The Contribution of Fossil Fuels to (a) Feeding Humanity and (b) Habitat Conservation?

 

Guest post by Indur M. Goklany

Analyses of policies related to fossil fuel usage usually focus on the negative impacts from that usage, while generally ignoring the positive aspects, such as their contribution to global food production and, through that, the alleviation of hunger which, it should be noted, is the first step to maintaining a healthy and productive population. Fossil fuels, however, are critical for food production worldwide. They contribute to food production via a number of pathways:

  • They serve as raw materials for the production of fertilizers and pesticides, without which yields would be substantially lower.

  • They provide most of the energy needed to move agricultural inputs (including water) and agricultural outputs to and from farms, markets and consumers.

  • Fossil fuels also provide the energy for running farm machinery.

  • They have helped increase atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, which increases the rate of photosynthesis and water use efficiency in crops (and other vegetation).

  • Much of the decrease in post-harvest losses, from farm to eventual consumption, also depends on fossil fuel powered technologies (e.g., refrigeration, storage in plastic products, and more rapid delivery systems).

Here I will develop a lower bound estimate of the contribution of fossil fuels to global food production. Specifically, I will address nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, that is, only the first of the five pathways identified above by which fossil fuels enhance food supplies. Consequently, considering only this pathway would understate the contribution of fossil fuels to global food production.

Also since fossil fuels help increase agricultural yields, that limits the amount of habitat converted to cropland. Notably, such conversion is generally regarded to be the greatest threat to ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide (Wilcove et al., 1998; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Therefore higher yields imply higher habitat conservation (Goklany 1998). Here, I will also provide a lower bound estimate the amount of land that has been “saved” from being converted to cropland.

Contribution of Nitrogen Fertilizers to Global Food Production:

Nitrogen, the fourth most abundant element in the human body, is critical for life on earth. It is an essential component of amino acids, proteins, RNA and DNA. Without it, plants would not grow and there would be no food.

It is also the most abundant gas in the atmosphere. However, plants are generally unable to directly use the nitrogen in the air for their growth. For that, nitrogen has to be “fixed” in the soil (or other growth medium) via either natural processes (e.g., through the action of various soil or aquatic bacteria) or synthetic processes. Generally, natural processes are unable to fix nitrogen in the amounts needed to feed humanity. This is why synthetic processes have to be used to fix nitrogen in the form of fertilizers which can then be used to grow crops.

Synthetic fixation of nitrogen is accomplished via the Haber-Bosch process. [Vaclav Smil, writing in Nature, called the Haber-Bosch process the most important invention of the twentieth century (firewalled). I agree. Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch—both Nobel Prizewinners before the Nobel Prize was devalued by the political shenanigans of the Norwegian committee awarding the Nobel Peace Prize—received Nobel Prizes in Chemistry (I believe) in 1918 and 1931, respectively.]

In this process, invented in 1908, hydrogen is first produced from natural gas, and then reacted with nitrogen from the air under very high temperature and pressure in the presence of a catalyst (generally iron). Because the hydrogen is derived from natural gas, and the need for high temperatures and pressures, the entire process is very energy-intensive. According to one estimate, 1% of world’s energy is used for this process.]

Erisman et al. (2008) estimate that in the 100 years since the invention of the Haber-Bosch process, that even as the global population has increased, the percentage of global food production dependent on nitrogen from the Haber-Bosch process has grown. By 2008, they estimate, it was responsible for 48 percent of global food production (see Figure 1). Thus, as they note, “the lives of around half of humanity are made possible by Haber–Bosch nitrogen.” Their estimate, which is generally consistent with earlier estimates (e.g., Smil 1999, Stewart et al. 2005), assumes that in the absence of the Haber-Bosch process, other substitute technologies would have boosted productivity by 20% between 1950 and 2000.

image

Figure : The percentage of the world’s population estimated to be fed through the Haber-Bosch process, 1908 to 2008 (indicated by the short dashed line, right axis). Trends in human population and nitrogen use throughout the twentieth century are also shown. The total world population is shown by the solid gray line (left axis). The estimate of the number of people that could be sustained without nitrogen from the Haber–Bosch process is shown by the long brown dashed line. The average fertilizer use per hectare of agricultural land (blue symbols) and per capita meat production (green symbols) is also shown. Source: Erisman et al. (2008).

Figure 1 shows that in the absence of the Haber-Bosch process, the world would have had enough food to feed only 3.5 billion people (out of a world population of 6.7 billion) in 2008. It would be even fewer if there were no fossil fuels.

This is because regardless of which substitute technologies are used they would more likely than not rely on energy to one degree or another: No substance can be extracted, moved, processed and distributed without an investment of energy. And in today’s world, energy is synonymous with fossil fuels for practical purposes. Currently, 81% of the world’s energy consumption is derived from fossil fuels (and 6% from nuclear). Consequently, the 48% estimate derived by Erisman et al. (2008) as the contribution of the Haber-Bosch process to world food production is a lower-bound estimate.

Contribution of Pesticides to Global Food Production

Oerke (2006), used data from 19 regions around the world for 2001–03 to estimate losses in five major food crops from the full gamut of pests: pathogens (fungi, chromista, bacteria), viruses, animal pests, and weeds. He estimates that in the absence of pesticides, 50–77 percent of the world’s wheat, rice, corn, potatoes and soybean crop would be lost to pests. Fortunately, pesticides have reduced these losses to 26–40 percent. But most pesticides are made from feedstock derived from petroleum, another fossil fuel.

If one assumes that the mid-point of the above ranges for actual and potential losses due to pests applies to global food production, then in the absence of any pesticides, yields would be 46% lower. However, one ought to expect that in the absence of fossil fuels, substitute pest control methods would be employed. In the following, I will assume that in the absence of fossil fuels, actual yields would be 10% lower, although that might be an overestimate. But it will serve the purpose of developing a lower-bound estimate of the contribution of fossil fuels to food production.

A Lower-Bound Estimate of the Contribution of Fossil Fuels to Global Food Production

Combining the lower bound estimates of the contribution of fossil fuels to food production via nitrogenous fertilizer and pesticides indicates that because of fossil fuels, food production increased by at least 114% in 2008. That is, in their absence, food production would have been at least 53% lower.

A Lower-Bound Estimate of the Contribution of Fossil Fuels to Habitat Conservation

The corollary to the above estimate is that, in the absence of fossil fuels, the world would have needed at least 114% more cropland in 2008 to produce the same amount of food as it actually produced with the help of fossil fuels. But, as noted, conversion of habitat to cropland is probably the primary threat to ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide.

The above estimate assumes that the new cropland is just as productive on average as current cropland. But this is doubtful, since the best cropland is likely to already be in use currently. This reinforces the fact that the 114% is a lower bound estimate.

Since today there are 1.53 billion hectares of cropland worldwide (FAOSTAT), we would need an additional 1.75 billion hectares to meet the present level of food demand. To put this number in context, in 2006, the World Resources Institute estimates that there were a total of 1.41 billion hectares set aside for full or partial protection of biodiversity. This includes areas set aside for strict protection to areas set aside for sustainable use of resources.

So it seems fossil fuels have preserved more land from being converted to human use than all the other preservation effort undertaken to date (despite Prince Charles and Richard Attenborough’s best efforts).

Summary

Just the contribution of fossil fuels to global food production would outweigh whatever damage that has been attributed to fossil fuels, whether it is from real pollutants (e.g., particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, etc.) or from hypothesized bogey-molecules such as carbon dioxide. That they have, moreover, also “saved” more habitat from conversion to agriculture is a bonus beyond compare.

So the war with fossil fuels would seem to be counterproductive.

