resulting from the fertilizer doesn’t create enough crop residue (plowed back into the soil to add carbon) to make up for this loss.

Synthetic nitrogen use, they [the researchers] argue , creates a kind of treadmill effect. As organic matter dissipates, soil’s ability to store organic nitrogen declines. A large amount of nitrogen then leaches away, fouling ground water in the form of nitrates, and entering the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas with some 300 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. In turn, with its ability to store organic nitrogen compromised, only one thing can help heavily fertilized farmland keep cranking out monster yields: more additions of synthetic N.

The industrial model applied to farming in order to help feed the world actually turns out to be a path to decline for human populations by undermining the soil and the ecosystems we depend on for our survival.

Rediscovering old ways to make the soil fertile is not a solution to feeding more than 7 billion people as we do today. It is only a partial solution. The way we eat, the amount we waste, what we eat (more and more meat, for instance), all require examination.

The other painful truth is that we may need to reduce population. Some demographers tell us that human population will peak at mid-century and then gently decline through 2100. Others say that population will continue to grow through 2100. Neither of them may be right if we as a civilization don’t figure out how to preserve the fertility of the soil. And, that’s before considering the effects of worsening climate change and other resource depletion including fossil fuels.

Resource Insights



20 Comments on "Is a key ingredient humans need to live about to run short?"

  1. Davy on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 6:08 pm 

    Africa is full of phosphate rock.
    https://tinyurl.com/y2xreuqu

  2. Anonymouse on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 6:17 pm 

    And Delusional Davy is full of goatshit. True fact. No zeroheadge tinyURL required.

    Not the part about there being phosphorus in Africa, I am sure there is.

  3. Davy on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 6:23 pm 

    anon, you come out to see your boyfriends, you slut. When is the last time you gave a comment even remotely close to on topic? You are nearly as bad as dirty juanpee with the useless personality gaming. What a waste case. All three of you boys couldn’t get through school and it shows. OH, yea, juanpee got his GED. You failed anon, why is that? Makato quit because he was lazy.

  4. makati1 on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 6:37 pm 

    Just like all resources, they eventually reach a point of maximum input needed for minimum output. Or, the stuff is too difficult/expensive to recover. Coal seams stuck out of the ground in PA when I was a kid. Now, the mines are very deep and more and more difficult to produce usable coal.

    They have to move mountains in West Virginia to get even sub-grade coal. Ditto for phosphorus. As it gets consumed, it becomes more and more difficult to mine and process. There will be billions of tons in the earth when the last mine closes. There it will stay.

    Recycle or die. That is the only option. We flush everything into the ground or rivers. Waste big time, but that is the easiest and cheapest method. The Capitalist way!

  5. Anonymouse on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 8:05 pm 

    Hear that mak?, you quit AND you’re lazy too. This is coming from a quasi-organic life-form, that just spent his ENTIRE Sunday, flinging his digital poo all over the place, stinking up the place with his goat-feces. Pretty much the exact same way he spends every other Sunday. And Monday…Tuesday….Wednesday…

  6. makati1 on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 8:18 pm 

    Right on Anon. He doesn’t own a mirror or he would see himself in all of his rants about others. He wants the rest of us to be living useless lives of desperation because he does. I fully expect him to lose it someday and be incarcerated or dead. That will be one more improvement in the world.

  7. Chrome Mags on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 8:25 pm 

    “Recycle or die. That is the only option. We flush everything into the ground or rivers. Waste big time, but that is the easiest and cheapest method. The Capitalist way!”

    “And that’s the truth.” Lilly Tomlin, Laugh In.

  8. JuanP on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 8:52 pm 

    Delusional Davy “You are nearly as bad as dirty juanpee …”
    You should feel proud to be better than me, honorable associate!

