Farmers versus Famine

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Bill McKibben, the skeptics best friend, can always be depended on to provide interesting claims. Never one to let a good crisis go to waste, he opines on the tsunami and our “shrinking margins” over at the Guardian. A number of people have highlighted various of his ideas, not all of them favorably. One claim of his that I have not seen discussed is the following:

We’re seeing record temperatures that depress harvests – the amount of grain per capita on the planet has been falling for years.

Figure 1. Food and Protein per capita. The LDCs are the “Least Developed Countries”, the poorest of the world’s countries. Red and orange are total food supply (right scale). Dark and light blue are protein (left scale). DATA SOURCE

Let’s start by considering the real issue. People eat a host of things, not just grains. So the issue is not the number of kilogrammes of grain produced per person. That’s only part of the story. The real issue is, how well are we feeding the ~ 7 billion people of the world?

The first thing that Figure 1 shows is that after years of making little gain, since the early 1990s the food supply in the LDCs has been improving (orange line). There’s still a ways to go, but the trend is upwards.

The next thing is quite surprising. In the year 2007 (the last year for which we have data), the people in the poorest countries (orange line) were getting almost as many daily calories as the global average in 1961 (red line). To me, this is an amazing accomplishment. Remember that during this time, the population of the planet more than doubled. Despite that, both the poorest of the poor, and the global population as a whole, are better fed than at any time in history.

Finally, globally there is no sign of any recent decrease in nutrition levels. Nor do nutrition levels appear to be connected in any way to the temperature.

However, to be fair, that wasn’t McKibben’s claim. He said that grain production per capita on the planet has been “falling for years”, so let’s check that. Figure 2 shows those numbers, with the data again from FAOSTAT.

Figure 2. Production per capita for all cereal grains. Figures for the LDCs represent domestic cereal production divided by domestic population.

Has global grain production per capita been “falling for years” as McKibben claims? The observations say no. Globally, it peaked at just above 350 kg per person around 1980 and has dipped less than 10% and come back up since then.

For the LDCs, on the other hand, their domestic cereal grain production was unable to keep up with their domestic population growth until the early 1990s. Since then, due in part to decreasing population growth rates, LDC grain production per capita has been rising steadily. There’s no sign of any recent change in that rising trend. Anything is possible tomorrow, of course. But there’s no sign of falling grain production as McKibben claims, from temperature or any other cause.

So, what’s the current score in the battle of the farmers of the planet to feed the ever-increasing masses?

Farmers: 1 … Malthus: 0.

Oh, and McKibben’s score? … -1 for truth content, but high marks for entertainment value.

w.

PS – The continued ability of the world to feed itself, despite adding a total of four billion people to the planet in the last fifty years, is an unparalleled and largely unrecognized success for humanity. I am so tired of people like McKibben not only not acknowledging that, but going so far as to claim that the trend has reversed and that things are getting worse. That’s nonsense. In terms of world nutrition, things are better than they have ever been, even for the poorest countries. Not only that, but they continue to improve. That’s a huge success.

So rather than incessant whining about how terrible things are, how about we take some pride in that success, and think about what it is we’ve done right to achieve that, and how to do more of whatever that was that got us here?

[UPDATE TWO WEEKS LATER] Here’s the latest of Bill McKibben’s “depressed harvests”, from the WSJ … India has so much grain from several years of record harvests that it has run out of warehouse space to store it.

India Foodgrain Output to Hit Record High

By BANIKINKAR PATTANAYAK

NEW DELHI –India’s foodgrains output is set to rise to a record 235.88 million metric tons this crop year, according to government estimates, a figure which is likely to pave the way to lifting the export ban on wheat and common rice varieties.

Citing the government’s latest crop estimates, Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said wheat output during the year through June is likely to rise to 84.27 million tons from 80.8 million tons last year, while rice output will increase to 94.11 million tons from 89.09 million tons over the same period.

“The government should now give serious thought about storage, allocation to states and export of rice and wheat,” Mr. Pawar told a news conference.

India imposed a ban on the export of wheat and common grades of rice three years ago to curb prices, and since then the government’s grain stocks have swelled to more than double its requirement.

Consequently, state-run warehouses ran out of space last year and the government was forced to store some of the grain in the open. The storage crunch may worsen this year because of the record output. The government is expected to make a decision next month on lifting the export ban on wheat and common rice grades.

 


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149 Responses to Farmers versus Famine

  1. Latitude says:

    and this is on top of 40% of our grain/corn being diverted to biofool……………

  2. Tim Curtin says:

    Willis, great post as always. But you left out the carbon content of all that food and protein. My corn flakes box says they have 80 grams of carbohydrate per 100 grams, and chemists tell us that the carbon content of a carbohydrate is about 40%. And without carbon there’s no protein at all. Can you explain to McKibben where that carbon comes from? surely not from the wicked emissions arising from hydrocarbon combustion? There is no way the 7 billion today could be as well fed as they are with the level of atmospheric CO2 as it was in 1960 for the 3 billion or so then.

  3. Bowel movement says:

    Although I’m not a warmist in any shade there is a hard fact of a vastly increased population to feed by an agri-industry that ABSOLUTELY relies on the petro-chemical industry to maintain the real production seen.

    It is a reality that there is no replacement for this and a time will absolutely arrive where the petro-chemical industry will simply not be able to keep up. Just a fact without any political undercurrent in my head.

    Then it will all get interesting as I’m not one who subscribes to the view that ‘technology’ will always have an answer…..

    In times to come it will be called ‘The Great Cull’…….

    But then maybe I’m completely mad….I’m open to argument.

  4. The Monster says:

    Butbutbut you hate starving people because you challenge the narrative! It’s perfectly fine for people who CARE more than you to make up stories so that the dire situation seems even worse. They HAVE to lie so that the Cause will get enough Awareness!

  5. Andrew says:

    I would bet the drop in grain production can be atributed to ethanol production! Progressive extremists meet The Law of Unintended Consequences.

  6. RiHo08 says:

    Prairie grass is a drought resistant and cold resistant palatable forage crop that is currently being grown to address a changing climate. The American Bison seemed to have thrived in millions of head per herd in the American West and it is likely that dairy and beef cattle can survive on a diet which is similar. It is unfathomable that we give credence to folks who have no knowledge of agriculture, past or present who insist on giving a prediction for the future. It reminds me that global climate change scientists are really out in left field; they don’t know umph from apple butter.

  7. Hugh Pepper says:

    What is the source of the information in your charts Willis?

    Let’s look at the situation in the Middle East where populations are growing extraordinarily .The grain harvest in Syria – down 20% since 2001 when it peaked.Likewise in Iraq, the harvest is down 25% from a peak in 2002. Jordan’s harvest is down from 300000 tons to 60000 tons in 40 years. Israel imports 98% of its grain. The problem is falling water tables and accordingly, less water for irrigation. The idea of desalinating sea water for this use is a non-starter because of the expense involved.(These statistics are taken from Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Insitute publications.)

    In the USA, water available for irrigation is diminishing in the mid West, and in the South West.Much of the water which would otherwise be available is now being diverted for city use. Irrigated land in Texas, for example is down from a peak in 1978, 0f 7 million acres to 5 million acres. California’s irrigated acreage is down from 9 million acres in 1997 to 7.5 million acres in 2010.

    Large countries such as China, India and Pakistan are on the edge of crisis, surviving in an unsustainable water bubble, having to buy large tracts of land in Africa to grow enough grain to feed their growing populations. All of this is well documented in multiple sources.

  8. Doug in Seattle says:

    The Monster says:
    March 26, 2011 at 6:50 pm
    “. . . It’s perfectly fine for people who CARE more than you to make up stories so that the dire situation seems even worse. They HAVE to lie so that the Cause will get enough Awareness!”

    This is why we find ourselves spending hundreds of billions of dollars (pounds, euros, etc) each year to fight against that imaginary foe named CO2.

  9. BillyBob says:

    BM: “It is a reality that there is no replacement for this and a time will absolutely arrive where the petro-chemical industry will simply not be able to keep up.”

    The world is awash in Natural Gas thanks to Shale Gas *despite greens attempt to sabotage).

    “In the USA in 2004, 317 billion cubic feet of natural gas were consumed in the industrial production of ammonia, less than 1.5% of total U.S. annual consumption of natural gas.”

    The US has hundreds of years of NG.

    And some fertilizers are mined – potash is a good example.

  10. AntonyIndia says:

    The Guardian is also full of articles and comments against GM, which they consider to be Monsanto’s private monopoly and therefore bad. Bacteria and viruses have been moving around genes unconsciously since they occurred on Earth, but now that Man can do it consciously it is suddenly super dangerous, another Armageddon.

    The poor and hungry in the world have been left out by the leftovers from the Left.

  11. martin brumby says:

    Well, Bowel Movement@6:46pm, I’m sorry but I think your argument and your chosen blogging name are much of a muchness.

    Rather that pointing out the weakness of the “peak oil” or “peak fossil fuel” dogma (after all, the stone age didn’t end when we ran out of rocks), just consider…

    Which looks like a bigger challenge?

    (1) Control the climate when we’re not even sure how it works.

    Or
    (2) Turn abundent coal (or even a host of other organic things other than food) into fuel for agricultural production and distribution?

    Hmmmmmm. A tough one.

    But (hint) the South Africans have been producing oil from coal for decades.

    What if the world concentrated its scientists and engineers (and, yes, farmers) into solving real problem rather than pouring trillions into cAGW dogma?

    What then?

  12. Brian H says:

    “Expert” predictions of calamity have a long history. Of unmitigated error and failure.

  13. Andy Jones says:

    Martin Brumby and BillyBob

    That’s my real name.

    I wasn’t commenting on ‘peak oil’ or any such concept. I don’t even suggest a timescale to the issue, I simply state that it WILL be at some point. In any case I have no qualification whatsoever to comment on such things. However, I have an ‘intuition’ if you like. Personally I have no emotive need for argument as such..Much prefer discussion.

    I would like to hear argument that endless growth in population can be endlessly provided for.

    With reference to consumption in any event may I please ask that you to watch this link..I simply have little in the way of ‘argument’ to contradict the message here. I’d be grateful for considered responses.

    Ta

  14. Andy Jones says:

    As an aside I also drive a 6ltr V8 with deep enjoyment and zero guilt. I feel you misunderstood my position, I hope it’s clearer at this point.

    I am on your side, just pointing out other problems with the stance, that’s all.

  15. Becky says:

    I have no doubt that your data is sound, but – and there’s a tangent warning – I will call shenanigans on this statement

    In terms of world nutrition, things are better than they have ever been, even for the poorest countries

    No, they haven’t been. We’re feeding the poorest in the world a nutritionally vacant diet based upon genetically engineered cereal grains and reducing once robust agri-ecosystems to monoculture deserts. People are not receiving better nutrition – they are receiving more calories. A quick look at the urban poor will show that one can be over-fed [read: obese] yet malnourished. That’s exactly what we’re doing to the “Global South” when we increase their protein intake via soy and calorie intake via corn and wheat.

    Moreover, we’re doing the same thing to ourselves by growing our staple crops in soil that is recharged annually. The nutrient content of factory-farmed foods has been decreasing steadily as our soil is degraded.

    To the point, it’s little more than entertainment to discuss the current state of our world food supply in terms of cereal grains. We should be looking at utilization of scrub land for herding and native agricultural diversity. But, those aren’t easily measured statistics that allow climate-alarmists to promote sensational quotes such as the one at the beginning of your post.

    FWIW

  16. Binny says:

    The problem is the cost of production relative to return, food production can be ramped up significantly as soon as it becomes economically viable to so. In Australia at the moment milk is on the supermarket shelves cheaper than water, and this is in spite of the fact that water is available free of charge at numerous locations.
    In fact for most of the Western world, food no longer has an economic value and this is the primary reason for the drop in supply.

    I have a cattle station/ranch in outback Australia, at the moment I am operating at less than 50% capacity. Because in order to run more cattle I would have to employ more cowboys, and there is simply not enough profit in cattle production at the moment to compete with the mines and oil rigs in terms of employee salaries.

    Someone said it is not economically viable to desalinate water to grow crops.

    Have a think about this; you don’t need you Mac Mansion, your flashy car, or your flashy clothes.
    You do need to eat. Trust me when you get hungry you won’t hesitate to spend the same amount of money on your food. That you currently spend on your car, your clothes, and your house.
    When that happens it most certainly will be economically viable to desalinate water to grow food

  17. gringoviejo says:

    Peak phosphorus is capable of being a game changer for crop yields. One fellow says the average wheat yield of 9 tons/hectare would drop to 4 tons/hectare by 2100 without phosphorus fertilization. Morroccan mines will rule the commodities market.

    Look for government to let your grandkids use incadescent light bulbs but require recycling urine into struvite, for the phosphorus. My surmise is food will shift into mycotic culture, like breeding myco-protein and sequential steps innoculating plant cellulose for human foodstuffs. The reduction in water required to produce them will go toward people’s daily ration.

  18. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Bowel movement says:
    March 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Although I’m not a warmist in any shade there is a hard fact of a vastly increased population to feed by an agri-industry that ABSOLUTELY relies on the petro-chemical industry to maintain the real production seen.

    It is a reality that there is no replacement for this and a time will absolutely arrive where the petro-chemical industry will simply not be able to keep up. Just a fact without any political undercurrent in my head.

    Ummm … you do know that people have been predicting that very outcome, ever since the time of Malthus, and it hasn’t yet come true?

    So while you may certainly say it is a possibility, it is by no means a “fact”.

    w.

  19. Andy Jones says:

    So Willis, what is the end-point?.

    Please watch the video above and get back to me but don’t attack me from some misguided sense that I’m an ‘ist’ of any sort.

    Just watch and then educate me.

  20. Andy Jones says:

    Actually I do say it’s a fact. Infinite growth over infinite time is not possible.

