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Will Paul Ehrlich’s prediction finally come true?

Will Paul Ehrlich’s prediction finally come true? thumbnail

The Green Revolution may have prevented the fate that was forecasted for a world bursting at the seams and unable to feed itself. But unlimited population growth means that doomsday could be well within sight

Norman Borlaug and M S Swaminthan in a wheat field in North India in March 1964 Credit: M S Swaminathan/TwitterIn the period 1975–2018, world population increased steadily at 83 million per year, and reached 7.6 billion in 2018. The increase in 2017 was the difference between approximately 145 million births and 62 million deaths. Despite population growth, the global average daily food supply per person rose from 2,440 kilocalories in 1975 to 2,940 kilocalories in 2015. However, over 800 million people are undernourished and over 600 million adults are obese.

Cereals are the most important crops for food and livestock feed; globally, 45 per cent of the cereal harvest is consumed as food for humans, and 35 percent as feed for livestock; the remainder is used for industrial purposes, including ethanol, beer, whisky and vodka. The rise in world cereal production since the 1960s is mainly due to two technological advances. The first was Haber-Bosch ammonia synthesis, in which atmospheric nitrogen is fixed as ammonia which plants utilise for protein formation. Production of Haber-Bosch ammonia began in 1913, and the consumption of nitrogen fertiliser reached 103 million metric tons in 2014-2015.  The second advance was the Green Revolution that began in the 1960s, after agronomist Norman Borlaug had bred varieties of wheat that give higher yields in response to heavier applications of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertiliser. The breeding and use of high-yielding rice and maize paralleled that of wheat. The most striking achievement of chemical agriculture is the maize yield in the US, which rose from 2.5 tonnes per hectare (40 bushels per acre) in 1950 to 11.0 tonnes per hectare (175 bushels per acre)   in 2016. The global cereal yield rose from 1.16  tonnes per hectare in 1950 to 3.97 tonnes in 2016. The yield in 2050 will probably reach 5.5 tonnes per hectare, thereby raising production per person from the present 380 kilograms per year to 400 kg (assuming no change in the cereal area and that the world population will be 9.8 billion). The global average nitrogen application on cereal crops, 80 kg per hectare in 2015, would be approximately 130 kg per hectare.

The success of the Green Revolution created three major ecological problems:

  1. Globally, less than half of the applied nitrogen is taken up by crop plants; the remainder volatilises in the form of ammonia and nitrous oxide or leaches to groundwater, resulting in eutrophication (the formation of algae) in rivers, lakes and coastal waters; this creates “dead zones” in which fish cannot live.
  2. Applying large amounts of fertiliser to crops changes the balance between these nutrients and those needed in small or trace amounts; the latter include calcium, sulphur, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, boron and selenium.
  3. Approximately 40 per cent of global irrigation water is obtained by pumping groundwater from tube wells; this has resulted in the depletion of aquifers and the lowering of groundwater levels, thereby contributing 0.4 millimeters to the global sea level rise of 3.4 millimeters per year.

In 1950, France had a population of 42 million and 20 million hectares of arable land, i.e. 2 persons per arable hectare. The nitrogen fertiliser application on cereals was negligible, and cereal production per person was about 400 kilograms per year, slightly higher than the present world average.  If the ratio of population to arable land were 2 persons per hectare on the world’s 1.6 billion arable hectares, the world population would be 3.2 billion. Reducing world population to this size would mean reducing the global average fertility rate (currently 2.5 children per woman) to 1.5 by 2050 and holding it at that level until 2200. The proportion of the population in the 65+ age-group would rise to 35 percent. Such a drastic change in the age distribution would mean raising the pensionable age to 70 years or more. Enforcing a population limit for each country would be an insurmountable obstacle, as Charles Galton Darwin pointed out in “The next million years”(1952). Canada, Russia, Australia and Argentina would not need to reduce their populations, while China and India would each have to reduce its population to roughly 300 million, one-fifth of the present population. The relative reduction in Japan and Egypt, which have 28 inhabitants per arable hectare, would be much greater.

The population of China is projected to peak at 1.45 billion around 2030 and decline to one billion by 2100. This is partly a result of the so-called one-child policy launched in 1979 (in reality a 1.5-child policy). It was replaced by a two-child limit in 2016, but the fertility rate remains 1.6. Japan has a population of 127 million; it is projected to decline to 60 million in 2100. South Korea, Taiwan and several European countries have fertility rates even lower than Japan’s 1.4. However, the best we can hope for is a world population peak of 10 billion around 2070, which would make it necessary to increase the consumption of nitrogen fertiliser to at least 160 million tonnes per year. This is not sustainable, but there is no solution in sight.

12 Comments on "Will Paul Ehrlich’s prediction finally come true?"

  1. George Straight on Thu, 9th Aug 2018 10:20 am 

    NPR had a radio segment on future foods…
    Not to worry…there are other forms of nourishment if we aren’t too concerned about the appearance. Various worms and bugs and perhaps seaweed and cardboard.
    Just have to be hunger to pass the pipe.

  2. GetAVasectomyAndLetTheHumanSpecieDieGracefully on Thu, 9th Aug 2018 11:31 am 

    I am not sure why I am commenting of this blog. Probably nobody will read this anyway. I guess I have nothing better to do and this is scaring me that I lost the will to live

    The earth is more or least a death planet.