References:

Erisman, J.W., Sutton, M.A., Galloway, J., Klimont, Z, and Winiwarte, W. 2008. How a century of ammonia synthesis changed the world. Nature Geoscience 1: 636–639.

FAOSTAT.

Fogel, R.W. 1995. The Contribution of Improved Nutrition to the Decline of Mortality Rates in Europe and America. In: Simon, J.L. Ed. The State of Humanity. Cambridge, MA, Blackwell, 61–71.

Goklany, I.M. 1998. Saving Habitat and Conserving Biodiversity on a Crowded Planet. BioScience 48: 941-953.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment [MEA]. 2005. Synthesis Report. Washington, DC, Island Press.

Oerke, E.-C. 2006. Centenary Review: Crop Losses to Pests. Journal of Agricultural Science 144: 31–43.

Smil, V. 1999. Detonator of the population explosion. Nature 400: 415.

Stewart, W.M., Dibb, D.W., Johnston, A.E., and Smyth, T.J. 2005. The Contribution of Commercial Fertilizer Nutrients to Food Production. Agronomy Journal 97: 1–6.

Wilcove, D.S., Rothstein, D., Dubow, J., Phillips, A. and Losos, E. 1998. Quantifying threats to imperiled species in the United States. BioScience 48: 607–615.

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88 Responses to The Contribution of Fossil Fuels to (a) Feeding Humanity and (b) Habitat Conservation?

  1. Mark Besse says:

    The problem is that to most enviro-mental types, more people is a bad thing. To them, this is just one more reason to hate carbon.

  2. I’m expecting some mighty fine counter-arguments from the usual trolls on this one. Thanks for accentuating the positive, Indur. It’s amazing how quickly the alarmists forget that their alarmism first needs a full stomach.

  3. Lew Skannen says:

    A few years ago I left the city and worked in Africa on a commercial agriculture project for four years. It was a real education to see where all our food comes from and what goes into producing it. Tractors, trucks, pumps, electricity, fertilizer etc..
    I came away with one profound conclusion: FOOD = DIESEL.

  4. J. Felton says:

    Excellent essay Mr. Goklany.

    Those who harbor disdain for fossil fuels often focus only on the perceived negatives, while ignoring the obvious benefits. Your post offers a great counter-point to the argument.

    This could turn out to be an great series of essays.
    Particularity interesting is the fact that weather and climate related deaths have declined substantially, partially thanks to the use of fossil fuels for things like heating and energy. ( In fact, I think it’s been mentioned before that the massive decreases in mortality rates in relation to hypothermia – something that fossil fuel-based heating is definitely something that the rate can be attributed to. )

  5. kurt says:

    Absolutely true. Your post also shows why it is important for us to save these where possible Ny using alternative energy so as to preserve this important resource for future generations.

  6. crosspatch says:

    Let us not forget the contribution to packaging through plastics that allow airtight sealing of food yet are light in weight that reduce energy consumption in transport.

    You could next go to into the contribution of fossil fuels to medicine and the lives they have saved.

  7. Dr. Dave says:

    This was an incredible article! Very informative. The environmental left fails to consider things we take for granted (like fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides). I’ve been in some heated debates with steadfast proponents of “organic farming.” You can’t feed the world’s population with that stuff. They demonize Norman Borlaug even though his efforts probably saved a billion from starving to death. Better living through chemistry! I encounter eco-geek patients all the time. They’re usually adherents to some form of “natural healing”…right up to the point where they have a bad tooth, broken bone, raging infection or a disease like asthma or diabetes. Then they tend to abandon their environmental purity. If they ever got hungry enough I’d bet they’d view “fossil fuels” a little differently.

  8. Douglas DC says:

    Norman Borlaug is one of my Heros.
    The anti carbon agenda is specifically
    to eliminate healthy, happy , dark skinned people…

  9. James Sexton says:

    Indur, of course, by now you know, most of the fossil fuel antagonists are Malthusian misanthropists. Most of them would view sustaining our population as an evil thing. They believe the earth’s resources are put there for them, and not the rest of us. They’ve demonstrated scorn and contempt at the thought of feeding the hungry. But, it is great that you would remind the rest of us of some of the great benefits of fossil fuels.

  10. noaaprogrammer says:

    In addition to facilitating the delivery of food, fossil fuels also facilitate in the pick up of groceries. My dad and grandfather spoke of setting aside a whole day every two weeks to drive the team of horses pulling their wagon into town to pick up groceries and other supplies.

  11. Clive says:

    Thank you Indur.

    Very useful material well presented. With your permission I will make a PDF copy.

    A side note re: pesticides. In human health we use chemicals and call them medicine and many are indeed pesticides, i.e. biocides. They are revered by most and have saved millions of lives and made life more enjoyable. But in agriculture we use similar chemicals (that many wrongly revile) and they have also saved many lives and contributed to human health (as you noted). And we call them pesticides. In is unfortunate.

    One comment I throw back at those arguing against man-made fertilizers and pesticides is that humans live longer today than at any time in history because of access to health care and medicines, and safe and inexpensive foods … thanks to chemicals.

    Thanks again.

    Clive

  12. This is a fantastic post/analysis.

    Don’t you love it when a complex situation is a actually analyzed with a dynamic methodology instead of the silly one dimensional variable models like level of C02?

  13. rk says:

    Poor Andy Revkin sees the future thru eyes grounded in the present:

    “One reality is that current trajectories for human population and resource appetites, when gauged against the current suite of energy choices, do not add up to prosperous societies in a predictable climate later in this century. Another is that nearly all growth in emissions is coming in countries where the real-time imperative of economic growth will long dominate the long-term concern about greenhouse-driven climate change.”

    oh dear, what to do, what to do. It is a great tragedy that the NYT supports such luddites, and yet pretends to be the voice of ‘progressivism’ and the ‘young voices’ that represent half the world’s population. I wish they’d drop the pretense and just say that they are old grouchy Malthusians who think that we’re doomed.

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/10/young-voices-at-deadlocked-durban-climate-talks/#more-40525

  14. Wesley Bruce says:

    If the ‘longevity escape velocity’ predictions are correct then we will see population accelerating way past 9 or even 12 billion. I think we can feed that many if we get our act together and let productivity rise. Given the L5 societies space-station designs and the resources of the asteroid belt, now being prospected by the DAWN probe, we could feed and accommodate 700 billion. A UN estimate. Newer space station designs may double that.

  15. gallopingcamel says:

    Amazing stuff! From my high school chemistry I seem to recall that the Haber-Bosch process is strongly endo-thermic so it requires a massive energy input to work at all.

  16. Tom Curtis says:

    Having no reason to dispute Indur Goklany’s figures, figures, I won’t.

    I will, however, point out that this makes fossil fuels a critical resource in the near term for the well being of the human race. Consuming all natural methane in the next 50 years for energy production, as we are on target to do is a waste of a critical resource in light of the fact that standing energy use can be supplied from renewable resources. This is true, even if the AGW hypothesis is false, but doubly so in that it is true. If some emissions are necessary to simply feed the population, as Indur Goklany indicates, then all the more reason to reduce emissions in areas where they are not necessary.

  17. Robert says:

    Minor correction: ‘firewalled’ should be ‘paywalled’

  18. albertalad says:

    I work in the oil business and I know full well the huge impact we have in the food industry – two hours down the road farming country starts. This is an excellent article highlighting just some of the impact both the natural gas and oil business have in this field. We have more than 200 gas well here in our areas as well as the oil sands. And believe me when farmers are this far north they have to rely on the very best modern farming methods available to make it in this environment.

    There are 6000 oil based products across even modern field of human living in use as I write in every home, medicine, and business all over the globe.