  9. JuanP on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 8:56 pm 

    Anon “This is coming from a quasi-organic life-form, that just spent his ENTIRE Sunday, flinging his digital poo all over the place, stinking up the place with his goat-feces. Pretty much the exact same way he spends every other Sunday. And Monday…Tuesday….Wednesday…”

    ROFLMFAO! Where else on the internet could I possibly have more fun than here at PO? Thanks for the laugh, associate; I almost choked on my herbal tea. I have spilled more tea and coffee bursting into laughter here at PO than anywhere else in my whole life. I am careful about it now to avoid making a mess! LOL!

  10. JuanP on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 9:01 pm 

    Mak “He doesn’t own a mirror or he would see himself in all of his rants about others.”

    I couldn’t agree more! The fact that Davy seems completely incapable of understanding how his projections betray his true nature is irrefutable proof of his insanity. I find it hard to believe! How crazy does he have to be to not see that? Totally? LOL! I admit that I am having a very good back paying him back.

  11. JuanP on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 9:12 pm 

    So, this morning I woke up and fucked with Davy for a couple of hours on my iPad while working on a Permaculture design that I am doing for a small farm. I went for a run, returned, and Davy was still fighting with my ghosts and alleged sock puppets. I fucked with him for a few minutes and went to the farm, came back five hours, later, and Davy was still fighting my shadows. I fucked with him for a few minutes, went out to dinner, and three hours later I got back, only to find Davy still fighting with “me”. Now I am fucking with him for a few minutes and I am going to bed. Can anyone guess what Davy will have been doing when I come back tomorrow morning to fuck with him? ROFLMFAO! And he tries to convince us every single day that he is a farmer! I couldn’t make this shit up! LOL!

  12. makati1 on Sun, 10th Feb 2019 10:32 pm 

    Well, Davy could be something that smells like a farmer. He certainly seems familiar with bull shit. He slings a lot of it here everyday. Otherwise, he has no life except in the delusional world he inhabits. You know, where he knows everything and all of us intimately. LMAO.

  13. Anonymouse on Mon, 11th Feb 2019 1:05 am 

    I have had to make a conscious decision to forgo drinking milk, or any kind of carbonated beverages when I sit down to take in the latest goings on here @ PO.com.

    PO.com is, after all, the WWF of resource and energy depletion sites. (But with with more over-the-top lunatics, fakes and frauds than WWF could ever hope to match.

  14. Davy on Mon, 11th Feb 2019 6:21 am 

    “Top 5 Rivers of Plastic”
    https://tinyurl.com/yxuv7o23
    graph: https://tinyurl.com/y67o7hr9

  15. Davy on Mon, 11th Feb 2019 6:30 am 

    From Horsepower to Horse Power. When Trucks stop, Horses start.
    https://tinyurl.com/y38fmt7d

    Real green posits the need to consider more animal power as sources for a renewable transformation in regards to localism and permaculture. This article from energyskeptic relates some past history that may be of interest.

  16. Davy on Mon, 11th Feb 2019 6:43 am 

    “Sea change: time to stop eating fish”
    https://tinyurl.com/yxsd4rn2

    Marine biodiversity loss is reaching catastrophic levels. Experts have predicted fishless oceans by 2048, but it’s not too late to turn the tide. Fish are in trouble. It seems that every week we hear warnings about drastically reduced populations in numerous species. And did you catch the disturbing story about UK fish and chip shops serving up endangered species to unwitting customers? According to Global Fishing Watch, some species’ numbers have dropped by a huge 90 percent, while lists such as this show ten kinds of fish which have recently become extinct.

  17. JuanP on Mon, 11th Feb 2019 7:12 am 

    Good morning! I am here!

  18. Sissyfuss on Mon, 11th Feb 2019 9:11 am 

    ” And it gets worse.” The proper meme for our times.

  19. Keith McClary on Mon, 11th Feb 2019 11:53 pm 

    No guano!!??

  20. NathanPhillipsAKAfmr-paultard on Tue, 12th Feb 2019 6:09 pm 

    anontard dear why u disrespectin’ supertard

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