  21. Andy Jones says:

    As you say Willis …’yet’.

  22. Doug in Seattle says:

    Andy:

    Infinite growth is another of the Malthusian fallacies. As societies grow wealthier they reproduce at a lower rate. As east and south Asia develop their birth rates drop. The same will happen in Africa and South America, but only if we stop trying to thwart development by denying them access to affordable fossil fuels (which mean affordable energy, thus allowing them to develop and become wealthier).

  23. Walt Stone says:

    Every time I fill my car with 13 gallons of gasoline diluted with 10% ethanol, I figure I’m burning up 34.2 pounds of corn. That’s corn already removed from the cob, mind you. I always wonder how much corn meal that would make.

  24. Dave says:

    Andy Jones>

    If I understand your point correctly, it’s that at some point there is a maximum limit to the population the planet can support, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. I can’t speak for the others, but personally I don’t worry about that point arriving for a couple of reasons. In the first place, it’s a very long way off, if at all. We could have a population of a trillion at least, if we were willing to make that a priority. Well before the point food becomes an issue, space and personal liberty becomes a bigger issue, I suspect. That neatly brings in the second point, which is that there doesn’t seem to be too much reason to think the world population will keep growing indefinitely. As countries get richer, their populations increase slower, and even start to decrease in some cases. We’re not nearly done yet in global terms, but there is an upper bound eventually.

  25. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Hugh Pepper says:
    March 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    What is the source of the information in your charts Willis?

    As cited in the head post, it’s the FAOSTAT database. Fabulous resource.

    Let’s look at the situation in the Middle East where populations are growing extraordinarily .The grain harvest in Syria – down 20% since 2001 when it peaked.Likewise in Iraq, the harvest is down 25% from a peak in 2002. Jordan’s harvest is down from 300000 tons to 60000 tons in 40 years. Israel imports 98% of its grain. The problem is falling water tables and accordingly, less water for irrigation. The idea of desalinating sea water for this use is a non-starter because of the expense involved. (These statistics are taken from Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Insitute publications.)

    I would give you my frank and honest opinion of Lester Brown, but I fear this is a family blog. Suffice it to say that if he claimed it is 2011, I’d double-check my calendar.

    RUN THE NUMBERS YOURSELF! DO NOT BELIEVE ANYONE! NOT EVEN ME! But particularly don’t believe Lester.

    Five minutes on the FAOSTAT website gives me this:

    As you can see, the situation is much more complex than, and nothing like, what Lester claims.

    In addition, he’s cherry-picking. Often, countries will move from producing one crop to producing another for a variety of reasons. For example, take Jordan. Yes, cereal grains are down, as you point out … but other agricultural production is way, way up. Cereal grains were always a minor crop there, look at the tonnages. A look at the FAO data shows that in 1970 Jordan produced about 0.4 million tonnes of total crops. In 2009, total crops were 5 times that, about 2 million tonnes. Makes the claims of the huge water shortage ring hollow. Yes, water is short there, but it hasn’t stopped Jordan from quintupling production in a quarter century. And with the Jordanian total crop production still increasing, with no sign of a slowdown, Lester’s claim of a Jordanian downturn is just just more of his usual “brown matter” …

    And yes, Israel imports 98% of its wheat … no surprise. Countries produce what they are best fitted for, and trade for the rest. Last I looked, Israel wasn’t exactly set up for the whole “amber waves of grain” deal …

    w.

  26. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Andy Jones says:
    March 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    I wasn’t commenting on ‘peak oil’ or any such concept. I don’t even suggest a timescale to the issue, I simply state that it WILL be at some point. In any case I have no qualification whatsoever to comment on such things. However, I have an ‘intuition’ if you like. Personally I have no emotive need for argument as such..Much prefer discussion.

    I would like to hear argument that endless growth in population can be endlessly provided for.

    I’d like to hear that somebody was actually making that argument. I certainly wasn’t, it’s not a meaningful claim in my book.

    I do think that we can easily feed nine billion people, that’s only about a 30% increase in population. I also think that we have only begun to scratch the possible energy sources. As a result, any bounds on anything are premature. We’re not near any of those limits at this point, as I think you’d agree.

    w.

  27. Dave says:

    Hey Willis,

    “Countries produce what they are best fitted for, and trade for the rest.”

    Worth noting that alone is a major factor in increasing global food production. A few centuries ago, Israel would have been using up too much land (and effort) on basic food production for which it was unsuited to be able to put much to use growing the crops which suit the conditions – and couldn’t have done much with the surplus in any case.

    Got me wondering: if it was dedicated entirely to growing grain, could the American Mid-west produce enough grain? Or the Russian prairies? How much area would it take, in the best grain country in the world, with the best methods? I wouldn’t know where to start looking.

  28. kramer says:

    In that McKibben article, he also wrote the following:

    We might not have constant access to unlimited power at every second of every day.

    I think it’s clear that the future these greens envision for us is one where we have far less technology and modern conveniences/appliances to use, where we share our wealth, tech, and tech know-how with the rest of the developing and emerging world, where a carbon card will dictate our lives, where a global government will ration the world’s resources (and hence control the world’s economies), in short, a ‘common’ integrated socialist egalitarian utopia.

    Seems like they’ve wanted this for decades. How convenient that they are using AGW (with it’s bullet-proof science) to get us there.

  29. Andy Jones says:

    Thank you for that. I really don’t have any idea where the limits lie (we’re going to find out either way I suspect). There could be a case to be made that even ‘steady state’ is ultimately unsustainable on current principles but thank you again.

    What’s the title of your book please? (sorry if I kissed it)

  30. Andy Jones says:

    Boll***s, sh**……….’Missed’ meant MISSED……….

  31. Andy Jones says:

    Sorry I didn’t keep using a pseudonym now!!

  32. James Sexton says:

    Andy Jones says:
    March 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Actually I do say it’s a fact. Infinite growth over infinite time is not possible.
    ==================================================

    Andy, you forgot the other infinite in the equation. Man’s ability to overcome his situation is of infinite possibilities. What are they? I’ve no idea. What I do know, is that there is no limit to what technology will bring us. I know you have already disregarded that argument, but you should revisit it. What people fail to understand, is that energy is the ultimate recyclable. While it is true, we can’t create it, the converse is also true, we can’t destroy it. We can only use it, and use it again. Our food is simply an expression of energy and matter. Consider it like water. In spite of the doom and gloom we’ve seen here considering water, it too, is one of the ultimate recyclables. People, water doesn’t go anywhere. We drink it, or water our plants, plants use it. We expel it. It evaporates and comes down again. Does it move around? Sure it does. We’ve plenty of evidence of old river beds etc….. that it isn’t in the same place it was isn’t a surprise. About the only thing that would subtract usable water from the budget would be an ice age(sequester). We’re just going to have to do what we’ve always done, adapt.

    The difficulty arises when we consider the future by what we know today. Its wrong to do that. It is never correct. We don’t know how things will be, we never do. Although I do find Orwell and Douglas MacArthur to have been quite the prognosticators. (1984 and Thayer award acceptance speech respectively)

    We don’t know the mode of transportation, the fuel used, our habitat, clothing necessary, nothing, we don’t know any of this stuff. I guess, Michael Crichton said it better than anyone when he gave a lecture at Cal-Tech.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/07/09/aliens-cause-global-warming-a-caltech-lecture-by-michael-crichton/

    The two speeches and the book are always worth a read.

    And finally, if all that wasn’t enough, you should know that once the LDC’s become developed, it is expected that the world population would level out anyway, making this simply an academic discussion. We already see cultures losing population as opposed to gaining. World population overgrowth is a myth perpetuated by misanthropists. I mean, really? In this day and age, the procreation compulsion would be so great that all throughout the globe we’d forget how to use a condom? If we ever got to that point, mankind would do what he always does. Adapt.

  33. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Becky says:
    March 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I have no doubt that your data is sound, but – and there’s a tangent warning – I will call shenanigans on this statement

    In terms of world nutrition, things are better than they have ever been, even for the poorest countries

    No, they haven’t been. We’re feeding the poorest in the world a nutritionally vacant diet based upon genetically engineered cereal grains and reducing once robust agri-ecosystems to monoculture deserts. People are not receiving better nutrition – they are receiving more calories. A quick look at the urban poor will show that one can be over-fed [read: obese] yet malnourished.

    Becky, while those are interesting claims, you’ll have to provide some citations. First, I would be shocked if the poor people of the planet got a significant proportion of their calories from “genetically engineered cereal grains”. Citation?

    Second, I would be surprised if any studies showed that genetically engineered grains were less nutritious than regular grains. In fact, some corn is genetically engineered to be more nutritious, because it has missing proteins that allow greater use of the other proteins. Again … citation?

    Certainly, one can be over-fed and still malnourished. Compared to under-fed and malnourished, however, I know which one I’d pick …

    That’s exactly what we’re doing to the “Global South” when we increase their protein intake via soy and calorie intake via corn and wheat.

    Yeah, that soy and corn and wheat, they’re obviously the wrong thing to feed people … say what?

    Here’s the thing. Most of the farmers adopting GM seeds are small farmers in the developing world. Why? Most GM varieties are chosen for one reason only – resistance to insects/molds/disease. The poor farmers don’t have to use anywhere near as much pesticides with the GM crops.

    Now, you might think that poor farmers using less pesticide is a bad thing. Me, I don’t, and neither do the farmers.

    Yeah, yeah, I know you think it’s just empty calories … but until you can provide a citation, I’m gonna say nope. Same calories as always.

    w.

  34. Clive says:

    Willis

    Thank you so much. I am going to use your charts if I may. Thank you.

    I am giving a talk to a generally warmist crowd in a few weeks. “Food production” was on my list of main items to address.

    FAOSTAT is handy. I used it last winter for info needed for an export development project I was working on.

    The main message here is simple: food production does not seem to be crashing as many would have us imagine.

    Thanks and regards.

    Clive

  35. Mooloo says:

    Sillly man Willis!

    Becky, Andy, Hugh and Bowel will just move on until they find some other scare. No amount of rational explanation will persuade them otherwise. No amount of “the Malthusians have always been wrong” will work either.

    They want to believe we are doomed and will scratch around until they find something to hang their worries on. The correct response to their endless pleas for the next bad thing is to accept their psychological concerns and direct them to counselling.

    Water supply is, of course, the latest worrywart catchcry. Because data on it is too hard to collect, so rational argument is in short supply. Never mind that water literally falls from the sky and is most of the planet, lack of it is going to doom us all!!!11!!eleventy!!

    You have to admire the Malthusians though in their persistence in spite of repeated defeat. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses eventually gave up saying the end was nigh when their predictions failed too often.

    It’s a shame that the “Club of Rome” is only a metaphorical stick with which to beat them.

  36. George Turner says:

    I’ll mention that as farming becomes more capital intensive (technologically advanced) it also can become more efficient. Even with hay, vast improvements in its nutritive value are made by simply managing the temperature and moisture content. Last year my office even looked at a computer controls job for very expensive German hay dryers that are getting popular with local farmers. All aspects of agriculture constantly make improvements.

    For example, there a nice chart of Indiana’s corn yield in bushels per acre here. It rises steadily from about 25 bushels per acre in 1930 to around 150 bushels per acre now. I mention this because someone cited decreased acreage. Well if the yield per acre goes up six-fold and the market is relatively fixed, farmers would only bother planting a sixth as many acres.

  37. Dr. Dave in Dayton says:

    Andy Jones says: March 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm
    So Willis, what is the end-point?.
    =============================
    Andy,
    I think you would find the following book highly edifying: “Human consequences of crowding” edited by Mehmet R. Gürkaynak and W. Ayhan LeCompte (1979), New York: Plenum Press. It is based on Selected lectures presented at the Symposium on Human Consequences of Crowding, held in Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 6-11, 1977.

    I was there presenting a paper and vividly recall several findings that were true then and more likely to be true now. Here is what I learned:
    1. In 1977, the amount of arable land rich enough to support agriculture was capable of supporting a population of 40 Billion people well given the 1970 level of food production.
    2. If all of the people in the world were given four square meters of ground to stand on, the total population would occupy a land area just larger than the city of Gainesville, Florida.
    3. Since the beginning of recorded history, the population has been increasing, but the population density has been decreasing (fewer people per hectare).
    4. The population increase throughout most of history has been exponential, but it was leveling off in 1977, and was expected to peak in 2050 at about 2050 at 10 Billion if current trends (in 1997) of increasing nutrition in the developing world and declining birthrates in the developed world continued. It was assumed in 1997 that as developing nations became more prosperous, their birthrates would also decline (which has in fact occurred).

    So while it is possible to conjecture that population will increase indefinitely and that food supply will not keep pace, the facts are that such is not the case in the real world.

  38. ferd berple says:

    “I would like to hear argument that endless growth in population can be endlessly provided for”

    Look at the rich countries of the world. Except for immigration from the poor countries, their populations are flat or declining.

    Population solves itself when people don’t need to have 10 children to provide manual labour to tend the crops and livestock and as security into old age.

  39. David says:

    Willis, thank you for responding as always. Would you care to speculate; if in the next calandar year CO2 was to magically reduce to 280 PPM, how much less food would we grow, all else being the same?

  40. thingadonta says:

    I do think there is a kind of death -wish mentality in the thinking of the socialist/pessimists. Part of the reason people like Elrich and co. believe in such dire futures is because of the other self-fulfilling ideologies they believe; if many of these were indeed implemented, things might well get dire. And because they refuse to address/modify these other ideologies, its no wonder they balso elieve in other indirectly related doomsday/negative scenarios or trends.

    Eg if we abandon all fossil fuels, like the doomsdayers want us to, then yes, people might well start to starve. The outcome of one is predicated on the ideology of the other.