    Unfortunately, leftists refuse to acknowledge any positives oil companies contribute to humanity. Its almost as if they live inside a fairy tale universe and everything the eat and use is provided by magic. And in this universe the oil companies are dark magic and must be eliminated from their kingdom. There is no magic or medicine known to man capable of bringing these people into the modern world. They remind forever locked inside their fantasy world.

  19. Acorn1 - San Diego says:

    Excellent…! You talk about increased food production via five ways. We need to feed seven
    billion, now. We need to stop taking land from the other seven million species, both flora and
    fauna. We can begin, although we’re not doing it yet, on a “sustainability” basis.
    Seven billion x 150lb/person is a lot..! Other systems, large, are in balance. We are not, yet.
    But we’re getting there. Your article helps understanding. Fossil fuels are putting a lot of CO2
    up there…and this is good..! The USA and others are going fine, but China and India need
    to cut mercury, soot, sulfur, nitrous oxides…carbon other than soot helps. The Idso file on
    this is just marvelous. Let’s help the women of Africa get to 2.1…!

  20. Philip Bradley says:

    If you want to really annoy a Greenie ask them what invention has saved the lives of millions of children in the last 30 years.

    Answer is the plastic bottle. Diarhea is the biggest killer of children worldwide, mostly from contaminated water. Plastic bottles allowed distribution of cheap safe drinking water.

  21. Bart says:

    And, this actually only scratches the surface. There are untold numbers of uses for that miracle liquid we pump out of the ground on a daily basis. On food production specifically, for example, hexane is widely used to extract vegetable oils. Food preservation relies heavily on ligands such as EDTA.

    Tom Curtis says:
    December 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    “…in light of the fact that standing energy use can be supplied from renewable resources.”

    If nuclear energy is included in that mix, you have a case. Indeed, nuclear alone would do it. Any other selection which leaves nuclear out is a pipe dream and, if pursued on a massive scale, a misallocation of resources which will leave humanity less well off in the end.

  22. charles nelson says:

    The truth is always difficult.
    I agree wholeheartedly and a hundred percent with the analysis above, but would continue to respectfully point out that a HUGE porportion of the nitrates and nitrites intended to feed plants ends up in the watercourses where it does incalculable damage to the subtle creatures that live there.
    Very often farmers over fertilize their crops and are actually, literally throwing good money down the drain.
    Watch out for the Malthusian Con…you could see the spin doctors at Durban starting to confabulate population growth and climate change – as the failure of Global Warming to Appear deflated their apocalyptic Drivel-athon.
    According to the Malthusians we will soon need to resort to all kinds of stressful panic measures (implicitly destructive of the natural eco system) to feed the world.
    Trust me…ordinary suburban dwellers could easily recycle a vast amount of their nitrogenous waste into fresh food…if they could be arsed.
    Thereby leaving the water clear and the delicate fellas intact.
    By the way this also applies to people who only ever wear their clothes once before washing…phospates and other crap destroys the quality of our water and the beneficial creatures that live in it.
    I’ve never had a moment for global warming, I’ve always recoginized it as a chimera…but I’ve seen the destruction that nitrate pollution can do with my own eyes…now that’s a REAL problem that could do with a global conference eh?

  23. Rabe says:

    Figure 1 is totally misleading. The gray line cannot denote 7 bn people and 52% at the same time. Likewise the dashed line… IOW – crap.

  24. Bart says:

    Philip Bradley says:
    December 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    “Answer is the plastic bottle.”

    Nowhere is Greenie ignorance better displayed than in the chronic debate on “paper, or plastic?” Plastic grocery bags are a godsend. They weigh a fraction of the paper kind, and so can be more easily transported and disposed of without all the pollution generated thereby. They require a fraction of the energy to produce, without all the solvents and phosphates and other pollution necessary for processing paper.

    “But, but… they hang around for 10,000 years!” I was getting to that. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? They stay intact, safely buried in landfills, and not leaching nasty stuff into the ground while they decompose. It’s win-win-win. What’s not to like? But, the knee-jerk ignoranti just can’t get over their poorly grounded intuitive aversion to the things. It’s enough to make me spit railroad spikes in frustration. We are our own worst enemy, but not in the way they think (or, more appropriately, fail to).

  25. Philip Bradley says:

    Consuming all natural methane in the next 50 years for energy production, as we are on target to do is a waste of a critical resource in light of the fact that standing energy use can be supplied from renewable resources.

    The only viable ‘renewable’ means of generating a large proportion of the energy we consume is hydro-electricity.

    The AGW/Green crowd has fought tooth and nail against hydro-eletric projects for decades.

  26. R. de Haan says:

    Fossil fuels also saved the whale and the sea elephant from extinction.
    (replacing lamp oil)

  27. Espen says:

    Rabe: Figure 1 is totally misleading.

    Just because you don’t understand the legend?

  28. Frosty says:

    Out of interest, how much energy is used for (a) Feeding Humanity and (b) Habitat Conservation?

    oil equivalent numbers would be good.

  29. A. Scott says:

    I agree there are many important, even critical benefits to fossil fuels. I think we should be using the fossil fuels we have and think the liberal and/or treehugger positions are largely ridiculous.

    That said the position and point made only accentuate the importance of alternative energy sources. We may one day find out we have an unending supply of fossil fuels but I seriously doubt that. We DO have I think more than many believe. The amount though IS finite, and with as important as this essay shows fossil fuels are we have to rationally pursue real alternative energy sources and look at realistic conservation measures to prolong depletion of the finite supply.

  30. Juraj V. says:

    Today we are perversely taught to hate fertilizers, electricity and pesticides, while thanks to them we are fed and well kept. Such enviroarguments at the end end up claiming “too much mankind”. Just instead of gas chambers they prefer sterilizations, starvation or cold – and they claim they care about humanity.

  31. Alan the Brit says:

    Excellent post, Idur Goklany. You have concisely highlighted the true benefits of Fossil Fuels usage!
    I agree with a comment earlier about keeping certain sections of the population away from access to energy. We all know poverty increases populations, not wealth. Wealthy nations’ popuations do not rise significantly over time, esepcially with sesnible & logical immigration policies. It is the West, to who the world’s populations should be thankful for all the great discoveries & inventions in the world, that have got us to where we are. Not this ridiculous hair-shirted shinannigans by obsessive-compulsive suffering Socialists trying to enforce their backward thinking control measures upon us all. Just look at the mess Europe is in as a result of all that excessive control, the enrichment of bureaucrats & the impoverishment of the majority, the super-wealthy always seem to be able to take care of themselves!

  32. Denis Hopkins says:

    I liked the article, but would prefer it not to have asides at various things that make you feel it is a polemic rather than a reasoned article. No need to be contemptuous of the Nobel Committee giving Peace Awards and certainly no need to impugne Richard Attenborough (for his Oscar winning Ghandi? or was The Chorus Line so bad?). I think you are referring to his brother David Attenborough! His Frozen Planet series ended this weekend with a paen to warn about Climate Change. However, it was more muted than you might expect with no disaster scenaria without the caveat of “maybe” or “not likely” which is unusual for these days at the BBC.

  33. peter jackson says:

    Indur

    A good paper but you underestimate the need for fossil fuels. I have worked as an agricultural scientists in many areas of the World, including several years in Africa during the “green revolution” of the 1960′s when we produced research results showing that cereal yields can be increased by up to 30 fold through the use of fertilizers and agro chemicals allied with good cultivation and soil conservation techniques: that this has not happened is as much due to lack of land ownership as poor agronomic practices.