    The only main source of easy exploitable energy is oil. You only need fire to extract heat from oil and from there you use heat to do whatever you want with. For example heat is used in car engine and also used in electricity generation.

    The human specie is feeding itself with only a couple of main crop such as cereal, is one of them. If we lose cereal for what ever reason we are also losing animal production such chicken, beef and pork.

    The human are a dying specie living in a dying world.

    Look into genetic entropy and you will understand we the earth is dying. Global warming is not the biggest problem. The information loss in the genetic code is

  3. kervennic on Thu, 9th Aug 2018 4:38 pm 

    It is impossible to discuss a rational plan of action in a mediatic world ruled by globalist. In the end they will be war and we need to get prepared. This is sad,a war is a really dirty business, and many people would like to resort to intelligence. But the fact is that unabomber is right. Industry has created a dumb domestic race that is unable to take care of its own future and will obey and die rather than take the risk of initiative.

  4. onlooker on Thu, 9th Aug 2018 4:55 pm 

    Paul Ehrlich was not wrong just a little hasty

  5. MASTERMIND on Thu, 9th Aug 2018 5:05 pm 

    This guy has been screaming Apocalypse for over fifty years..His book the population bomb is like the new world order for liberals..

  6. Jef on Thu, 9th Aug 2018 5:18 pm 

    Ehrlich didn’t predict anything the modeling is simply a graphic of exponential growth on a finite planet and is absolutely correct. How it will shake out is anyones guess but there is no question that collapse will happen.

  7. Sissyfuss on Thu, 9th Aug 2018 8:32 pm 

    Jef, yeah. Erlich did predict that certain things would happen on certain dates, one of them a famous bet he lost. I found Erlich in the early 70s and believed in the ultimate math of his that stated we would exponentially find our limits and then go rushing past them. The article is saying that the Green Revolution was a stop gap much like QE,ZIRP,and zero interest rates. There are catastrophes ahead and the leaders only see victory through growth. This site should be learning how to coexist virtually and then realistically. The pressure is increasing, keep your cool.

  8. Kat C on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 4:19 am 

    Getavasectomy is wise advice. The fact is that every one of us is going to die and coming to terms with that leads to a sort of peace. The likelihood now is that we face extinction. Guess what, species have gone extinct ever since life began. Has to happen for evolution to move forward. I’ve gotten comfortable with that too since it means the end of the one species that knows it has to die and can’t handle that knowledge.

  9. DerHundistLos on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 7:42 pm 

    The article failed to mention one other serious consequence- deforestation. For 2017, global rates of deforestation reached a new milestone, according to an analysis of satellite images by the University of Maryland. The amount of 2017 deforestation broke all previous records by a large amount. Each successive year is a new record. For the immediate future deforestation will continue, assuming no other ecological catastrophe requires a stoppage before it’s all gone. This may very well be the case as drought becomes more frequent and severe due to deforestation. Just ask Brazil. Since Brazil leveled the entire Atlantic rainforest that once occupied millions of square kilometers, droughts never before endured are now a constant and serious issue.

  10. DerHundistLos on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 8:02 pm 

    I forgot to mention another ecological disaster and that’s depletion of soils and desertification. It’s never so simple as to define three ecological consequences of the Green Revolution as the system is too interconnected and complex.

    1. Dead Zones
    2. Groundwater depletion
    3. Desertification- 3.6 billion acres and counting
    4. Nutrient mix changes
    5. Soil errossion- 24 billion tons per year
    6. Deforestation-8.7 million hec. per year

  11. Free Speech Forum on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 11:03 pm 

    The government is destroying the US with wars, debt, and tyranny, but what do we need government for anyway?

    If a private association like the MPAA can regulate movies, why can’t the private market regulate other things?

    When the TSA fingers your asshole and pulls your cock, is the real purpose to protect you or to make you feel like a degraded slave?

    When people smoke now, people just call the police on them, but people in the past either took some personal responsibility and ignored smokers, moved away from smokers, or asked smokers to go somewhere else. The problem with a police state is everyone now is either or a slave or a criminal. Who pays the taxes to pay for tyranny?

    If smoking is dangerous, can’t nonprofits raise funds to pay for educational campaigns that warn of the dangers of smoking instead of outlawing smoking?

    Can’t people use the BBB to verify if a business is good or not instead of forcing companies to pay fees to get a government business license?

    Can’t private charities funded by volunteer donations provide homeless shelters and soup kitchens instead of being at forced at the point of a gun by the government to pay taxes that fund welfare?

    Can’t people use guns to protect themselves instead of relying on the Gestapo?

    Can’t neighbourhoods hire private security firms to protect their homes?

    Can’t the free market provide toll roads?

    Can’t the free market provide private airports?

    Can’t the free market provide private schools?

    Can’t the free market provide private mediation services instead of being forced to use courts?

    Can’t volunteer fire departments provide fire protection services?

    Can’t the free market provide disaster relief instead of FEMA?

    Can’t the free market run delivery services instead of the USPS?

    Can’t the free market run railroads instead of Amtrak?


  12. makati1 on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 11:37 pm 

    FSF, I totally agree.

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