    Its a kind of self-fulfilling mentality. Stalin had it, Mao had it, Hitler had it. If you look hard enough for traitors/end of the world/enemies of the state etc, you will eventually find them, even if you have to make them confess/create/fulfil things they haven’t done, or wouldn’t have done otherwise.

    I thought of another self-fulfilling, ideology- related prediction recently, (which explains my point well) whilst travelling through poor 3rd world countries. The old idea that rubbish will eventually make the planet uninhabitable, (one of the stupidist of the doomsday trends, as in the movie Wall-E). Rubbish clogging up living spaces is exclusively a 3rd world problem, because they can’t afford to pay for council workers etc to clean it up. It has nothing to do with lack of space, and everything to do with poverty. So how does this fit into the ideology of socialist doomsday prediction?. Well, if you actually implement various extreme socialist policies, it makes societies poorer, and rubbish will then, inevitably, pile up as a result. A self -fulfilling doomsday ideology if I ever heard of one.

    So the next time you hear someone worry about where to put all the rubbish that is going to drown us, inform them its only a problem if we implement stupid poverty -creating policies to begin with.

  41. Darren Parker says:

    I always thought it was amazing in Australia over the last few years that the givernment would go on about the drought and water restrictions whilst at te same time the Grape growers were recording record crops that led to a massive glut in grapes. Wine is now very very cheap here because of that.

  42. pat says:

    Lunatics or LuddiTicks?

  43. CRS, Dr.P.H. says:

    Willis, this was a very nice post as always, thank you!

    I’d posit that some of the reduction in global grain output is related to loss of productivity due to armed conflict, political upheaval and other such human causes. Zimbabwe was “the breadbasket of Africa,” but their agricultural output is in shambles due to political tinkering by Mugabe. I think we’d find similar drops in Iraq and other countries.

    Per capita production is, as you’d expect, variable from place to place — for example, as of 2007, per capita grain production in the US was ~ 1,230 kg/person/year, while in China that number was 325 and in Zimbabwe, only 90 kg/person/year was produced (WorldWatch March/April 08).

    http://people.oregonstate.edu/~muirp/agtrends.htm

  44. P.G. Sharrow says:

    People produce more wealth then they consume. Governments consume without production. When bureaucrats break the backs of producers everyone starves.
    More energy allows fewer hands to create more wealth and food. I have created food and wealth for over 60 years. Numbers of people is not a problem. The increase in rule makers and tax collectors is the problem. pg

  45. HenryP says:

    To get bigger crops to feed more people we need more carbondioxide, which is the food for plants and trees.
    the problem is: Bill McKibben & company is still convinced that more carbon dioxide causes warming, which, if true, indirectly perhaps could have an adverse effect on crops.
    So we have to simply convince him (and many others) that carbondioxide does not cause any warming.
    Most of the increase in carbondioxide occurred in the past 4 decades. Many good temp. records are available from weather stations during this period.
    I determined that in the pace where I live there has been no warming as a result of more GHG’s. See here:
    http://www.letterdash.com/HenryP/assessment-of-global-warming-and-global-warming-caused-by-greenhouse-forcings-in-pretoria-south-africa

    Namely, if warming is as a result of GHG’s you would expect heat entrapment and subsequently you would expect minimum temps. to rise at a rate faster than – or at least equivalent to – those of the mean and maximum temps. What I found is exactly the opposite: minimum temps. have been declining where as maxima have been rising. However, means have essentially stayed the same. So heat content must have stayed the same.
    I double checked these results with results from Spain, Northern Ireland and during the dry months in La Paz Bolivia and found similar results. You can do the same in your area if you follow the same procedure as shown here:
    http://www.letterdash.com/HenryP/assessment-of-global-warming-and-global-warming-caused-by-greenhouse-forcings-in-pretoria-south-africa

    So I say more carbon dioxide is good.
    http://www.letterdash.com/HenryP/more-carbon-dioxide-is-ok-ok

  46. dp says:

    Things that matter:

    Planted acreage – up or down?
    Yield – up or down?
    Silo capacity – up or down?
    Seed crop capacity – up or down?
    Silage – up or down?
    Irrigation acreage – up or down?
    Urbanization of agrarian populations – up or down?
    Demand – up or down?
    Supply vs demand – balance?

    Nothing in this report even goes near describing helpful metrics.

  47. rusureuwant2know says:

    Bowel movement said, “It is a reality that there is no replacement for this and a time will absolutely arrive where the petro-chemical industry will simply not be able to keep up”

    Only because of government’s refusal to allow us to drill.

  48. garymount says:

    Bowel movement says:
    …the petro-chemical industry will simply not be able to keep up
    ———————-

    The potash reserves in Saskatchewan are massive. By conservative estimates, Saskatchewan could supply world demand at current levels for several hundred years.
    http://www.ir.gov.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=3558%2C3541%2C3538%2C3385%2C2936%2CDocuments

  49. Becky says:

    Heya, Willis. =)

    I’ll try to go point by point and keep it brief. My brevity alarm may be broken, though (that’s your fair warning). I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that I got all the HTML brackets right…

    First, I would be shocked if the poor people of the planet got a significant proportion of their calories from “genetically engineered cereal grains”. Citation?

    The point there was that the food we give them is (typically) genetically modified. As of 2010, GMO corn made up (at least) 63% of US production. We try to ship that to starving countries (like Zimbabwe, who, last year, refused GMO food aid).

    Second, I would be surprised if any studies showed that genetically engineered grains were less nutritious than regular grains. In fact, some corn is genetically engineered to be more nutritious, because it has missing proteins that allow greater use of the other proteins. Again … citation?

    They have been engineered to be more nutritious, but it’s not just the GMOs that are less nutritious. And the plants, even when engineered, have to get some of the nutrients from somewhere, namely, the soil. Our produce is getting less nutrient dense as we overwork the soil – even the government admits that key nutrients in the soil are being lost in the industrial process. (This article goes into more specific and concrete detail than the government one).

    Proteins…there’s more to nutrition than proteins. Plants have, historically, been excellent sources of most vitamins and minerals. See above for why they are not.

    Certainly, one can be over-fed and still malnourished. Compared to under-fed and malnourished, however, I know which one I’d pick …

    Odd, since scurvy will kill you even if you’re fed.

    Yeah, that soy and corn and wheat, they’re obviously the wrong thing to feed people … say what?

    The feigned shock was a good touch. =) If you would, for a moment, consider the fact that there’s a global epidemic of obesity (even among the poor), diabetes and heart disease, to name a few, that coincide with a widespread adoption of food products we humans didn’t eat in appreciable quantities for nearly nearly the entirety of our evolution…but, that is wildly off topic, and probably best saved for a different (more lengthy) debate.

    Putting aside the arguments on whether or not these are appropriate foods for humans, cereal grains are not complete proteins and do not supply an appreciable source of dietary fats. Both of these are not necessarily immediately detrimental to adults (the long-term effects may take years or decades to show up, so we’ll skip that), but have catostrophic effects on developing brains. Missing proteins can lead to a staggering number of growth abnormalities. Vitamin D deficiency – which can present due to insufficient dietary cholesterol – leads to rickets and bone malformations. Dietary fats are essential for brain development – this includes prenatally – and a deficiency before and/or after birth can lead to anything from mild mood disorders to severe mental retardation or nervous system dysfunction.

    Arguing food production in terms of cereal grains misses the point. The kids are getting sufficient calories, but they still can’t grow properly. Is it really OK for a child to not die of starvation, yet live a life with bone deformities? Or mental retardation? Or neurological defects? I’m not trying to make the old feminista “quality over quantity” argument – I’m just sayin’, we can do better, and to leave out that part of the equation degrades the problem.

    Most of the farmers adopting GM seeds are small farmers in the developing world. Why? Most GM varieties are chosen for one reason only – resistance to insects/molds/disease. The poor farmers don’t have to use anywhere near as much pesticides with the GM crops.

    Now, you might think that poor farmers using less pesticide is a bad thing. Me, I don’t, and neither do the farmers.

    You need a citation. There’s a reason poor farmers burn GM seeds. There’s a reason the suicide rate among Indian farmers has skyrocketed. They “chose” the seeds because the companies producing them made big promises they couldn’t deliver on.

    What you’re failing to admit here is GM crops are resistant to insects/molds/disease now but that’s not guaranteed to continue. We’re already seeing Round-Up Ready super-weeds in the US (look, we need more chemicals). We already know monocultures run the risk of significant crop loss. BT cotton has already been hit hard by new insects and pathogens. Although further GM-ing could solve it, it will result in a constant game of cat and mouse – something bad happens, a year’s worth of crops are destroyed, and then the companies produce something resistant to whatever caused the die-off. (Think of how well this after-the-fact strategy is working for the TSA.)

  50. Becky says:

    Mooloo says

    Becky, Andy, Hugh and Bowel will just move on until they find some other scare. No amount of rational explanation will persuade them otherwise. No amount of “the Malthusians have always been wrong” will work either.

    They want to believe we are doomed and will scratch around until they find something to hang their worries on. The correct response to their endless pleas for the next bad thing is to accept their psychological concerns and direct them to counselling.

    There was no doom in my post. I was pointing out a fundamental flaw in the argument about food supply – grain per capita is not a valid measure of how well the world is fed. If you had bothered to read to the end, you’d also take note that I put the blame for this inadequacy on the AGW advocates. Tracking grain is simple, as its production is recorded by several international organizations. If the argument were framed in a different way – ie, how are people in Zambia doing at supporting themselves with local production – they couldn’t make silly claims like “Climate change linked to global rise in food prices”.

    It’s the same type that wants the global “level playing field” and that means everyone grows and eats the same thing. This ensures that when a global staple crop is adversely affected in several areas – Zambia, Nicaragua and Thailand, for instance – it can be swiftly blamed on global climate menopause. Same crop, three different areas, it’s “obviously” not coincidence. However, if Zambian farmers have a bad year for okra, and Nicaraguan farmers have a poor maize crop, and Thai farmers lose their bok choy harvest…how can they spin that to fit the narrative?

    Yeah, I know, conspiracies conspiracies, but I thought we’d already established they would do just about anything to fit the square peg into the round hole.

    FWIW

  51. geronimo says:

    @Andy Jones. Watched the video as requested. It is a highly inflexible Malthusian view of the world, sure if the price keeps increasing by 10% for any commodity, and the costs increase at the same rate then there will be doubling of price over a 10 year period. I took his example and of the price of a day ticket at Vail Colorado, when he made the video his prediction was that in 2010 the price would be $320/day based on the observed doubling every ten years. Because it is now 2010 we can test the good Prof’s theories, at least in the case of Vail be checking the price of a day ticket – it’s $94.

    http://www.vail.com/plan-your-trip/lift-tickets/lift-tickets-explorer.aspx

    In a previous life I spent some time thinking about these issues with relationship to network technologies and analysed a number scenarios including Malthus to try to understand why predictions are invariably wrong, or insignificant. I put together a number of scenarios where people were asked to make predictions by putting themselves back in time and looked at the world from that time’s point of view e.g.

    You’re a Hackney cab driver in early twentieth century London and I told you that every family would own a car by 1990 would you believe there would be more, or less Hackney cabs in London in 1990. Quite obviously you’d assume less. There were in fact considerably more.

    It’s what I termed “static analysis” and it’s what prevents us telling the future because there are so many “unknown unknowns” in a chaotic system that make the straight line projections that people make from where we are now to some future point highly unlikely.

  52. ferd berple says:

    Here is a little known fact about where to find Saskatchewan. It may be cold now, but with a couple of million more years of global warming it could actually become habitable by humans.

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/33550165?slide=15

  53. ferd berple says:

    “It’s what I termed “static analysis” and it’s what prevents us telling the future”

    If you projected the growth rate of switchboard operators during the first half of the 20th century, you quickly ended up with every man, woman and child working as a switchboard operator.

    There was a very serious concern at the time, with disaster predicted for the future of the telephone due to a lack of operators. Surprisingly, we have relatively few switchboard operators these days and many telephones, the exact opposite of what was projected.

  54. Becky says:

    Hey, Willis, I believe my reply comment to you is stuck in the spam filter due to the high number of citation links it contained. :P

  55. Andy Jones says:

    Thank you all most kindly.

  56. davidmhoffer says:

    fred berple;

    That’s not Saskatchewan. That’s Alberta. The mountains in the background are British Columbia. However, with a good telephoto lense, you could take that picture FROM Saskatchewan. Actually, you could take that picture from Manitoba on the other side of Saskatchewan. I am of course exagerating. You’d need to stand on a foot stool.

  57. Dave Springer says:

    gringoviejo says:
    March 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    “Peak phosphorus is capable of being a game changer for crop yields.”

    I’m aware of the problem. Sources are limited. A huge amount is contained in municipal wastewater and efforts have started to recover it at water treatment plants. But good point there. I’m much more concerned about irrigation water and phosphorus than I am about fossil fuel. Biosynthetic organisms (the dreaded GM stuff he greens love to hate) can solve all mankind’s problems except for hatred. Ecoloons hate people and consider them a blight upon the natural world. Nothing will ever satisfy them except reducing the population of humans (along with agriculture and livestock) to some prehistoric number.

  58. Colonial says:

    Whoops! Moderator, please replace my preceding comment with the following (to fix an oversight):

    Willis,

    You just don’t get it! If you admit that things are getting better, you won’t be able to scare the pants off everyone. It has to be gloom, gloom, gloom, followed by doom, doom, doom, to gain control of the earth’s population and force everyone to sacrifice for Gaia!