    Soil conservation and cultivation are the most important aspects of dry land farming areas to prevent soil erosion and conserve water that it otherwise lost as well as to plant crops to catch the rains, but this requires the use of heavy machinery – tractors,bulldozers, graders etc – to create terraces and these require large amounts of diesel. A major problem in Africa is the lack of winter feed for cattle that are then too weak to plough in Spring so they plough down hill causing erosion but by first waiting for grass to feed the oxen and get them in any condition to do so they miss the rains for planted crops. This takes land out of production and enhances water loss.

    Equally, in most of these countries the roads are dirt and need constant grading and repair that also need more heavy equipment otherwise food never gets to market.or even to storage points but rots in the field. And for meat products there is a need for refrigeration in distribution and storage. With higher proportions of populations in underdeveloped and developing countries living in urban centers this is an important point, as as shown in the Soviet Union – that equally demonstrated the “benefits” of relying on the peasant agriculture that Greens wish to impose. A final point is that in the NH we have been lucky in recent years to have warm weather that has reduced the fuel costs of drying grains after harvest but with solar activity at a low we can expect this to change with wetter harvest times and a higher need for fuel for grain dryers. There are other points, such as the need for fuel to produce manufactured foods for an increased working population and Middle Class but these will suffice to make my point and support yours.

  34. John Marshall says:

    Excellent post.

    It is also obvious to me, though not those at Durban, that if the West is starved of fossil fuels through the stupid carbon tax they will be unable to pay all the monies claimed by the developing nations. it is only energy that brings the riches to help the developing nations, though not the absurd sums claimed.

  35. Brian H says:

    Bart says:
    December 11, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Any other selection which leaves nuclear out is a pipe dream and, if pursued on a massive scale, a misallocation of resources which will leave humanity less well off in the end.

    Relying on renewables is a massive misallocation of resources which leaves humanity less well off right at the get-go, too. In fact, start to finish, they cause harm and waste.

  36. David says:

    “Consuming all natural methane in the next 50 years for energy production, as we are on target to do is a waste of a critical resource in light of the fact that standing energy use can be supplied from renewable resources.”

    Maybe, probably not! Google, The shale gas shock Mark Ridley Forward by Freeman Dyson

  37. David says:

    Rabe, the right axis with % pertains to the percentage of population fed by the method discussed.

  38. SandyInDerby says:

    Rabe says:
    December 12, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Have you actually read the legends for the different lines, I suggest you do.

  39. Dr. John M. Ware says:

    Paper vs. plastic: Both kinds of bags have their uses, but paper is much easier to reuse. Our paper bags take metal and glass recyclables to the dump, are emptied there, and are taken back home to be used for that purpose again and again. Some paper bags are filled with newspaper, which is also recycled. No simple waste there. Plastic grocery bags are far too small and porous for recycling purposes (i.e., for taking recyclables to the dump), but can themselves be recycled. Sometimes we prefer plastic bags because we can take several of them into the house at once; sometimes we prefer paper bags because they can aid in recycling, as already stated. Both types of bags are useful in initial application, and both can be recycled.

  40. Alex the skeptic says:

    Indur M. Goklany: Great report. This should have been read/distributed to the delegates at Durban. But I’m sure that those delegates were more interested in ensuring their flight and hotel booking for their next COP 18 holiday, than in science. Science? Did anyone mention science in Durban?

  41. Paul Martin says:

    Is it possible that you’re conflating Richard Attenborough (actor, director) with his brother David (nature documentary maker, former controller of BBC2 TV channel)?

  42. Spector says:

    RE: kurt says: (December 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm)
    “Absolutely true. Your post also shows why it is important for us to save these where possible Ny using alternative energy so as to preserve this important resource for future generations.”

    Preservation of a given resource for future generations seems to assume a small finite number of generations. There should be 40 generations in the next 1000 years. It seems reasonable to assume that all economically recoverable carbon deposits will be exhausted by then. Only nuclear energy from thorium and perhaps uranium remain as possible replacements. If these prove impractical for one reason or another, then it seems likely that the world would eventually face a painful period of population regression back to levels extant before 1900.

  43. Dave Springer says:

    kurt says:
    December 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    “Absolutely true. Your post also shows why it is important for us to save these where possible Ny using alternative energy so as to preserve this important resource for future generations.”

    Yes but you aren’t going to convince people to conserve fossil fuels by lying to them about why they should. You also aren’t going to pay for the R&D to find alternative energy sources by crippling the economies of the western nations which produce all the technological innovations.

  44. Dave says:

    Fossil fuels have lifted humans out of darkness, squalor and ignorance.

    They have ended backbreaking labor, made it possible for women to get of the kitchen and made modern civilization possible.

    No wonder they are so hated.

  45. Dave Springer says:

    Spector says:
    December 12, 2011 at 4:17 am

    “Preservation of a given resource for future generations seems to assume a small finite number of generations. There should be 40 generations in the next 1000 years. It seems reasonable to assume that all economically recoverable carbon deposits will be exhausted by then. Only nuclear energy from thorium and perhaps uranium remain as possible replacements. If these prove impractical for one reason or another, then it seems likely that the world would eventually face a painful period of population regression back to levels extant before 1900.”

    Well then we’re screwed because there just aren’t any materials that can simultaneously withstand the corrosion from molten salts and embrittlement by high neutron flux long enough to make a thorium reactor reach economic break-even. You have a constant costly maintenance program of shutting down for inspections and replacement of pumps and plumbing. This same need is what makes conventional nuclear plants twice as expensive as natural gas at providing steam for turbines. And in conventional nuclear plants it’s only embrittlement that’s the problem.

    Fortunately nuclear power is not the last resort. There is abundant cheap clean energy coming from the sun. It is already being harvested by self-maintaining, self-repairing, self-reproducing things called green plants. All that’s left for us to do is adapt the technology nature gave to us on a silver platter to produce liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon fuels as a primary product of metabolism rather than as an undesireable by-product. Mutation and natural selection, you see, only selects things that are important for survival. Diesel-equivalent fuel oil naturally produced by some strains of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) is a by-product of their metabolism and mutations that produce it in greater amounts create a competitive disadvantage so it is limited. Humans can now “mutate” these organisms and provide them with artificial environments where the over-production of fuel-oil is not a competitive disadvantage.

    This is the future of energy production. Cheap, plentiful hydrocarbon fuels that are a drop-in, no modification required replacement for fossil fuels. No other alternative energy scenario is both practical and acheivable with current technology. Anyone who believes otherwise either hasn’t done their homework or has some vested short-term interest in one of the impractical alternatives.

    Even better, hydrocarbon fuel production is just the tip of the iceberg in what can be produced at almost no cost through synthetic biology. There’s no technological reason why a vial of bacteria can’t be used to innoculate the ground where you want a house built and the bacteria will multiply into the trillions of trillions and programatically build a house out local materials (carbon, calcium, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc.) using energy from the sun for motive power. If a maple tree can grow from a maple seed then in principle it can be directed to build anything at all out of wood. If a snail egg can hatch and produce a home made of calcium then it could be directed to make toilets and sinks and floor tiles out of calcuim. You see where this is going? Once you have the ability to cut & paste the natural abilities of biologic entities and direct it to do your bidding then the world becomes your oyster (so to speak).

    This technology is real, proven in concept by nature herself, and imminent. Synthetic biology is advancing at breakneck speed reminiscent of the rapid advances in semi-conductor technology.

  46. Frank K. says:

    Mike Bromley the Kurd says:
    December 11, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    “I’m expecting some mighty fine counter-arguments from the usual trolls on this one.”

    No – you won’t see very many trolls here because they are, at this very moment, consuming energy produced by fossil fuels (to keep themselves warm if they live in cold climates) and, no doubt, using petroleum-based products. I have implored them to stop using ANY fossil fuels or petroleum based products, but there is usually little or no response — meaning, of course, that they are, in fact, hypocritically using fossil fuel energy and petroleum products, while at the same time protesting the XL pipeline and scolding the rest of society for not being “carbon neutral”.

    TROLLS – WHERE ARE YOU???

  47. H. Hak says:

    Another essential compound needed for food production is phosphate. Nitrogen fertilizer alone will become less and less effective if no phosphate is added. Virtually all phosphates in fertilizers are extracted from phosphorus / phosphate containing ore by a process requiring sulfuric acid. Where does the sulfuric acid come from? Produced from sulfur extracted out of fossil fuels.
    Potassium is another important fertilizer component and is mined.

  48. John West says:

    A. Scott says:
    “The amount though IS finite, and with as important as this essay shows fossil fuels are we have to rationally pursue real alternative energy sources and look at realistic conservation measures to prolong depletion of the finite supply.”

    Spector says:
    “There should be 40 generations in the next 1000 years. It seems reasonable to assume that all economically recoverable carbon deposits will be exhausted by then.”

    As Mr. Wingo pointed out in his excellent post:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/10/the-true-failure-of-durban/

    The Earth is not our only resource.
    At some point in the future we could be mining hydrocarbons from Titan’s methane/ethane lakes:
    “These lakes, individually, have enough methane/ethane energy to fuel the whole of the US for 300 years.”
    http://www.universetoday.com/12800/titan-has-hundreds-of-times-more-liquid-hydrocarbons-than-earth/

    or comets:
    http://ascelibrary.org/proceedings/resource/2/ascecp/207/41774/107_1?isAuthorized=no

  49. Bruce Cobb says:

    Tom Curtis says:
    December 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Having no reason to dispute Indur Goklany’s figures, figures, I won’t.
    I will, however, point out that this makes fossil fuels a critical resource in the near term for the well being of the human race. Consuming all natural methane in the next 50 years for energy production, as we are on target to do is a waste of a critical resource in light of the fact that standing energy use can be supplied from renewable resources.

    Which renewable resource(s) in particular do you imagine are viable replacements for fossil fuels? They all appear to have multiple problems, including high cost, environmental damage, decreased food availability, and even requiring more energy (thus, more of the dreaded C02 monster) to produce than they supply.
    Perhaps I missed one magic bullet, though.

  50. JPeden says:

    A. Scott says:
    December 12, 2011 at 1:15 am

    The amount [of fossil fuel] though IS finite, and with as important as this essay shows fossil fuels are we have to rationally pursue real alternative energy sources and look at realistic conservation measures to prolong depletion of the finite supply.

    Yes, but there’s a lot of “finite” to go before we get anywhere “close” to the infinite, especially as concerns energy and the human mind. Therefore, I resist any argument moving backward toward Totalitarianism, say, in the interests of “saving” or “correctly redistributing” resources. Unless, of course, it is me who becomes Ruler of The World, “before it’s too late!”

  51. kMc2 says:

    Dave Springer 12/12 at 6:15a.m……WOW!!! Just WOW!!!! Many thanks.

  52. Spector says:

    RE: John West: (December 12, 2011 at 6:38 am)
    “The Earth is not our only resource.
    “At some point in the future we could be mining hydrocarbons from Titan’s methane/ethane lakes:”

    I tend to discount outer space as a source of energy and other resources because of the energy that must be expended just getting out there. Supposedly, there is enough thorium on the surface of the Earth to supply all our current needs far beyond the expected life of the sun.

    As I understand it, there remain nontrivial technical issues to be resolved in order to extract thorium energy, but work on these problems was stopped 40 years ago, because they already had a working alternative solid-state nuclear technology that was good enough for the time. The promises that liquid-state thorium/uranium reactors might be almost 100 times more efficient and consume most of their dangerous long-lived transuranic wastes were beside the point.

    BTW, I understand there is a move afoot to gather signatures for an initiative in the state of California that would cause the closure of all nuclear power plants there. Especially after Fukushima, I think a vote on this issue might be expected to go along the same lines as the vote on the California Clean Air Act.

  53. Bart says:

    Dave Springer says:
    December 12, 2011 at 6:15 am

    “This technology is real, proven in concept by nature herself, and imminent. Synthetic biology is advancing at breakneck speed reminiscent of the rapid advances in semi-conductor technology.”

    See my post at … ah, other thread, here. Calculate for me the surface area needed to make, say, a 70% dent in our energy demands as of today. Then, calculate the amount of material needed to construct the infrastructure for your cultures. If you do it right, you will find figures on the order of 100′s of years of present production.

    These bugs are not magical. They can only convert as much energy as they get from the incident sunlight. And, that sunlight has to be collected over a prohibitive area. The energy density is poor.

    Please do not respond until you have done the calculations and can show your work. I am increasingly weary of proof by assertion such as the warmists tend to use, and will almost certainly respond intemperately to it.

  54. Dr. Dan says:

    Indur, an interesting article and one much needed. Another thing that can be added to the benefit of “fossil” fuels is the economic welfare derived from the production of Inexpensive energy. As one who teaches environmental science, I constantly tell my students that it is “cheep” energy, which fossil fuels have provided, that is necessary for economic prosperity, and it is this prosperity that has allowed the Highly Developed Countries to solve environmental problems such as pollution and production of sufficient food. I know from personal experience in Africa and India that the lack of economic resources results in high levels of environmental damage. If you are simply struggling to get enough food to eat, you do not have anything left over for much else.
    Inexpensive energy is also the answer to controlling population growth. The correlation between economic prosperity and reduced birth rates is obvious. If the economies of the Least Developed Countries would improve their birth rates would drop without us having to do anything like what the Chinese and Malthusians have done or would do, given the opportunity.
    I believe the answer to the environmental problems, of which AGW is NOT one, is to assist the LDCs in deleveloping inexpensive energy, not in a massive transfer of wealth to line the pockets of the corrupt politicians.

  55. davidmhoffer says:

    Tom Curtis;
    Having no reason to dispute Indur Goklany’s figures, figures, I won’t.
    I will, however, point out that this makes fossil fuels a critical resource in the near term for the well being of the human race.>>>

    So, having been showen that reducing our dependance on fossil fuels is a death sentence for billions, you’re advocating that we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to extend the life of these critical resources. So you seriously believe that the REASON for reducing dependence on fossil fuels changes the number of people killed by doing so?

    BTW – We’ve been running out of fossil fuels within the next ten years for about 40 years now, and somehow have more than we’ve ever had before. The war cry of the lunatic green misanthropists to starve billions to death has now gone full circle. From “we’re running out” to “we’re not running out but we’re going to cause spontaneous planetary combustion” to “we’re running out”. Why is it that the problem is a lie, so switch to a different lie, and when that gets expeosed as a lie, switch to the first lie? And why is that the solution to every problem is to liquidate hald the human population?

    The only real problem we have is that human beings (at least some percentage of them) seem to be born with an instinctive belief that disaster looms over every horizon, and can only be fought by sacrificing ourselves en masse. Some other percentage of the population instinctively finds new solutions to actual problems, which the misanthropists gladly avail themselves of while screaming to throw more virgins into volcanoes.

  56. Dave Worley says:

    The arguments for “saving resources” for generations 1000 years down the road is not our responsibility. Planning for things more than 30 years down the road is impractical and ill advised. Given our technological evolution only for the last 30 years, we do not have a clue what resources our grandchildren will have access to. We currently recover only a tiny percentage of the fossil fuels in the ground, and new technology is being found to enhance this as we speak.