  59. davidmhoffer says:

    Andy Jones;
    You can argue stats and limits all day long about who has how much food and who doesn’t have enough and why, what the limits of the resources are until infinity and beyond. As several people have pointed out, if you extrapolate any trend in a linear way you eventually exceed physical limits. The problem with that is that no trend is linear, it rises and falls based on all sorts of factors that we can neither control, nor predict. In the 1970′s they predicted based on current trends that by 2000 almost 90% of all people would be unemployed, and Canada would be wiped out by an ice age. Sorry, but history doesn’t happen like it does in the books. The books take hours to read. The history takes decades, perhaps centuries. You can’t pull out page 76 and based on that decide what’s going to happen in the next 100 years.

    If you want to know what the real issue with food supply and nutrition is, there are several sites you can go to that have excellent detailed statistics on those things country by country. The Economist, the CIA, the sites Willis used and mentioned here, all kinds of places to get your own info. Then make lists of the countries that have lots and lots of food and ones where people are really really hungry. Put the type of government each has beside the names. I’ll just give you the top couple of countries from my lists to get you going:

    Too Much Food
    United States, democracy
    Canada, democracy
    Japan, democracy

    Not Nearly Enough Food
    North Korea, dictatorship
    Zimbabwe, dictatorship
    Somalia, no functioning government

    I’m certain you’ll find examples that show well fed dictatorships or poor democracies. Watch the trend my friend. That’s just page 76…

  60. TerrySkinner says:

    OK a few points:
    1. Forecast population increases are like forecast increased CO2 or temperature increases. They are part of what I call tabloid science, in this case the familiar nonsense of taking a chart of a recent trend and projecting it into the indefinite future. As others have already said as far as population is concerned there is plenty of evidence that increasing prosperity depresses population increase even to the point where it is less that replacement despite greater and greater longevity.

    2. Recycling is in its infancy. Things like iron atoms, carbon atoms and many other things do not disappear from the planet when ‘used up’. They are still around, just scattered into many different places.

    3. Nuclear fusion?

    4. Outer space mining of asteroids etc?

    And that is without touching such taboos as coal etc, greater nuclear fission and genetic modification.

  61. John Marshall says:

    The answer to increased food production is to raise the atmospheric level of CO2 which will do two things:-
    1/ Reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
    2/ Reduce the water requirement so releasing more water for other uses.

    Simple!

  62. les johnson says:

    Willis: I had done the same thing when I read Weepin’ Bill’s column, and came to the same conclusions.

    I would suggest showing the total global grain production as well. Its over a 3-fold increase in the same time frame, and the chart is a positive linear slope of 26 million tonnes per year, since 1950. The increase in grain production has to be seen, to be believed. The per capita is slightly misleading with out the context of total production.

    A bit puzzling, though, is that my source, while following the same curve as yours, is about 50 kg per capita lower.

    http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?/data_center/C24/

  63. Wayne Richards says:

    Geronimo and Fred Berple make interesting points about switchboard operators and hansom cabs in the early years of the 20th century. It was then confidently predicted that the market for buggy-whips would decline precipitously, and so it proved. But only a century later, with the rise of the internet (which is, after all, a development of telephone technology), S&M practitioners have been able to communicate with each other with ever-increasing ease. Consequently, the demand for buggy-whips has…. oh, never mind.

  64. jeez says:

    Hey Becky, I looked at one of your links, “overwork the soil”.

    I love it. I have never seen a more mealy selection of speculation masquerading as information. Selected quotes.

    …researchers are questioning
    …researchers speculate
    …could have long-term effects
    Therefore researchers assume that the nutrient content in crops may be compromised with this practice.
    …has led to speculation around unknown long-term effects they may have on produce quality
    …making it difficult to determine statistically significant changes over time
    Researchers hypothesize…

    In other words, modern farming scares us, and we know it must somehow be bad, but we can’t seem to prove it.

    Perhaps elements of the USDA are as bad as RealKlimatScience

    Sorry, one link was all I could take.

  65. John Wright says:

    I live in France where I consider myself well fed. We buy much of our food from the market, mostly, but not exclusively from producers. We don’t count calories, proteins nor carbohydrates, so you’ll get no citations from me.
    Instead let me just bore you with an account of a short visit to the American Midwest 25 years ago where for 500 miles it was an endless sea of maize and each time I looked out of the bus window I had the impression of seeing the same farmhouse with the same silo. On arrival, the first gesture of my kind hosts was to show me the well-stocked refrigerator from which I was invited take what I wished when I wished. But no matter how much I ate, but the industrial food was so bad that within a couple of days I felt as though I was starving and a visit to a local restaurant did not help. The only respite was a return to Chicago where I found a simple corned beef restaurant in State Street where along with the meat there were boiled potatoes and a quarter cabbage. Don’t know where they sourced their food, but it was “wholesome”, whatever that might mean – I could feel it doing me good.
    So Willis, though I’m a fan of your writings, I’m with Becky on this in saying that nourishment is not just a question of “nutrition” – of carbohydrate or protein intake and the angle of your article strikes me as being about as simplistic as the warmists’ take on the climate. It’s not as simple as that, is it? And yes, GM crops may well resist plant disease and pests better than others, but didn’t I hear that Montsanto also engineer their seeds to produce sterile plants in order to be able sell their seed every year? Perhaps you can correct me on that – it’s hearsay, I can’t trot out either citations or statistics.

  66. les johnson says:

    John Wright: Your

    but didn’t I hear that Montsanto also engineer their seeds to produce sterile plants in order to be able sell their seed every year? Perhaps you can correct me on that – it’s hearsay, I can’t trot out either citations or statistics.

    That’s right. Its hearsay. According to Monsanto, they decided in 1999 to NOT make the “terminator” seeds.

    http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/terminator-seeds.aspx

    As for your hunger pangs? Its because you have intestinal fauna used to food (and water) in France. I don’t feel hungry in the mid-west, but I am always hungry in France. (and not just because of the small portions).

  67. Thomas says:

    Based on the figure on this page there was a maximum in cereal production in 2008 and then a small decrease for the last couple of years:
    http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/wfs-home/csdb/en/
    Hard to say if this is start of a new trend or just an anomaly, but the statement that production has been falling “for years” isn’t entirely wrong.

  68. For a START There is NOT 7 billion people on this planet! do the math!

  69. les johnson says:

    Thomas: Look at the long term data.

    http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?/data_center/C24/

    With minor year to year variations, the trend is strongly up, at 26 million tonnes per year.

    Note also that food production invariably falls the during or the year after economic crisis’s, such as 2008, 2001, 1998, 1991, 1987, 1981 etc.

    This for the same reason peak oil is declared during each downturn. In a downturn, production of commodities fall. Buts it due to a fall in demand, not a fall in capacity.

  70. guidoLaMoto says:

    Andy is right: all growth phenomena are limited by the availability of the resources on which the growth depends. Most growth phenomena intially follow a log curve of growth accelleration (Malthus), then a path of slowed growth (missed by Malthus) as they approach the theoretical maximum and steady state defined as the carry capacity of the system, determined by the availability of resources. Those of you arguing against Andy are making the same sort of mistake Malthus made: you assume human knowledge and technology have no limits.

  71. Speed says:

    Becky said,

    Our produce is getting less nutrient dense as we overwork the soil – even the government admits that key nutrients in the soil are being lost in the industrial process. (This article goes into more specific and concrete detail than the government one).

    Neither link says anything of the sort. The second link talks about plants that are optimized for production, not root structure — with no reference.

    For decades, farms have been moving from highly worked soils to no-till farming which is resistant to wind and water erosion and retains important soil structure.

    With respect GMO and nutrition I give you this from Wikipedia:

    Golden rice was developed as a fortified food to be used in areas where there is a shortage of dietary vitamin A. In 2005 a new variety called Golden Rice 2 was announced which produces up to 23 times more beta-carotene than the original variety of golden rice. Neither variety is currently available for human consumption. Although golden rice was developed as a humanitarian tool, it has met with significant opposition from environmental and anti-globalization activists.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rice

    In developing countries 500,000 per year become blind and up to 6,000 per day die from vitamin A-malnutrition.
    http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/potrykus.html

  72. Joe Lalonde says:

    Willis,

    This being a “free-market” system, at any point a billionaire can order up and hold onto grain to make a good profit when prices rise even more. Does he care if people starve with this move? No.

    The “free-market” system would be fine only if all the countries were on the same playing field. How many companies have jumped ship to China, India, etc. to generate more profits? Investors want the best return and not nickels and dimes. So who suffers? The lowest income.
    This then gets to having too many civil servants than the population can carry due to the times are good attitude in hiring and generating new programs.
    We are to the point that survival cannot be achieved at the current wages and unrest due to starvation has to occur.
    Every time the price of oil rises, that is more people who cannot afford food and others that can buy 1000 times what that family needs.

    If this system does not drastically change, there will have to be major wars due to the debt incurred by countries that cannot pay it.
    Many people forget the good times of the past when you could afford a house and car on a one family income. Not anymore with the global interaction of the “free-market”.

  73. John Wright says:

    les johnson says:
    March 27, 2011 at 3:53 am
    As for your hunger pangs? Its because you have intestinal fauna used to food (and water) in France. I don’t feel hungry in the mid-west, but I am always hungry in France. (and not just because of the small portions).
    Small portions?! You should go to Normandy…
    I was in the States several times before and since – never had these hunger pangs I had in the Midwest. My brother, without being aware of my experience, went to the same place from England a couple of years back, quite unaware of my experience. He’s used to cotton wool bread etc., but made similar complaints about the “non-nourishing” food when he got back.
    Anyway thanks for the link to the Monsanto boss: one bit of hearsay I won’t trot out again.

  74. Roy says:

    At Nature’s website there is a news item claiming that anthropogenic global warming started with the invention of agriculture 8,000 years ago.

    The 8,000-year-old climate puzzle
    Models bolster case for early human effect on greenhouse-gas levels.
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110325/full/news.2011.184.html

    That news item is based on an article in a journal called The Holocence. You can read an abstract at the link below.

    Can natural or anthropogenic explanations of late-Holocene CO2 and CH4 increases be falsified?
    http://hol.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/02/07/0959683610387172

  75. Actually, it’s MUCH worse than that! The true threat from overcrowding is NOT massive famine, war, pestilence and death. It is a well proven fact that overcrowding in lab rats (and therefore people-everyone KNOWS that people are just like lab rats) causes them to become psychotic and suicidal, just like Lemmings.

    This has been proven by the residents of Detroit, Chicago, Berkeley, CA and the entire state of New Jersey!

    That proves it!

    (The problem with the leftist agenda these days is that it is impossible to tell the agenda from sarcasm and irony. The above is a JOKE. Honest. And the idea that Lemmings become suicidal is a hoax perpetrated by Disney film producers/cameramen. Although…….some may be puzzled by the statistic that a certain cultural group in a high-density population environment has an abortion rate in excess of 50%. In Darwinian terms, that is not a survival characteristic.)

    Regards,

    Steamboat Jack (Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

  76. Steve from Rockwood says:

    Andy Jones:
    Arithmetic was used back in the early 2000s to sell people on the benefits of compound interest. People would borrow money to invest because “you just can’t lose”.
    These days, with 3% interest and 2% inflation, it seems to have fallen out of favor. Let’s see 70/(3-2) = a long time saving.
    Point being nothing goes up at a rate of 5% forever.
    If you want something to worry about – which seems to be the case – worry about unfunded pension liabilities and the compound interest of funding these into the future.

  77. Richard M says:

    “you assume human knowledge and technology have no limits.”

    It probably has some limit, however we are nowhere close to reaching it and probably won’t for thousands of years.

    The problem with many people is they actually believe we are close to reaching limits on technology. That is why we hear things like the guy who claimed there would be no more patents back in 1897. Some people simply cannot visualize technology advances.

  78. Billy Ruff'n says:

    BM: Great name. So descriptive. Can’t wait to see the avatar.

  79. grayman says:

    Population control, it has been around for years! It is called Natural Selection!
    Poor developing countries now and in the past, even the USA, familys had lots of children because of high infant mortalty rates, more children to make up for the ones that die. And as been said that as the developed countries get more wealth they decline in reproductivity of kids, better health means less need for more kids, it happened before and will again.

  80. Gilbert K. Arnold says:

    guidoLaMoto says:
    March 27, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Guido: You are mistaking two different types of curves. An exponential curve has a steeply rising (or falling) trace that continues on to infinity. A logarithmic curve starts out steeply rising (or falling) but eventually levels off . Malthus assumed population followed the exponential function rather than the logarithmic function.

  81. Jessie says:

    dp says: March 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm
    Fuel costs?
    Transport costs?
    Government interference through excise duties and taxes?

    Wayne Richards says: March 27, 2011 at 2:55 am
    Fortunately many entrepreneurial types moved on to metal and synthetics. More persons were served.

    guidoLaMoto says: March 27, 2011 at 5:15 am
    ‘same sort of mistake Malthus made: you assume human knowledge and technology have no limits.’
    Can’t see that this occurred with the global economy/trade in addictive substances.

    Tx Willis, another interesting post. The wedding blog some weeks ago was entertaining. As were various links. Still catching up on some weeks reading.

  82. Gilbert K. Arnold says:

    Malthus also assumed that food production would increase only in a linear fashion. In actuality it has increased at a nearly exponential rate since the time of Thomas Malthus. I would suspect that it will, in the end, be more of a logarithmic rate.

  83. Fred Harwood says:

    Henry George in his “Progress and Poverty” (1879) and Julian Simon in his relatively recent “Ultimate Resource II” accurately explained the metrics behind how a growing world population has met its resource needs. I recommend both classics.

  84. Curiousgeorge says:

    The trouble with predicting the future, is that the instant someone acts on that prediction they are changing the conditions which would have led to that future, thus invalidating the prediction. Conditional probability is funny that way.

  85. guidoLaMoto says:

    An exponent is a log. We’re talking about unlimited, exponential growth vs modified growth- giving the classic sigmoid, or logistic, curve. No real system can show unlimited growth.