    Population will necessarily reach a sustainable equilibrium one day. It will more than likely will be a very gradual and natural transition. If and when the technologies which allow us to insulate ourselves from environmental threats are globally available, population will likely decrease. All of this can happen without unnatural dictates from a world governing body. Nature works if we let it.

  57. Spector says:

    RE: Dave Springer: (December 12, 2011 at 6:15 am)
    “Well then we’re screwed because there just aren’t any materials that can simultaneously withstand the corrosion from molten salts and embrittlement by high neutron flux long enough to make a thorium reactor reach economic break-even. You have a constant costly maintenance program of shutting down for inspections and replacement of pumps and plumbing. This same need is what makes conventional nuclear plants twice as expensive as natural gas at providing steam for turbines. And in conventional nuclear plants it’s only embrittlement that’s the problem.

    All I can say is that there are seemingly intelligent people, such as Dr. David LeBlanc, who do not see this as a problem. One would think that such problems would have been apparent in the early Oak Ridge demonstration reactor. As the liquid fluoride salt operates at low ambient pressure, it does not have the explosive problem of high-pressure, super-heated water used in conventional reactors. Both China and India appear to be working on thorium energy extraction. At this stage, the energy appears to be there, and as far as I know, no one has ever really proved that it cannot be extracted economically.

    As for bio-solar power, I have seen one estimate that PV solar panels only collect, on average, about 20 watts per square meter. I do not know if plants are more efficient than this. That implies huge areas of the earth devoted to solar energy collection to fill our current needs. I am not sure that bio-solar power (in effect: advanced agriculture) can really support a population much greater than simple agriculture did in 1880.

  58. JeffC says:

    In much the same way the book “The Forgotten Man” by Amity Shales uncovers the unseen parts of the picture of the Depression this sort of article illuminates the one sided thinking that infects the environmental movement …

    Try to grow your own food and see how far you get without fossil fuels. You may be able to sustain yourself but try and feed 100 other families and you will soon see the folly. Of course if you try long enough you won’t have to feed the 100 other families, you may be down to 50.

  59. John G says:

    A rather ordinary observation (fossil fuels are used to make nitrogen fertilizer) leads to the spectacular conclusion (and make possible the very existence of half the people on the planet at this time)! Not to mention those fossil fuels also provide the CO2 fertilizer in the atmosphere which indiscriminately enhances the growth of every plant on earth. How valuable are fossil fuels and how foolish is the administration’s war on them. I love that sort of thing. Thanks.

  60. Septic Matthew says:

    Philip Bradley: The only viable ‘renewable’ means of generating a large proportion of the energy we consume is hydro-electricity.

    Why do you say that? In India and North Africa there is more energy available from sunlight than from falling water. I think the same is true in Texas and Western China.

  61. Septic Matthew says:

    Dave Springer: No other alternative energy scenario is both practical and acheivable with current technology. Anyone who believes otherwise either hasn’t done their homework or has some vested short-term interest in one of the impractical alternatives.

    Contemporary concentrated PV panels are about 40% efficient, and can operate year-round by maintaining the proper angle to the sun (obviously shorter days in the winter, but not the complete shut-down that plants do.) The electricity can power catalysts that make syngas and butanol. Per acre of area, this probably can produce more fuel than biofuels. But the decisions in the market won’t depend on current technology, they will depend on which technologies develop the most and most rapidly reduce the total costs of production.

    Sunlight acting directly on catalysts can produce H2 or (different catalysts) syngas. Again, both technologies are under development, and their usefulness will depend on how rapidly total costs can be reduced as the processes are upscaled.

    Electricity from wind can likewise be used with catalysts and feedstocks to make fuel. The principle feedstocks are CO2 and H2O, same as with electricity from solar. And wind turbines, unlike plants, can operate at night and in winter.

    There is no good reason to focus on biofuels to the exclusion of other renewable energy sources, or to focus on current technology.

    All kinds of energy developments can be followed here:http://www.energy-daily.com/

    The scale of the work is vast, and hard to summarize briefly.

  62. Bart says:

    Septic Matthew says:
    December 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    “The scale of the work is vast, and hard to summarize briefly.”

    Actually, it’s pretty easy. There is no possible way to derive more energy from these things than is transferred by sunlight striking the total energy transforming surface. The surface area required to make a sizable dent in our energy appetite is so vast that even the supporting structure for the apparatus alone is beyond our ability to construct in at least half a century, more likely several. And, don’t even start thinking about the environmental impact of such a vast structure, even unto the climate changing properties of absorbing all that heat at ground level.

    Practical means of energy production require compact, energy dense technology. There are only two sources available which meet the requirements: fossil fuels and nuclear power. All else is a distraction.

  63. Bart says:

    Here’s an exercise for those interested: at current rate of worldwide production of aluminum of 40 million tons per annum, calculate how many years it would take to cover a 100 X 100 mile area with a 1 inch sheet if every ounce of production were dedicated to the project. Those are the kinds of numbers we are dealing with.

  64. Septic Matthew says:

    Bart,

    What you have shown is that renewable sources can not power everything now. Imagine the effort that would have been required for someone in 1911 to imagine the work required to manufacture hundreds of aircraft to carry millions of passengers across the oceans each year.

    The energy return on energy invested for PV panels is greater than the energy returned on energy invested for tar sands. All that is needed now is for the prices to be reduced, and price reductions are ongoing.

    I favor nuclear power, however — I don’t disagree with you on that. But right now a factory can output more than 1 GW of PV panel electrical generating capacity in one year. So it needs space — even China and India can make more electrical generating capacity from PV cells per year than they can nuclear. To insist on what can’t be accomplished in 20 – 100 years is foolish.

    The tipping point, I think, will be when a PV panel fabrication plant is 100% powered by PV cells that it has manufactured.

  65. John West says:

    Bart:
    100 miles = ~528000 ft
    so, 528000 x 528000 x 1/12 = 2.32×10^10 cubic ft
    @ ~172 lb/ ft^3 = ~4 x 10^12 lbs =~ 2×10^9 tons
    2×10^9 tons / 40×10^6 tons/year =~ 50 years

    (Why did I just do that?)

  66. John West says:

    Spector says:
    “I tend to discount outer space as a source of energy and other resources because of the energy that must be expended just getting out there. ”

    You’re thinking in terms of the current situation, 1000 or 10000 years from now a sustantial portion of us may be already up there and going back and forth might be as easy as an elevator ride.

    I agree that nuclear certainly works in various configurations, and I’m all for going down that path. I wish the US would have built more nuclear power plants in the 70′s and 80′s in response to the “energy crisis”.

  67. Bart says:

    Septic Matthew:

    “What you have shown is that renewable sources can not power everything now. “

    Or, at any time in the fairly long term using unreasonably, even insanely, optimistic estimates of the resources needed to bring to bear.

    Nuclear power can do the job right now at a fraction of the effort and cost. There are opportunity costs involved here. The resources directed toward building an inefficient, ponderous network of passive electrical generating capacity over a stretch of several generations of descendants would be far more beneficial directed elsewhere.

  68. Bart says:

    And, don’t forget the environmental impact. Taking over that much real estate to generate our power would be ecologically and climatically devastating. We’re talking MAJOR disruption of migratory routes and UHI effect on a massive scale, to say the least.

  69. Bart says:

    “…1 GW of PV panel electrical generating capacity…”

    Slash by half for night and day. Slash by half unless you intend to track the Sun over the day (and, up the resources and maintenance required considerably, as well as the real estate required to avoid shading). Slash by half again for cloudy days. Slash by half again for continuous cleaning away of dirt and detritus, and replacing wiring eaten by rodents and squirrels. And, on and on.