  86. Thomas says:

    Les johnson, production may respond to prices, but prices have been up without an increase in supply the last couple of years:
    http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/wfs-home/foodpricesindex/en/

    guidoLaMoto, some animals behave like you describe with first an exponential growth that slows down to fairly steady state. Others grow past their sustainable limit leading to periodic population crashes. In extreme cases like the reindeers on St Mathew Island, the population may even go extinct. In a rapidly changing society like ours it’s impossible to tell in advance which group we belong to. That technology will solve all future problems is just a statement of faith.

    Richard M, the story about the guy who thought there would be no more patents is an urban myth.

  87. Pamela Gray says:

    Food production, or lack of it, is heavily subsidized and controlled by governments. The amount of Oregon land once dedicated to wheat, barley, and oats, that now sit in CRP (cannot be used to grow anything) would astound you. Yes, we get paid to not grow anything. Sounds like a deal doesn’t it. But we also have price controls on what we do grow, meaning that more often than not, farmers are barely able to meet costs, let alone have a profit to live on.

    If we were given the opportunity to sell wheat, barley, and oats at a price to cover both cost and profit without government interference, most folks would howl till their throat quit on them. Basic food prices would rise and fall, based on our costs and profit margin. Poor folks would have to be fed by government handouts far greater than they are, or left to starve to death when costs soar, such as they do when diesel fuel prices soar. But that is the conundrum we face if we leave the government out of our farming businesses.

    Those squiggly lines you see in the graphs are likely far more affected by governmental controls than they are any other driver of per capita production.

  88. Speed says:

    For those interested in the basics of malnutrition …

    Malnutrition and health in developing countries
    MALNUTRITION, WITH ITS 2 CONSTITUENTS of protein–energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, continues to be a major health burden in developing countries. It is globally the most important risk factor for illness and death, with hundreds of millions of pregnant women and young children particularly affected. Apart from marasmus and kwashiorkor (the 2 forms of protein– energy malnutrition), deficiencies in iron, iodine, vitamin A and zinc are the main manifestations of malnutrition in developing countries.

    Because malnutrition has many causes, only multiple and synergistic interventions embedded in true multisectoral programs can be effective.

    During the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, 147 heads of state adopted 8 development goals. The goal specifically about hunger is to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2015 by half relative to 1990 figures but progress toward the other 7 goals would directly or indirectly contribute to major reductions of malnutrition in developing countries.
    CMAJ • August 2, 2005; 173 (3). doi:10.1503/cmaj.050342.
    http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/173/3/279

    This is serious stuff.

  89. Olen says:

    It looks like another promo for global bureaucratic control of production and distribution of food and they are attempting to use the claim of high temperatures reducing food production to cloak a population problem.

    The question is when will the 7 billion people in the world become 14 billion and more? The population of the West is only growing because of immigration it stands to reason the growth in population has been in the third world.

    There are limits to everything including food production. At what point does food production limit population growth and at what point does a nation with food allow their food supply to be distributed by an international agency rather than by the free market system?

    We should take price of what we have achieved and do more but we should also keep in mind any group that can control the food supply will have the power to control everything.

  90. Speed says:

    Fred Hardwood said above,
    Henry George in his “Progress and Poverty” (1879) and Julian Simon in his relatively recent “Ultimate Resource II” accurately explained the metrics behind how a growing world population has met its resource needs. I recommend both classics.

    Progress and Poverty is available as a Kindle e-book for $4.95 and can be read using free Kindle software on a PC, Mac and most smart phones as well as a Kindle.

    Ultimate Resource II is available on-line for free at the author’s site.
    http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Ultimate_Resource/

    I love this internet-thing.

  91. Dave says:

    If people are going to insist on talking Malthus, it’s important to note that he proposed a falsifiable theory – that population growth is exponential, whilst food production grows geometrically – that has since been falsified in both parts. Population growth is not exponential, and food production increases are much faster than geometric, and have been for centuries.

    All of Malthus’s work on what would happen if his basic hypothesis were true is good, logical thinking – but the basic hypothesis has been empirically proven wrong.

  92. A few days ago I did a similar analysis of McKibben’s nonsense (looking at sea level and agricultural output).

    See: http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/GW_McKibben.htm

  93. Alexander K says:

    Becky, Willis has already responded to your critique, but as someone with a little experience in teaching the children of the ‘urban poor’, often those same urban poor are their own worst enemies when it comes to the matter of diet. As an example, in the last few years there has been a huge move toward teaching schoolkids in the UK about the benefits of preparing and eating healthy foods, initially popularised by the chef Jamie Oliver. But it ain’t easy; when some mothers in a town in the English Midlands became so worried about their kids eating the new school dinners (which are limited in fats, sugars and salt that the kids love); those mothers subverted the schools’ attempts to ensure their kids eat healthy stuff by handing hamburgers, fried fish and chips, chocolate, crisps and sugar-filled soft-drinks to their kids through the bars of the school’s fences!
    It is very easy and reasonably cheap to eat very well in the UK; the big supermarket chains sell a huge array of excellent food products at a reasonable cost, but many of the poor can be seen filling supermarket trolleys with ‘cheap’ ready-prepared meals which tend to contain the maximum amounts of sugars, salt and fats, while the same urban poor ignore the ingredients for superb meals which are a far cheaper option but require basic knowledge and skills to prepare. The same Jamie Oliver took his crusade promoting healthy and low-cost foods to the USA; the overweight citizens of one town ensured that Jamie was barred from their schools!
    Your argument based on ‘empty calories’ opens up the question of the poor being empowered through knowledge to help themselves. Waving arms about ‘empty calories’ avoids the very real problems stemming from ignorance underlying this issue.

  94. Tenuc says:

    Andy Jones says:
    March 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm
    “I would like to hear argument that endless growth in population can be endlessly provided for.”

    This is a complete ‘straw-man’ statement. Humans, just like any other living thing in the biosphere, expand until the limit of available resources are reached. I think the real question should be “How will future technological developments effect world climax population?”. We need the equivalent of computings Moore’s Law, which shows as a rule of thumb that processing power doubles every 18 months.

    This is the main reason why ‘peak oil’ or ‘peak coal’ or ‘peak’ anything never has the expected impact. As history shows, advances in technology simply makes the impact of these peaks on population irrelevant – fusion, thorium, methane clanthrides anyone???

  95. Gary Pearse says:

    Dave says:
    March 26, 2011 at 9:22 pm
    Andy Jones>

    “If I understand your point correctly, it’s that at some point there is a maximum limit to the population the planet can support, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. I can’t speak for the others, but personally I don’t worry about that point arriving for a couple of reasons. In the first place, it’s a very long way off, if at all. We could have a population of a trillion at least, if we were willing to make that a priority.”

    Dave and Andy, I think you would be interested to know that 90 bn people could get into Lake Superior and tread water, each with a square metre of space. Gives some perspective on the population issue doesn’t it?

  96. les johnson says:

    Thomas: your

    Les johnson, production may respond to prices, but prices have been up without an increase in supply the last couple of years:

    Exactly as predicted by economic theory. Increased demand + constant or down supply = higher prices. In a year or two, you will see higher production, chasing the price increases.

    Commodities like food and oil, are a 1 to 2 year lagging indicator.

  97. les johnson says:

    Olen: your

    The question is when will the 7 billion people in the world become 14 billion and more?

    Answer: Never. Most population studies shows population peaking around 2050 at 9 to 10 billion, then slowly declining.

  98. RockyRoad says:

    Pamela Gray says:
    March 27, 2011 at 7:54 am

    But that is the conundrum we face if we leave the government out of our farming businesses.

    And yet over my lifetime, government involvement has not been the answer–it has been the problem. Every time the government gets involved, it creates a shortage in one sector of the economy and at the same time a surplus in another and here’s the catch–the taxpayer is suddenly obliged to make up the difference.

    So it comes down to a question of central planning by government bureaucrats, or letting 330 million of us make vastly suprior decisions regarding the economy. For me, I absolutely know that the brainpower of 330 million far exceeds that of a bunch of (relatively) stupid bureaucrats because of one main reason–these bureaucrats aren’t spending their own money; they have no “skin in the game”. Hence, the decisions they make are suboptimal.

  99. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Clive says:
    March 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Willis

    Thank you so much. I am going to use your charts if I may. Thank you.

    I am giving a talk to a generally warmist crowd in a few weeks. “Food production” was on my list of main items to address.

    FAOSTAT is handy. I used it last winter for info needed for an export development project I was working on.

    The main message here is simple: food production does not seem to be crashing as many would have us imagine.

    Thanks and regards.

    Clive

    You are welcome to use the grapics, I think that the realities they reflect are important and should get wide circulation. I ask that people credit my work, but I don’t require it. I find that if I don’t care who gets the credit, I can get a lot more done. In any case, anyone is free to use my ideas and images. Best of luck with your presentation.

    w.

  100. Gilbert K. Arnold says:

    guidoLaMoto says:
    March 27, 2011 at 7:51 am

    An exponential function is of the form: y = (exp)^x and does increase to infinity. A logarithmic function is of the form: y = log2(x) and y does not go to infinity. It does however go to infinity along the x-axis. Like I said two entirely different functions and two entirely different graphs. A quick look in a Calculus text will show you this.

  101. Willis Eschenbach says:

    David says:
    March 26, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Willis, thank you for responding as always. Would you care to speculate; if in the next calandar year CO2 was to magically reduce to 280 PPM, how much less food would we grow, all else being the same?

    Thanks, David. My clear answer would be “less”, but how much less, I don’t know. The people to confer with on that question are commercial greenhouse growers. Since some of them run their greenhouses with artificially high CO2 levels, they could tell you exactly how much more growth they get per ppmv. It varies by crop, among other things.

    w.

  102. Willis Eschenbach says:

    CRS, Dr.P.H. says:
    March 26, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Willis, this was a very nice post as always, thank you!

    I’d posit that some of the reduction in global grain output is related to loss of productivity due to armed conflict, political upheaval and other such human causes. Zimbabwe was “the breadbasket of Africa,” but their agricultural output is in shambles due to political tinkering by Mugabe. I think we’d find similar drops in Iraq and other countries.

    CRS, I agree with you completely. The problems with food production by and large are not constraints on the total amount of food that we can produce.

    They are human constraints, due to the ancient and all-too-human human issues of greed and laziness and bad governments and jealousy and wars and lack of roads and infrastructure and waste and the like.

    Which is good news and bad news. The good news is that we’re nowhere near the planet’s carrying capacity in terms of humans … but the bad news is, we may be nearing the planet’s carrying capacity in terms of stupidity …

    w.

  103. Willis Eschenbach says:

    dp says:
    March 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Things that matter:

    Planted acreage – up or down?
    Yield – up or down?
    Silo capacity – up or down?
    Seed crop capacity – up or down?
    Silage – up or down?
    Irrigation acreage – up or down?
    Urbanization of agrarian populations – up or down?
    Demand – up or down?
    Supply vs demand – balance?

    Nothing in this report even goes near describing helpful metrics.

    Thanks, dp. You’re correct, there’s a host of unanswered questions relating to production of anything anywhere. My point was simple … regardless of any of those things, McKibben’s claim is incorrect. We’re gaining ground, not losing ground, and we have been for decades.

    w.

  104. RockyRoad says:

    1. Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    I also think that we have only begun to scratch the possible energy sources.

    Absolutely. Consider what will happen when we replace our antiquated methods of energy generation with cold fusion:

    Consider this demonstration of a cold fusion device that ran for 18 hours, eliminating the possibility that the energy was a chemical reaction (instead, nickel and hydrogen are being converted to copper):
    http://pesn.com/2011/02/28/9501774_Future_Impact_of_Rossis_Cold_Fusion/

    A recent report gives this:
    http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Andrea_A._Rossi_Cold_Fusion_Generator

    Is this generally being ignored by main-stream media? Of course:
    http://sourceofrealnews.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/andrea-rossis-and-sergio-focardis-cold-fusion-reactor-status-update/

    Has ANY of the media in the US reported on this? Yes:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/mar/17/nuclear-future-beyond-japan/

    But that’s not surprising since other researchers are finding cold fusion is real too:
    http://esciencenews.com/articles/2010/03/21/cold.fusion.moves.closer.mainstream.acceptance

    And more on the subject:
    http://www.technewsworld.com/story/Cold-Fusion-It-May-Not-Be-Madness-71916.html?wlc=1301159308&wlc=1301244813

    By October of this year, a commercial cold fusion plant based on Rossi’s Energy Catalyzer is scheduled to begin operation in Athens built from units that are being constructed now in Miami, FL. Just imagine what a game changer this will become; just imagine how little impact such plants would have caused in Japan had they been cold fusion rather than fission.

    To say this all will be revolutionary–as it impacts farmers or anybody else–is an understatement!

  105. Thomas says:

    les johnson, you previously wrote
    In a downturn, production of commodities fall. Buts it due to a fall in demand, not a fall in capacity.
    as an explanation for the shrinking supply. Now to explain the increasing prices in what is basically the same time period you write
    Increased demand + constant or down supply = higher prices.
    So is demand up or down?

    Prices started rising at an accelerating rate around 2004, and if supply is to catch up there has to be a lag of considerably more than 1 to 2 years.

  106. les johnson says:

    Thomas: demand is currently up, particularly in developing nations like China and India.

    Production was down slightly, due to high input costs, and subsequent cost cutting measures. (less fertilizer and pesticides, less marginal crops, less irrigation on paid water etc)

    your

    Prices started rising at an accelerating rate around 2004, and if supply is to catch up there has to be a lag of considerably more than 1 to 2 years.

    And look at Willis’s per capita chart. Production started increasing about 2000, with a slight downturn in 2001-2002 (recession), and increasing again after.

    Production is always chasing demand (price). If production was NOT increasing, then prices would be higher still.

  107. Baa Humbug says:

    I’m not altogether sure that we know all there is to know about the nutrition our bodies extract from the various foods we eat. Simply measuring carbohydrate and protein levels seems too simplistic to me.
    (Very unscientific I know but sometimes I get cravings for certain foods, my body must need these. They are not cravings for just protein or carbohydrates.)

    Similarly, an unfertilized egg from a battery hen may not have the same nutritional value for our bodies as a fertilized egg from free range hens accompanied by their rooster.

    To me, a seed of a plant is it’s egg. Sterile seeds may not have the same nutritional value as fertile seeds. Something to do with enzymes perhaps. Manipulating seeds before fully understanding the relationship between that seed and the nutriants our bodies extract from it may lead to unintended consequences. /Rant off

  108. Kip Hansen says:

    Re: Becky’s point on ‘soil depletion’

    The link she provides is quoted here:

    Q. How does soil affect the nutrient content of crops?

    A.Plants develop nutrients on their own and acquire them from soil content. Common farming techniques are often geared toward increasing crop yield, thus researchers are questioning the quality of top soil (higher turnover), the amount of top soil loss, and suggesting that soil is “overused”. Farmers replace most of the nitrogen and potassium lost with each harvest, but researchers speculate that little attention is paid to the loss of other important minerals. This could have long-term effects in the overall nutrient content of plants.

    Bolding by me. If there were facts, they should have been provided. Since the wording is as it is, I understand that there are not data to back up the ‘questions’ or ‘speculation’.

    Nowhere on this USDA page does it say that today’s foods are actually less nutritious than yesteryear’s. It only says, in the page introduction:

    Researchers, nutrition experts and consumers have begun to question whether these changes are affecting the nutrient quantity and quality in produce.

    It will be interesting to see their answers, once they become available.

  109. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Becky says:
    March 27, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Heya, Willis. =)

    I’ll try to go point by point and keep it brief. My brevity alarm may be broken, though (that’s your fair warning). I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that I got all the HTML brackets right…

    First, I would be shocked if the poor people of the planet got a significant proportion of their calories from “genetically engineered cereal grains”. Citation?

    The point there was that the food we give them is (typically) genetically modified. As of 2010, GMO corn made up (at least) 63% of US production. We try to ship that to starving countries (like Zimbabwe, who, last year, refused GMO food aid).

    Becky, first, thanks for the reply (and the warning), and well done on the brackets. When someone asks for a citation for your claim that GMO grain makes up a big percentage of the grain that the poor of the planet eat, a citation to US production figures and to Zimbabwe refusing GMO grain totally misses the point. You made the claim, you need to support it … so I ask again: “citation?”.

    For example, here’s what I just did to check your numbers, FAOSTAT is your friend.

    The US exports about fifty million tonnes of corn per year. Corn is the only “genetically engineered cereal grain” grown in any quantity. The US is the only major producer of BT corn. Of that US production, as you point out, some 60% is “BT corn”, genetically engineered to resist pests. So about thirty million tonnes or so of BT corn is exported.

    Next, about two-thirds of the world still lives on less than $2 per day, call that four billion people. Divide our thirty million tonnes of BT corn among them all, we get about 5 kg of corn per person … not enough to even notice.

    So no, Becky, you are very, very wrong. Genetically modified cereal grains are currently a trivial part of the diet of the world’s poor. The main BT crop grown world-wide is cotton, not food …

    Second, I would be surprised if any studies showed that genetically engineered grains were less nutritious than regular grains. In fact, some corn is genetically engineered to be more nutritious, because it has missing proteins that allow greater use of the other proteins. Again … citation?

    They have been engineered to be more nutritious, but it’s not just the GMOs that are less nutritious. And the plants, even when engineered, have to get some of the nutrients from somewhere, namely, the soil. Our produce is getting less nutrient dense as we overwork the soil – even the government admits that key nutrients in the soil are being lost in the industrial process. (This article goes into more specific and concrete detail than the government one).

    Now you are moving the goalposts. Your claim was that GMOs are the problem … now you are implying that no, GMOs are no less nutritious than the rest. In other words, you have no citation, and you’ve abandoned your claim.

    And you mean to tell us that growing vegetables actually removes nutrients from the soil? Gosh, that’s shocking news, Becky, I bet the world’s farmers never thought of that …

    You’ll need more than the fact that farmers have to fertilize their fields to scare us, Becky. Perhaps the need for fertilizer is some secret death knell for the planet, known only to you and other initiates … but the people around the planet are still farming the fields farmed by their great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmothers, and somehow people stay alive.

    Yes, you’re right, the crops are larger and more nutritious when they fertilize, and smaller and less nutritious when they don’t fertilize … and???

    Proteins…there’s more to nutrition than proteins. Plants have, historically, been excellent sources of most vitamins and minerals. See above for why they are not.

    Yes, Becky, as your citation says,

    Farmers replace most of the nitrogen and potassium lost with each harvest, but researchers speculate that little attention is paid to the loss of other important minerals.

    Again, you bring all of this up as though it were some surprise, that farmers need to fertilize, and that when they don’t, plants are less nutritious.

    Certainly, one can be over-fed and still malnourished. Compared to under-fed and malnourished, however, I know which one I’d pick …

    Odd, since scurvy will kill you even if you’re fed.

    Clearly, you’ve never spent much time with people on the edge of starvation … they’ll eat a box of sawdust if it smells like cooking oil.

    Yeah, that soy and corn and wheat, they’re obviously the wrong thing to feed people … say what?

    The feigned shock was a good touch. =) If you would, for a moment, consider the fact that there’s a global epidemic of obesity (even among the poor), diabetes and heart disease, to name a few, that coincide with a widespread adoption of food products we humans didn’t eat in appreciable quantities for nearly nearly the entirety of our evolution…but, that is wildly off topic, and probably best saved for a different (more lengthy) debate.

    If your argument is that humans should not be eating soy, corn, and wheat, yeah, you’re gonna have a debate. But not with me. With the billions of people who thrive on those foods every day. I’ll be happy to keep score, though.

    However, a “global epidemic of obesity (even among the poor)” will be a hard claim for you to slip past the truth censors without a citation. When people are living on $2 a day, as do a large chunk of the world’s populace, I can assure you that obesity is not a problem no matter what their few spoonfuls of food are comprised of.

    Can one get obesity from people switching to modern foods? Sure. Eat lots of sugar and white flour all day, you’ll get fat and stress your heart to the max. Does everyone eating modern foods get those diseases? No, they’re a result of bad eating habits, not modern foods. Bad eating habits when eating traditional foods can do the same.

    Putting aside the arguments on whether or not these are appropriate foods for humans, cereal grains are not complete proteins and do not supply an appreciable source of dietary fats. Both of these are not necessarily immediately detrimental to adults (the long-term effects may take years or decades to show up, so we’ll skip that), but have catostrophic effects on developing brains. Missing proteins can lead to a staggering number of growth abnormalities. Vitamin D deficiency – which can present due to insufficient dietary cholesterol – leads to rickets and bone malformations. Dietary fats are essential for brain development – this includes prenatally – and a deficiency before and/or after birth can lead to anything from mild mood disorders to severe mental retardation or nervous system dysfunction.

    Yes, Becky, if people don’t get enough food and vitamins and dietary fats, they will not thrive and will be host to a bunch of diseases. And yes, people don’t get much fat from cereal grains, either GMO grains or regular grains … again, how is this news?

    But kids brought up eating oatmeal and bread and corn “have catostrophic effects on developing brains”? Again, you are changing the goalposts. Nobody has said that eating nothing but just wheat or just oatmeal is a brilliant nutrition plan. So why are you arguing against it? Everyone needs a balanced diet, duh …

    Arguing food production in terms of cereal grains misses the point. The kids are getting sufficient calories, but they still can’t grow properly. Is it really OK for a child to not die of starvation, yet live a life with bone deformities? Or mental retardation? Or neurological defects? I’m not trying to make the old feminista “quality over quantity” argument – I’m just sayin’, we can do better, and to leave out that part of the equation degrades the problem.

    Which kids are eating plenty of cereal grains and living with “bone deformities” and “neurological defects” from eating cereals? Where? You are an absolute font of random “facts” and outrageous claims. You need to either pull back on your factoids or double up on the citations. You seem not to understand that at this point, the mere fact that you make a claim decreases the odds that it is true, and that you should cite your claims accordingly.

    Most of the farmers adopting GM seeds are small farmers in the developing world. Why? Most GM varieties are chosen for one reason only – resistance to insects/molds/disease. The poor farmers don’t have to use anywhere near as much pesticides with the GM crops.
    Now, you might think that poor farmers using less pesticide is a bad thing. Me, I don’t, and neither do the farmers.

    You need a citation. There’s a reason poor farmers burn GM seeds. There’s a reason the suicide rate among Indian farmers has skyrocketed. They “chose” the seeds because the companies producing them made big promises they couldn’t deliver on.

    Sure, be glad to cite it. Here’s an article from Nature Magazine that says exactly what I said. Now how about a citation connecting the suicide rate among Indian farmers to GM crops … here’s my citation while you’re waiting. Don’t bother giving me a citation to Prince Charles as elevated to a god by the Daily Mail … if The Artist Currently Known As Prince says it, you can be sure it’s nonsense, particularly when the Daily Mail is flogging it.

    What you’re failing to admit here is GM crops are resistant to insects/molds/disease now but that’s not guaranteed to continue. We’re already seeing Round-Up Ready super-weeds in the US (look, we need more chemicals). We already know monocultures run the risk of significant crop loss. BT cotton has already been hit hard by new insects and pathogens. Although further GM-ing could solve it, it will result in a constant game of cat and mouse – something bad happens, a year’s worth of crops are destroyed, and then the companies produce something resistant to whatever caused the die-off. (Think of how well this after-the-fact strategy is working for the TSA.)

    Gosh, you mean that insects and plants develop resistance to pesticides and to herbicides and to GM crops, and that it has always been (and given the reality of evolution always will be) a battle between farmers and insects? You really do know your farming, it seems … but you assume we don’t.

    Becky, that war of bugs vs. humans has been going on a really long time. How is it news?

    And how is even a temporary win (since that’s the only kind of win we ever get in the farmers-vs-famine game) bad news? GM plants are preventing the use of something on the order of 175 million pounds of pesticide this year … even if we have to pick up the sprayers again next year, how is that possibly a loss to the planet? Seriously, my dear, in ten years we avoid the use of a BILLION POUNDS OF PESTICIDE, and you want to put your nose in the air and airily dismiss that as meaningless? Not on my planet it’s not … unlike most environmentalists these days, I’m still concerned with pollution, I haven’t been sidetracked by CO2.

    Sorry, but you’ll have to do better than the arguments you’ve tried out so far.

    w.

  110. Willis Eschenbach says:

    TheTempestSpark says:
    March 27, 2011 at 4:34 am

    For a START There is NOT 7 billion people on this planet! do the math!

    Clearly, you don’t understand scientific web sites like this one. If you think there aren’t 7 billion people on the world, you need to do the math and show us why you think there aren’t that many. Otherwise, you’ll just get (deservedly) ignored.

    w.

  111. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Joe Lalonde says:
    March 27, 2011 at 5:30 am

    Willis,

    This being a “free-market” system, at any point a billionaire can order up and hold onto grain to make a good profit when prices rise even more. Does he care if people starve with this move? No.

    The “free-market” system would be fine only if all the countries were on the same playing field. How many companies have jumped ship to China, India, etc. to generate more profits? Investors want the best return and not nickels and dimes. So who suffers? The lowest income. …

    Yeah, that damned free market system is the pits, it sucks. I mean just look at the evidence – all the countries that use it are starving to death, and all the countries that don’t use it eat so well. So why doesn’t everybody see the truth of Joe’s ideas? …

    Do you truly believe what you are writing, Joe? Because clearly you haven’t thought your ideas all the way through to the end, and then looked at the real world to see if they actually reflected reality.

    w.

    PS – let me note in passing that in modern democracies, markets are very, very far from free. They are hedged about by all kinds of restrictions and regulations, and reasonably so – they work better that way.

    So making claims about imaginary “free markets” doesn’t bolster your case.

  112. Curiousgeorge says:

    Willis, I think both you and Becky are ignoring a primary food source by only talking about plants. A great many people eat wild animals also (bush meat), fish ( and other yummy things from the worlds waters), insects, reptiles, dog, cat, monkey, etc., etc.. I’m very fond of deer for example, and I’ve eaten a great variety of what this planet has to offer including all of the above, and enjoyed every bite. It’s a mistake to focus only on what is acceptable fodder for the 1st world. Planet Earth offers great abundance, and one need only get beyond ones cultural preferences to realize this.

  113. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Thomas says:
    March 27, 2011 at 7:52 am


    guidoLaMoto, some animals behave like you describe with first an exponential growth that slows down to fairly steady state. Others grow past their sustainable limit leading to periodic population crashes. In extreme cases like the reindeers on St Mathew Island, the population may even go extinct. In a rapidly changing society like ours it’s impossible to tell in advance which group we belong to. That technology will solve all future problems is just a statement of faith.

    A couple points on this comparison to populations of animals, as it is common.

    In the 1930′s there was growing concern that the world would soon run out of magnesium. Known reserves were clearly being depleted at an alarming rate.

    You notice any shortage of magnesium today?

    In the 1940s a chemist working for Dupont invented a way to economically extract magnesium from seawater.

    My point is, no animal but man ever solved a resource shortage like that. Not reindeer, not monkeys, not grizzly bears, not ants, not bacteria, no animal can do that.

    Humans are unique in that regard. When bacteria run out of living space, they die. When Dutchmen run out of living space, they make more living space out of the bottom of the ocean. Go figure.

    As far as I know, no other animal either can do or has ever done those kinds of things.