    The devil is in the details. None of the rosy scenarios for wind power have panned out in Europe. This is the same. It just takes too much effort per erg of energy gained, and it isn’t worth it.

  70. Bart says:

    Well, that’s enough for my little rant today. I’m just so tired of this folderal. Quick buck artists have been promising renewable “free” energy all my life, and never delivered. Because, they cannot, and never will. When you’ve seen the same movie or play two or three times, and you know how it inevitably ends, you find it increasingly galling to sit through another performance, and less concerned with spoiling the plot for the newbies. The butler did it. In the library. With the rib roast. Let’s go home and do something productive.

  71. Gail Combs says:

    Excellent!

    As an independent check on the numbers, can be found in the USDA ‘s A History of American Agriculture 1776-1990

    “Primitive” farming methods without factory-made agricultural machinery, Irrigation, Mixed chemical fertilizers sold commercially or Hybrid seed produced 100 bushels of wheat from 5 acres (1830)
    This was before the first grain elevator or silos were used to preserve grain.

    Today the US produces 100 bushels of wheat from 3 acres of land.
    http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blfarm1.htm

    Between better utilization of the farmland and better methods of transport and preservation, your numbers seem spot on.

  72. Gail Combs says:

    Tom Curtis says:
    December 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Having no reason to dispute Indur Goklany’s figures, figures, I won’t.

    I will, however, point out that this makes fossil fuels a critical resource in the near term for the well being of the human race. Consuming all natural methane in the next 50 years for energy production, as we are on target to do is a waste of a critical resource in light of the fact that standing energy use can be supplied from renewable resources……
    ____________________________________________
    As a chemist I certainly agree with that.

    Burning such a useful substance as petroleum when we could be using nuclear instead is insanity.

    ABSTRACT
    …With the present day availability of fissile U235 and Pu239, and available fusion and accelerator
    neutron sources, a fresh look at the thorium cycle is ongoing. Whereas the U233-Th232 fuel cycle is undergoing a revival as a replacement of the existing Light Water Reactors (LWRs) system, a highly promising approach is its use in fusion-fission hybrid reactors as an eventual bridge and technology development for future pure fusion reactors, bypassing the intermediate stage of the fast fission breeder reactors. We discuss the possibility of taking advantage of the Th cycle benefits in the form of an optimized fission-fusion thorium hybrid….. http://www.thoriumenergyalliance.com/downloads/The_Fusion_Fission_Thorium_Hybrid_Ragheb.pdf

    As far as “Organic Farming” goes, there is nothing wrong with organic as a niche market and as a breeding ground for decent ideas. I go with organic methods first and resort to chemicals on an as need basis. Neither method has “THE TRUTH” My farm was completely ruined by the “chemical farming methods” used to grow tobacco. In fifty years over two feet of excellent top soil was lost to erosion. I have managed to replace 4 to 6 inches of loam in the last fifteen years, turning an unproductive piece of land into something that will finally grow grass instead of weeds.

  73. Gail Combs says:

    charles nelson says:
    December 11, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    The truth is always difficult.
    I agree wholeheartedly and a hundred percent with the analysis above, but would continue to respectfully point out that a HUGE porportion of the nitrates and nitrites intended to feed plants ends up in the watercourses where it does incalculable damage to the subtle creatures that live there.
    Very often farmers over fertilize their crops and are actually, literally throwing good money down the drain……
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    A darn good reason to have grass filter strips between crop land and water courses. Also tree wind breaks and “green manure” clover or annual grass used in the fall to prevent erosion of bare fields and add organic mater in the spring.

    Unfortunately the big Ag companies want to do away with grass filter strips and tree wind breaks and use “sterile bare earth” (rolls eyes) – http://farmwars.info/?p=1284

  74. chuck nolan says:

    Dave Worley says:
    December 12, 2011 at 10:33 am
    ………..”Nature works if we let it.”
    ——————————-
    I agree Dave.
    Since there are more people on earth, more space is needed to sustain them.
    The earth is warming because of a natural climate change ( commonly referred to as NCC). This provides resources for the new population growth. This natural global warming ( commonly referred to as NGW) will melt more ice to free up more land for mining and farming. Melting ice also provides more water and allows us to create large lakes to store the extra water. This seems to me to be the correct response to human population growth almost….natural, if you will. More people, more land, more water, more natural resources, naturally.
    Let’s not interfere with nature on this one.

  75. Gail Combs says:

    peter jackson says:
    December 12, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Indur

    A good paper but you underestimate the need for fossil fuels. I have worked as an agricultural scientists in many areas of the World, including several years in Africa during the “green revolution” of the 1960′s when we produced research results showing that cereal yields can be increased by up to 30 fold through the use of fertilizers and agro chemicals allied with good cultivation and soil conservation techniques: that this has not happened is as much due to lack of land ownership as poor agronomic practices…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Perhaps you could also write an essay for WUWT?

    Your point on farmland ownership is a lot more important than many realize. My farm was rented by the guy across the street. HIS land is in fine shape but the he never put an extra dime into the land he rented and “used it up” If he had planted winter cover crops the winter rains would not have washed the top soil into the river. However cover crops cost time and money and it was not his land.

    Most people have no idea of what is involved in producing food since we are three generations or more “off the land”

  76. Gail Combs says:

    Dave Springer says:
    December 12, 2011 at 6:15 am

    …….Well then we’re screwed because there just aren’t any materials that can simultaneously withstand the corrosion from molten salts and embrittlement by high neutron flux long enough to make a thorium reactor reach economic break-even…….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    From the 1969 Oak Ridge report it looks like they beat that problem. The Chinese were over here rather recently discussing Thorium with Oak Ridge.

    MOLTEN-SALT REACTORS—HISTORY,
    STATUS, AND POTENTIAL
    M.W. ROSENTHAL, P.R. KASTEN, and R.B. BRIGGS
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830
    Received August 4, 1969
    Revised October 10, 1969

    Molten-salt breeder reactors (MSBR’s) are being developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for generating low-cost power while extending the nation’s resources of fissionable fuel. The fluid fuel in these reactors, consisting of UF4 and ThF4 dissolved in fluorides of beryllium and lithium, is circulated through a reactor core moderated by graphite. Technology developments over the past 20 years have culminated in the successful operation of the 8-MWt Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE), and have indicated that operation with a molten fuel is practical, that the salt is stable under reactor conditions, and that corrosion is very low.…..

    The fluorides appeared particularly appropriate because they have high solubility for uranium, are among the most stable of chemical compounds, have very low vapor pressure even at red heat, have reasonably good heat transfer properties, are not damaged by radiation, do not react violently with air or water, and are inert to some common structural metals.

    A small reactor, the Aircraft Reactor Experiment, was built at Oak Ridge to investigate the use of molten fluoride fuels for aircraft propulsion reactors and particularly to study the nuclear stability of the circulating fuel system. The ARE fuel salt was a mixture of NaF, ZrF4, and UF4, the moderator was BeO, and all the piping was Inconel. In 1954 the ARE was operated successfully for 9 days at steady-state outlet temperatures ranging up to 1580°F (1133 K) and at powers up to 2.5 MWt. No mechanical or chemical problems were encountered, and the reactor was found to be stable and self-regulating.2
    http://moltensalt.org/references/static/downloads/pdf/NAT_MSRintro.pdf

  77. Gail Combs on December 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm and at 6:31 pm
    1. I am not sure what precisely History of American Agriculture 1776-1990/i> is referring to but, according to the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS), average wheat yields increased from 11 bushel/acre in 1866 to around 45 bushels/acre today. Given the first number, I find it hard to believe that yield would have been higher (around 20 bushels per acre) in 1830. I am not sure what accounts for the discrepancy. The NASS data can be accessed at: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/Quick_Stats_1.0/index.asp#top.