    This means that when we talk about resources, we cannot use animal parallels or exemplars.

    You go on to say

    That technology will solve all future problems is just a statement of faith.

    Agreed. We can say, however, that technology has both solved all of our past problems, and in the process brought us all of our present problems.

    And if you think those present problems will be solved by something other than technology …

    Finally, it is not technology I trust in, it is human imagination. And imagination is free.

    The basic limit on everything is energy. For example, the hardest resource limit we’re up against is water. But if we had abundant energy, it wouldn’t be a problem. Water would be desalinated around the globe. Heck, even now Israel gets a good chunk of their water from the sea, it will be two thirds of the nation’s total water supply when the two latest plants come on line. It just takes energy and imagination.

    The first human use of non-animal energy was an act of pure imagination, the domestication of fire. And ever since then, through the harnessing of water power and wind power, then steam, and internal combustion, up to nuclear energy, and beyond to algal-produced hydrogen and artificial photosynthesis and fusion and who knows what, the limit on the total amount of available energy has always and only been human imagination.

    And yes, I have absolute faith that human imagination has not reached its limit, look around you. I think that the energy sources of a hundred years from now will bear little resemblance to those of today. And I suspect we might agree on that.

    All the best,

    w.

  114. Joe Crawford says:

    Willis,

    There is further evidence of the beneficial effects of warming/CO2 increase at the World Climate Report website. According to this article, the grass IS getting greener (along with other leafy plants).

  115. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Speed says:
    March 27, 2011 at 7:56 am

    For those interested in the basics of malnutrition …

    Malnutrition and health in developing countries
    MALNUTRITION, WITH ITS 2 CONSTITUENTS of protein–energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, continues to be a major health burden in developing countries. It is globally the most important risk factor for illness and death, with hundreds of millions of pregnant women and young children particularly affected. …

    This is serious stuff.

    Indeed. The fact that we are better fed than at any time in history is no reason for complacency, no reason to assume that the problem is solved. There is still a lot to be done. In Africa post-harvest loss is still around 25%. People are still starving in many places. The global median income is shockingly low, a few bucks a day.

    However, less are starving than ever, and while median income is low, it is higher than it has ever been in history.

    My point is that we are winning in the war, and we need to proceed as such. This means trying to figure out what we’re doing right, rather than going all McKibbenish and ignoring our wins. We need to look at our wins and try to see how to win more, there’s lots of battles yet unfought.

    w.

  116. Richard G says:

    Willis, another great post.
    To all those gloom and doomers that live under that awful dark cloud of fatalism, watching their half empty glasses leaking away I offer the following.
    During the depths of the dismal 1970′s stagflation, oil crunch, and less is more moonbeam mentality, I had the opportunity to listen to an optimistic economist from Washington University. He made a statement I will always remember: “There is more arable farm land in the median strips of the U.S. interstate highway system than there is in ALL of western Europe (excluding the Soviet Bloc) , and all we do is mow it.”
    Cheer up. The glass is half full and filling. Nay saying obstructionists need to get out of the way.

  117. Doug Proctor says:

    The necessity of using stats to disprove world food problems due to climate warming is an outrage. Famine in the last 150 years has never been about lack of food, it has been about a lack of the will to create it locally or distribute it from where it is being produced. An inadequate distribution system is probably most responsible for many previous food shortages as well. What Stalin did to punish his opponents was something a lack of roads and rail did earlier in Russia and in China, for examples.

    Today, those without food today are either too poor to buy it – poverty being the issue then, not how much food we produce – or prevented from buying it (or growing it) as in North Africa, where armies use food as a weapon. Even the recent famine in a “modern” state as North Korea was due not to the inability to produce sufficient food for the people, but from the government’s refusal to allow the people to grow adequate amounts of food.

    It is difficult to determine what is shallow thinking and what is purposeful deceit. Perhaps the two are the same for some enthusiasts of polar bears and snail darter fish.

  118. Robertvdl says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    The basic limit on everything is energy. For example, the hardest resource limit we’re up against is water. But if we had abundant energy, it wouldn’t be a problem.

    I don’t think there is an energy problem. I think it’s ‘The Elite’ making it a problem so they can make big money and gain more power. Expensive energy is the problem.

  119. Caleb says:

    To be sung, accompanied by wash-tub bass and banjo:

    “The farmer is the man.
    The farmer is the man.
    Lives on his credit ’til the fall,
    Then they take him by the hand
    And they lead him from the land
    And the banker is the one who gets it all.

    Still, the farmer is the man.
    The farmer is the man:
    Strong and tan and tried and true and tall.
    Some people disagree
    But it’s obvious to me
    That the farmer is the one who feeds us all.

  120. dp says:

    Becky – anyone can grow quinoa in their deck pots or herb garden. It grows like a weed (well, it is one) and produces the nearly perfect food. Unfortunately it tastes like dog spit and has the texture of lumpy slime mold – good luck finding a decent recipe. But – it is very good for you. Surely now that you know this you will dive in and start raising it or buying it at the local Whole Foods store. Or not, eh – you can lead a horse to quinoa but you can’t make it eat.

    The point is there is a lot of very good food out there that we can buy and eat but it does not please us to do so. So we don’t. Don’t blame the farmers. They to a man would probably love to raise quinoa and put a lump of it on every plate in the third world but nobody would buy it (twice). Even Bolivians are shucking it to greenie gringos and turning to vacant calories instead.

    And when the hell did recharging the soil become a bad thing? That has been going on every year when the Nile flood would come, for example. Ever wonder why floodplains are so popular with farmers? What lesson did flooding teach farmers far from flood plains? To recharge the fields, no? Yes!

    Want to know more about quinoa? It is a very big deal in Canada. Google is your evil friend. Check it out. If you cook with it I suggest starting with a modified dal makhani recipe using quinoa with or instead of dals. Go heavy on the garam masala.

  121. Ecclesiastical Uncle says:

    As a matter of routine, I hereby confess that I am an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate, with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

    Re RockyRoad, Mar 27 2011, 10.18am

    I’ m sorry, I’m skeptical about cold fusion. Without good reason, it’s true. But your references appear to be secondary reports and the less credible for that. I read that one intrepid researcher has had his paper on the topic rejected by a peer reviewed publication. Ironic that, because climate science skeptics have the same experiences. In the end it will all work out because the proof of the pudding will lie in the eating – both for global warming and cold fusion.

    But if cold fusion is possible in the near future, we are all wasting our time here, because no one will have any problems with CAGW or food supply.any more, ever.

    Re Genetic Foods.

    1. Do not Monsanto’s first GM crops come out of patent very soon? So will not hosts of generics become available?

    2. The cost of genetic science has fallen dramatically in recent years. (See Sir Paul Nurse’s recent interview with Charlie Rose re animal genetics. Are not animal and plant genetic mapping much the same?) Instead of development being confined Monsanto like giants, will not hosts of small bio-tech company pile in?

    I guess these changes will lead to an unprecedented expansion in the variety and availability of GM foodstuffs. If this comes to pass, does it not also provide another example of how human activities frustrate extrapolation from the past?

  122. savethesharks says:

    Wow…does “dp” stand for in the science blog world what it does in some other worlds?

    I am pretty much SICK of people here attacking Becky for making a valid point about GM foods.

    Yeah…conspiracy theories and hype aside….it is a real issue.

    Unless you have your head completely in your *** you may not be aware of the atrocities of some of the proponents of GMOs.

    You can research those on your own. But I leave you with one Saskatchewan farmer who was royally ******* by them and also some prescient analysis from one anti-GMO advocate.

    You decide in the long run….if indeed you have a conscience and a brain.

    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

    http://www.percyschmeiser.com/

  123. Thomas says:

    Willis, in one message you moan that “but the bad news is, we may be nearing the planet’s carrying capacity in terms of stupidity” yet in later one you write “And yes, I have absolute faith that human imagination has not reached its limit”

    So what’s going to win stupidity or imagination? You can list technological successes in the part, unfortunately we only need to have one spectacular failure to make much of our current civilization come crashing down. For example the failure advocated on this blog: ignoring the risk of climate change.

  124. les johnson says:

    Thomas: your

    Willis, in one message you moan that “but the bad news is, we may be nearing the planet’s carrying capacity in terms of stupidity” yet in later one you write “And yes, I have absolute faith that human imagination has not reached its limit”

    For a brilliant example of the former, see:

    For example the failure advocated on this blog: ignoring the risk of climate change.

  125. les johnson says:

    savethesharks:

    Schmeiser was found guilty of patent infringement by a Saskatchewan court, the Appeals Court, and the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Now, should I believe Percy, or the courts?

    Tough choice.

  126. Speed says:

    Food vs. Fuel
    USDA Biofuels Strategic Production Report. June 23, 2010
    http://www.usda.gov/documents/USDA_Biofuels_Report_6232010.pdf

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is developing a comprehensive regional strategy to help recharge the rural American economy.

    The RFS2 [the current U.S. Renewable Fuels Standards] will create new market opportunities for American agriculture to help fulfill its mandate: the American economy will be using 36 billion gallons (bg) of renewable transportation fuel per year in its transportation fuel supply by 2022.

    Growing a domestic biofuels market is part of overall USDA rural strategy to help rebuild rural America.

    Consistent with EISA, USDA assumes that biomass may be grown on defined agriculture cropland (agriculture cropland where crops are produced and agriculture cropland in pasture). To produce this much in biofuels will take 27 million acres of cropland,3 6.5 percent of the total 406.4 million acres of cropland as reported in the 2007 Census of Agriculture (COA).

  127. Alexander K says:

    Chris, Becky has said some silly things initially, with no attempt to back them with referrences. I attempted, early in the thread, to point out one of Becky’s fallacies but she has not bothered to respond. That’s her perogative whether to respond or not, but I am a little disappointed by her silence. Your attempt at galloping to her rescue by flinging implications at some of us does not fit with your usual calm, witty and rational persona.

  128. Dave says:

    “Got me wondering: if it was dedicated entirely to growing grain, could the American Mid-west produce enough grain? Or the Russian prairies? How much area would it take, in the best grain country in the world, with the best methods? I wouldn’t know where to start looking.”

    I thought I’d take a stab at answering my own question. Just for a first approximation, let’s go with the US avg wheat yields: 10 tonnes per hectare (150 bushels per acre) – Wikipedia. 2010 total world wheat crop around 650 million tonnes. 65 million hectares (150 million acres) needed. 373 million hectares of land under cultivation in the US at the moment (also Wiki). Puts things in perspective, really.

  129. RockyRoad says:

    Ecclesiastical Uncle says:
    March 27, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    As a matter of routine, I hereby confess that I am an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate, with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

    Re RockyRoad, Mar 27 2011, 10.18am

    I’ m sorry, I’m skeptical about cold fusion. Without good reason, it’s true. But your references appear to be secondary reports and the less credible for that.

    I’ll do you one better than that: It is currently impossible to get a patent through the US Patent Office for any device, contraption, mechanism, or machine that is based on “cold fusion”. Their response to such a submission? They waive it away as either being 1) not in the public interest, or 2) based on untenable theory. Basically what they’re doing is illegal, since other patented items aren’t required a thorough theoretical explanation of the forces involved. Take for instance airplane flight–do you have a firm, unequivocal theory of gravity? I thought not.

    But here’s the kicker–Rossi’s E-Cat unit will start operation in Athens this October and production will expand from there, whether you are skeptical or not. That’s the plan. A consortium comprising all the energy companies in both Italy and Greece called Defkalion will make this energy source available to their power-generating facilities. Considering the cost, ease of use, and lack of any pollutants, it will be a shoe-in. Then when other countries start belly-aching about not being asked to the party, we can all point to the US as being the biggest obstacle in utilizing energy from the most amazing development since man started using fire.

  130. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Thomas says:
    March 28, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Willis, in one message you moan that “but the bad news is, we may be nearing the planet’s carrying capacity in terms of stupidity” yet in later one you write “And yes, I have absolute faith that human imagination has not reached its limit”

    So what’s going to win stupidity or imagination? You can list technological successes in the part, unfortunately we only need to have one spectacular failure to make much of our current civilization come crashing down. For example the failure advocated on this blog: ignoring the risk of climate change.

    Heck, I don’t know who’s going to win, stupidity or imagination. It’s a race. I note that you are doing everything in your power to favor the former, but despite your valiant efforts the forces of imagination still have a fighting chance.

    Will “one spectacular failure” bring our technological civilization “crashing down”? What is it with you guys and doomsday scenarios? Don’t you think if “current civilization” was so unstable we’d have seen it at least waver or totter or the like … the world is a very big place, Thomas. Even huge wars that involved the entire planet didn’t bring modern civilization down.

    More to the point, will “ignoring climate change” bring down our civilization? Man, you are full of bizarre claims. I know that you’d love for us to believe that a couple degree change in average temperature would bring down the entire current civilization … but no, that just another strange fantasy that you folks have been repeating for so long that it appears you actually believe it yourself.

    Sorry, Thomas, but you’ll have to find a less discerning crowd to sell that fantasy to. I assure you, you won’t get any traction around here for that kind of foolishness.

    w.

  131. robr says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Bowel movement says:
    March 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    I always love to get to write this. Land area of Texas (less water) 261,797 sq. mi. or 7.29 X 10^12 sq. ft. World population 6,775,235,00 people. Divide the one by the other and you get 1,077 ft^2/person. In other words, laid out on a grid, you could put every single person on Earth at the middle of a square 32.8 feet per side, that is no person would be closer than 33 feet in any direction to another person in the land area of Texas. How overpopulated is the Earth? You know the world does not end at the Hudson river.

  132. Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

    “Clearly, you don’t understand scientific web sites like this one. If you think there aren’t 7 billion people on the world, you need to do the math and show us why you think there aren’t that many. Otherwise, you’ll just get (deservedly) ignored.”

    Really? that’s an unfair comment, my understanding of scientific web sites like this one, is that the one making the claim is the one for whom the burden of proof lies, you have asserted the claim of a population estimate of “7 billion” therefore the burden of proving this figure lies with you and not with someone whom you say should be “deservedly ignored”.

    I should have elaborated more, I apologize for that, I agree with how Malthusian arguments don’t and have not matched real world observations over the past 50+ years.
    I thought it strange of you to use such a touted Malthusian figure of 7 billion, especially when the population figure of 7 billion is not a real world count, but a natural logarithm influenced by Thomas Malthus’ Theory of Population and the misanthropic proponents/believers of this theory,
    I would have thought that in good scientific practice; just as this “Malthusian Theory” has been dismissed for its pessimism and failure to take into account technological advances in agriculture and food production, so too must the population figures based on or around the theory.

    It always surprises me of just how many people (and who) believe the figure/s on these population clocks, the natural logarithms used in the programs are updated from web-sites that have a disclaimer about the accuracy of the data, Where is the disclaimer of your asserted figure of “7 billion”?

    A search can reveal a wide variation between estimates and these figures below are not the low estimated figures nor are they the high estimated figures that I can find, and they can be easily verified.

    population of six continents:

    Africa 1 billion – 1,000,010,000
    Asia 3.8 billion – 3,879,000,000
    Europe 731 million – 731,000,000
    North America 514 million – 528,720,588
    South America 371 million – 385,742,554
    Australia 21 million – 21,874,900

    Estimated to be between 4,982,600,000 – 5,546,338,042

    Here’s the formula for the world clock and an example of the type of program/script used.

    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base.

    Growth rates are calculated using the formula:

    r(t) = ln [ P(t+1) / P(t) ]

    where:

    t = year
    r(t) = growth rate from midyear t to midyear t+1
    P(t) = population at midyear t
    ln = natural log

    function counter() {
    popstat=5946422755;
    poprate=2.4452;
    today=new Date()
    statsdate = new Date(“February 1, 1999″);
    offset = today.getTimezoneOffset()*60*1000
    diffpop = (( today.getTime() + offset ) – statsdate.getTime() ) / 1000
    var newpop = Math.ceil(popstat + (diffpop * poprate));
    newpop = “” + newpop;
    p1 = newpop.substring(0,1)
    p2 = newpop.substring(1,4)
    p3 = newpop.substring(4,7)
    p4 = newpop.substring(7,10)
    var pops= p1 + “,” + p2 + “,” + p3 + “,” + p4;
    var popul = document.getElementById(“poo”);
    popul.innerHTML = pops;
    setTimeout(‘counter()’,200);

  133. Willis Eschenbach says:

    TheTempestSpark says:
    March 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm (Edit)

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

    “Clearly, you don’t understand scientific web sites like this one. If you think there aren’t 7 billion people on the world, you need to do the math and show us why you think there aren’t that many. Otherwise, you’ll just get (deservedly) ignored.”

    Really? that’s an unfair comment, my understanding of scientific web sites like this one, is that the one making the claim is the one for whom the burden of proof lies, you have asserted the claim of a population estimate of “7 billion” therefore the burden of proving this figure lies with you and not with someone whom you say should be “deservedly ignored”.

    I’ve said several times that all figures in the post are from FAOSTAT. The figure of 7 billion is no exception. If you think that the FAOSTAT is wrong, my best to you. I’ve never found them to be so, but you might be the first. The FAOSTAT has the sources of the figures, go to town.

    I await your report debunking FAOSTAT.

    w.

  134. savethesharks says:

    les johnson says:
    March 28, 2011 at 2:56 am
    savethesharks:

    Schmeiser was found guilty of patent infringement by a Saskatchewan court, the Appeals Court, and the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Now, should I believe Percy, or the courts?

    Tough choice.

    ================

    “Tough choice” only for those who are inclined to groupthink and siding with the Establishment.

    Easy choice for the rest of us.

    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  135. savethesharks says:

    Alexander K says:
    March 28, 2011 at 5:28 am
    Chris, Becky has said some silly things initially, with no attempt to back them with referrences. I attempted, early in the thread, to point out one of Becky’s fallacies but she has not bothered to respond. That’s her perogative whether to respond or not, but I am a little disappointed by her silence. Your attempt at galloping to her rescue by flinging implications at some of us does not fit with your usual calm, witty and rational persona.

    =============

    Point taken. I did not read all the details….there are simply too much to read….and I don’t have the time to read it.

    If it can’t be said in a few sentences, it can’t be said….so I probably jumped to conclusions.

    I am certainly not saying that all GMOs are bad.

    I am simply saying that Monsanto is bad.

    They are an evil, ruthless, soulless, black-hearted corporation from saccharine (1901) to agent orange in the 1960s to roundup in the 70s and controlling the world’s seeds in the 2000s with GMOs that they have developed.

    Two separate arguments here and Willis is right I should have distinguished between the two.

    However…its just that GMOs and Monsanto are both on the world stage at the same time…and indeed…they are inextricably linked.

    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  136. Ecclesiastical Uncle says:

    As a matter of routine, I hereby confess that I am an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate, with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

    Re RockyRoad, Mar 28 2011, 7.15am

    Well, bully for Rossi and Deflakion. If they play it cleverly, it will be an interesting time watching economic power transfer to the classical world. (But remember the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times!)

    But I am sorry to have to confess that I not now re-investing my meager savings on the tip that Rossi’s E-Cat unit will start operation this October or that Deflakion will become involved.

    Re Willis Eschenbach, Mar 27 2011, 10.14am and 12:47 pm and Mar 28, 2011 at 9:53 am, and Thomas March 28, 2011 at 1:25 am

    The contributions by W that T picks out seem to be, on the one hand, an observation about human stupidity (maybe about food production only) and, on the other hand, a declaration of faith in human inventiveness. Comparing the two does not seem right since the former is, presumably, a starting point for the latter.

    But while it is nice to see W’s faith in the future, I fear I have moments when I cannot share it. And I have to sow a seed of doubt into his argument. I cannot see what happens in the future as a race: the planet will always be vulnerable to human capacity to destroy (so much easier than creating – something to do with thermodynamics, I think). And there are people out there who get it into their heads that we are all evil and that they will go to their 70 virgins or whatever if they destroy us, and the GM crop alarmists might just be right and the world become submerged in roast- beef weed or something. And I do not think that a catastrophic event would necessarily be part of a determinate (?) system – it might just happen (and what about the law of unforeseen consequences?).

    My own tag on this matter: Evolution’s experiment with intelligence seems to be a failure (or seems bound to be, etc).

    Practically, however, I do not think this gets me very far. The consequences of responses to fears of global catastrophe are certainly an immediate and huge reduction in the capacity of the world to support the present human population. (Which might itself precipitate a catastrophe that would eliminate it.) And there is a chance that, if we just keep working to improve our lot as we have in the past, the catastrophe will not happen, at least for a very long time. So, my conclusion – let’s keep the improving going!

    In the context of the matters we discuss her, my tag has a very long time frame!

    So, W, that’s what’s with it with me! Must be a majority position, I would think. I don’t quite know why I waste effort putting it in writing.

  137. Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    “I await your report debunking FAOSTAT.”

    Waite? you’ll notice that FAOSTAT uses Population data from the UN Population Division and the data refers to the UN Revision 2008, which of course has the disclaimer I mentioned. I have no disagreement with FAOSTAT but I do question the population data that they are using that has a Disclaimer.
    You could give me a real challenge next time.

    “The FAOSTAT PopSTAT module contains timeseries on population and economically active population. The series consist of both estimates and projections for different periods as available from the original sources, namely:

    1. Population data from the UN Population Division and the data refers to the UN Revision 2008. Long term series estimates and projects from 1961 to 2050.”

  138. Les Johnson says:

    savethesharks: your

    “Tough choice” only for those who are inclined to groupthink and siding with the Establishment.

    You are making assumptions with absolutely no data. And ad hominem to boot. Totally false too.


    Easy choice for the rest of us.

    I highly doubt that. If you ask someone if they believed a single farmer, or the decisions of 3 courts, including the SCOC, the majority will believe the courts.

    I also have Percy’s statement, that in 1997, he sprayed 3 acres with Round Up, and harvested the survivors, and used that seed to seed 1000 acres. As the SCOC said, he knew, or should have known, that the seed was Round Up Resistant, in violation of the patent, and the agreement he had signed the year before.

    Lets forget the ludicrous belief that 3 acres of plants would supply seed for 1000 acres.

  139. Willis Eschenbach says:

    TheTempestSpark says:
    March 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    “I await your report debunking FAOSTAT.”

    Wait? you’ll notice that FAOSTAT uses Population data from the UN Population Division and the data refers to the UN Revision 2008, which of course has the disclaimer I mentioned. I have no disagreement with FAOSTAT but I do question the population data that they are using that has a Disclaimer.
    You could give me a real challenge next time.

    “The FAOSTAT PopSTAT module contains timeseries on population and economically active population. The series consist of both estimates and projections for different periods as available from the original sources, namely:

    1. Population data from the UN Population Division and the data refers to the UN Revision 2008. Long term series estimates and projects from 1961 to 2050.”

    Not clear what your point is. The UN is basically using data for the period 1961-2008, and contains estimates beyond that to 2050.

    And?

    Any population numbers, except at the moment of the census, are always an estimate. However, this doesn’t mean that they just make it up. The census was in 2010. The estimated population of the US in 2011 is not going to be far from the actual population in 2011

    w.

  140. Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 29, 2011 at 12:58 am

    “Not clear what your point is. The UN is using data for the period 1961-2008, and contains estimates beyond that to 2050.

    And?”

    “7 billion” people on this planet, Where is your proof?

  141. John Do says:

    Just a query for Willis.
    It doesn’t change your argument much but some people take poorly checked figures off and use them elsewhere.
    In a response to Becky you used two thirds living in poverty (or 4 billion people).
    In “the Skeptical Environmentalist” by Bjorn Lomborg, he refers to 1.2 billion living in poverty, with the number not changing much over the 1987 to 1998 period. This meant a drop from 28% to 24% of those in the Less Developed Countries.
    Is your two thirds from FAOSTAT?
    I hope not as the difference (from 1.2 to 4 billion people in 12 years) would be a disaster.

  142. Willis Eschenbach says:

    TheTempestSpark says:
    March 29, 2011 at 2:11 am

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    March 29, 2011 at 12:58 am

    “Not clear what your point is. The UN is using data for the period 1961-2008, and contains estimates beyond that to 2050.

    And?”

    “7 billion” people on this planet, Where is your proof?

    If you want to be all coy and cutesy, go play someplace else.

    Can I “prove” that global population is ~ 7 billion? No.

    Is it really, really, really likely that the population of the world is ~ 7 billion? Every authority I know of says so, so I’ve been hoping that you’d point to someone saying something different.

    Put up a citation to your claim or play elsewhere, there’s a good fellow.

    w.

  143. Willis Eschenbach says:

    John Do says:
    March 29, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Just a query for Willis.
    It doesn’t change your argument much but some people take poorly checked figures off and use them elsewhere.
    In a response to Becky you used two thirds living in poverty (or 4 billion people).
    In “the Skeptical Environmentalist” by Bjorn Lomborg, he refers to 1.2 billion living in poverty, with the number not changing much over the 1987 to 1998 period. This meant a drop from 28% to 24% of those in the Less Developed Countries.
    Is your two thirds from FAOSTAT?
    I hope not as the difference (from 1.2 to 4 billion people in 12 years) would be a disaster.

    My bad, I was using old figures. It also depends on what you call “poverty”. The portion of the world living on less than $2 per day seems to be about half the planet these days, down from earlier estimates.

    w.

  144. Frank White says:

    What I saw recently in Cambodia and Nepal were many people too poor to overeat. The rich were the ones that look to be in poor health. They live longer because they are at less risk from infectious diseases and trauma.

    I have worked as a consultant in developing countries for 40 years. What I see now is the growing incidence of obesity, mostly in countries that have enjoyed rapid economic growth during the last 20 years or so. Nepal and Cambodia are two countries where obesity is not yet common, except among the rich. Obesity is becoming a problem in countries that have climbed out of poverty, like Malaysia, and is common in middle-income countries, such as Syria and Indonesia.

    The unfortunate thing is that humans are programmed to overeat and to ruin their health by doing so. We need to ask, “Is a low-calorie diet as bad as we have been led to believe?”

    The OSS collected data in the Netherlands after World War II when people had so little to eat that they turned to rats. Those years coincided with a decline in heart disease. I put this oberservation to good use. At age 74, I was myself at risk from heart disease, but now as I approach my 80th birthday I have normal blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels and a BMI of 22. I weigh 18 kilos (40 pounds) less than I did at age 74.

    How can this be? Very simple. I keep to a moderately low-calorie diet avoiding sugars, starches, meat, cereals and dairy products, except as tasty treat occasionally. If I could bear it, I would eat less than I do, but I like to eat just like everybody else.

    So I am never impressed by data that say the world will run out of food. I just do not believe that poverty equals malnutrition.

    The history of the Little Ice Age in Europe tells us that the big risk is climate cooling. The post-Roman Warm Period tells the same story. So I am sceptical about the impact of global warming.

  145. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Frank, first, many thanks for your interesting observations. As someone who has also worked extensively in developing countries, and lived for 9 years in a “Least Developed Country”, I can only agree with what you said.

    However, given the choice between kids overeating or going hungry …

    As you know, the fact that we are winning in the fight to (minimally) feed and clothe and educate the 7 billion people of the planet doesn’t mean that the battle is won. Far from it.

    My issue is the false claim that we are losing the battle. We are winning, and we need to approach the battle with that in mind.

    w.

  146. Willis Eschenbach says:

    I have added an update at the end of the head post.

    w.

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