    The 33 bushels/acre in History of American Agriculture 1776-1990/i> seems about right for the late 1980s.
    2. Yes, there is a lot of fertilizer that is not fully used, and that’s a shame.

  78. Gail Combs says:

    Spector says:
    December 12, 2011 at 8:50 am

    …..BTW, I understand there is a move afoot to gather signatures for an initiative in the state of California that would cause the closure of all nuclear power plants there. Especially after Fukushima, I think a vote on this issue might be expected to go along the same lines as the vote on the California Clean Air Act.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    California has of course made a break through in developing earthquakes as a renewable power source… emphasis on the word BREAK.

  79. Gail Combs says:

    JeffC says:
    December 12, 2011 at 11:30 am

    …..Try to grow your own food and see how far you get without fossil fuels. You may be able to sustain yourself but try and feed 100 other families and you will soon see the folly. Of course if you try long enough you won’t have to feed the 100 other families, you may be down to 50.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    The study has already been done. Without fossil fuel you would be feeding yourself and your family and that is about it without the use of slaves. SEE: http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cescott/antebell.html

    Back to the History of Farming in America.

    1930-39 – Average annual consumption of commercial fertilizer: 6,599,913 tons
    All-purpose, rubber-tired tractor with complementary machinery came into wide use
    One farmer supplied 9.8 persons
    15-20 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (2-1/2 acres) of corn with 2-bottom gang plow, 7-foot tandem disk, 4-section harrow, and 2-row planters, cultivators, and pickers
    15-20 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (5 acres) of wheat with 3-bottom gang plow, tractor, 10-foot tandem disk, harrow, 12-foot combine, and trucks
    ______________________________________________
    1970 – One farmer supplied 75.8 persons
    1975 – 2-3 labor-hours required to produce 100 pounds (1/5 acre) of lint cotton with tractor, 2-row stalk cutter, 20-foot disk, 4 -row bedder and planter, 4-row cultivator with herbicide applicator, and 2-row harvester
    1975 – 3-3/4 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (3 acres) of wheat with tractor, 30-foot sweep disk, 27-foot drill, 22-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
    1975 – 3-1/3 labor-hours required to produce 100 bushels (1-1/8 acres) of corn with tractor, 5-bottom plow, 20-foot tandem disk, planter, 20-foot herbicide applicator, 12-foot self-propelled combine, and trucks
    http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blfarm1.htm

  80. Khwarizmi says:

    Microbes have been consuming more methane each year than we currently do, but each year for millions of years.

    Think about that….

    ~~~~~~~~
    Far more natural gas is sequestered on the seafloor—or leaking from it—than can be drilled from all the existing wells on Earth. The ocean floor is teeming with methane, the same gas that fuels our homes and our economy.
    http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=12764&tid=282&cid=2441

    Microorganisms living in anoxic marine sediments consume more than 80% of the methane produced in the world’s oceans.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/293/5529/484.abstract
    ~~~~~~~~

    If we deplete all of the methane available in a mere 50 years, most of the life in the ocean depths will become extinct. Nobody seems to care. I called my the office of my Green MP to ask why they weren’t concerned about the issue. The reply I received was this:
    “Because you can’t tax a marine organism”

    Personally, I don’t think we will ever run out.

  81. Gail Combs says:

    Septic Matthew says:
    December 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Bart,

    What you have shown is that renewable sources can not power everything now. Imagine the effort that would have been required for someone in 1911 to imagine the work required to manufacture hundreds of aircraft to carry millions of passengers across the oceans each year.

    The energy return on energy invested for PV panels is greater than the energy ….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    The big problem is the USA has closed down all mining on rare earths. China holds a near monopoly and is causing some major pollution/human hazard problems.

  82. Gail Combs says:

    Indur M. Goklany says:
    December 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Gail Combs on December 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm and at 6:31 pm
    1. I am not sure what precisely History of American Agriculture 1776-1990/i> is referring…
    ——————————————————————–
    Sorry if I left off the link: http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blfarm1.htm

    It states: Information Provided by the USDA and About.com Inventors is a part of The New York Times Company.

  83. Spector says:

    RE: Septic Matthew: (December 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm)
    “Bart, What you have shown is that renewable sources can not power everything now. Imagine the effort that would have been required for someone in 1911 to imagine the work required to manufacture hundreds of aircraft to carry millions of passengers across the oceans each year.”

    It might be an interesting drill to calculate the area that must be devoted to bio-solar farms or solar energy collection fields to support our current aviation activity at 52 megawatts per square mile or 20 megawatts per square kilometer.

    BTW, it would be ironic if someone were to determine that all the observed Global Warming could be explained by heat added to the Earth’s surface from the combustion of modern carbon ‘fossil’ fuels. Of course, it is quite unlikely that such a simple explanation would have been overlooked by science.

  84. Spector says:

    Once again, as it appears appropriate here, is Dr David LeBlanc’s talk on the design alternatives for liquid-state, nuclear reactors.

    David LeBlanc – Potential of Thorium Fueled Molten Salt Reactors @ TEAC3
    Uploaded by gordonmcdowell on Nov 27, 2011
    28 likes, 0 dislikes; 911 views; 20:13 min
    “Dr. David LeBlanc explores the diversity of Thorium Fueled Molten Salt Reactor design options, and their rational and value.
    “Presented at the 3rd Thorium Energy Alliance Conference, in Washington DC.”

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    This video contains a reference to concentrated digest of Kirk Sorensen’s promotional presentations on dual-fluid Liquid-Salt Thorium Reactors. This presentation begins with a five-minute summary and then continues for two hours with a digest representing six hours of earlier presentations. I believe this video provides useful information on the inner workings of nuclear reactors in general.

    LFTR in 5 Minutes – THORIUM REMIX 2011
    Uploaded by gordonmcdowell on Oct 4, 2011
    765 likes, 11 dislikes; 45,882 Views; 1:59:59 hours
    ” Thorium is readily available & can be turned into energy without generating transuranic wastes. Thorium’s capacity as nuclear fuel was discovered during WW II, but ignored because it was unsuitable for making bombs. A liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is the optimal approach for harvesting energy from Thorium, and has the potential to solve today’s energy/climate crisis. LFTR is a type of Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (Th-MSR). This video summarizes over 6 hours worth of thorium talks given by Kirk Sorensen and other thorium technologists.”

  85. Gail Combs
    The point I was trying to make is that the implicit yield estimate for 1830 per the History of American Agriculture 1776-1990 — 20 bushels per acre — seems inconsistent with the NASS estimate of 11 bushels per acre in 1866. Also, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 has 15 bushels per acre for 1800 and 1840. Of course, it is probably all within the margin of error.

  86. Keith Sketchley says:

    Thank you Mr. Goklany, good theme and good start.

    “Clive”: excellent point comparing medicines to pesticides.

    A major failing of alarmists is ignoring human creativity. (The book “The Doomsday Myth” chronicles a number of cases of forecast shortages that did not occur, even in the face of government force. “The Ultimate Resource 2” is also worth reading. I also note that even Karl Malthus was realizing the impact of creativity in his later years.) That and the related failure to understand that integrity is life fostering leads to the environmentalist version of Marxist exploitation theory.

    The negativity is taken on faith – since it cannot be proven, its true believers avoid responding to challenges. Since it is based on emotions, their only response when pushed repeatedly in defiance of their repetition of their mantra is nastiness.

    BTW, why don’t you correct the article if it is true that you meant the other Attenborough?

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