I Am So Tired of Malthus

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Daily we are deluged with gloom about how we are overwhelming the Earth’s ability to sustain and support our growing numbers. Increasing population is again being hailed as the catastrophe of the century. In addition, floods and droughts are said to be leading to widespread crop loss. The erosion of topsoil is claimed to be affecting production. It is said that we are overdrawing our resources, with more people going hungry. Paul Ehrlich and the late Stephen Schneider assure us that we are way past the tipping point, that widespread starvation is unavoidable.

Is this true? Is increasing hunger inevitable for our future? Are we really going downhill? Are climate changes (natural or anthropogenic) making things worse for the poorest of the poor? Are we running out of food? Is this what we have to face?

Figure 1. The apocalyptic future envisioned by climate alarmists. Image Source

Fortunately, we have real data regarding this question. The marvelous online resource, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics database called FAOSTAT, has data on the amount of food that people have to eat.

Per capita (average per person) food consumption is a good measure of the welfare of a group of people because it is a broad-based indicator. Some kinds of measurements can be greatly skewed by a few outliers. Per capita wealth is an example. Since one person can be a million times wealthier than another person, per capita wealth can be distorted by a few wealthy individuals.

But no one can eat a million breakfasts per day. If the per capita food consumption goes up, it must perforce represent a broad-based change in the food consumption of a majority of the population. This makes it a good measure for our purposes.

The FAOSTAT database gives values for total food consumption in calories per day, as well as for protein and fat consumption in grams per day. (Fat in excess is justly maligned in the Western diet, but it is a vital component of a balanced diet, and an important dietary indicator.) Here is the change over the last fifty years:

Figure 2. Consumption of calories, protein, and fat as a global average (thin lines), and for the “LDCs”, the Least Developed Countries (thick lines) . See Appendix 1 for a list of LDCs.

To me, that simple chart represents an amazing accomplishment. What makes it amazing is that from 1960 to 2000, the world population doubled. It went from three billion to six billion. Simply to stay even, we needed to double production of all foodstuffs. We did that, we doubled global production, and more. The population in the LDCs grew even faster, it has more than tripled since 1961. But their food consumption stayed at least even until the early 1990s. And since then, food consumption has improved across the board for the LDCs.

Here’s the bad news for the doomsayers. At this moment in history, humans are better fed than at any time in the past. Ever. The rich are better fed. The middle class is better fed. The poor, and even the poorest of the poor are better fed than ever in history.

Yes, there’s still a heap of work left to do. Yes, there remain lots of real issues out there.

But while we are fighting the good fight, let’s remember that we are better fed than we have ever been, and take credit for an amazing feat. We have doubled the population and more, and yet we are better fed than ever. And in the process, we have proven, once and for all, that Malthus, Ehrlich, and their ilk were and are wrong. A larger population doesn’t necessarily mean less to eat.

Of course despite being proven wrong for the nth time, it won’t be the last we hear of the ineluctable Señor Malthus. He’s like your basic horror film villain, incapable of being killed even with a stake through the heart at a crossroads at midnight … or the last we hear of Paul Ehrlich, for that matter. He’s never been right yet, so why should he snap his unbeaten string?

APPENDIX 1: Least Developed Countries

Africa (33 countries)

Angola

Benin

Burkina Faso

Burundi

Central African Republic

Chad

Comoros

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Djibouti

Equatorial Guinea

Eritrea

Ethiopia

Gambia

Guinea

Guinea-Bissau

Lesotho

Liberia

Madagascar

Malawi

Mali

Mauritania

Mozambique

Niger

Rwanda

São Tomé and Príncipe

Senegal

Sierra Leone

Somalia

Sudan

Togo

Tanzania

Uganda

Zambia

Eurasia (10 countries)

Afghanistan

Bangladesh

Bhutan

Cambodia

East Timor

Laos

Maldives

Myanmar

Nepal

Yemen

Americas (1 country)

Haiti

Oceania (5 countries)

Kiribati

Samoa

Solomon Islands

Tuvalu

Vanuatu


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andyscrase
September 8, 2010 11:37 pm

You have got to love the contextualised ads:
“Lose weight without dieting: The Gabriel Method”

Baa Humbug
September 8, 2010 11:43 pm

Good one as usual Willis.
But look at the pacific islander nations listed amongst the LDCs….have you seen the size of those lovely islander people? Their sustanance intake cannot possibly be low

September 8, 2010 11:54 pm

Some 30 years ago, I have read a book in Dutch, called “De Groene Aarde” (“The Green Earth”), that the earth can sustain about 130 billion people for food. That was based on the population density (over 1,000 inh./km^2) of the two Holland provinces in The Netherlands which, despite the population density, still have a net export of a lot of agricultural products like milk, cheese, tomatoes, paprika’s, flowers and bulbs.
That was the result of the “green revolution” (and glass greenhouses), and assumed all available good land to be used for agriculture, not as happens worldwide today for harbors, town expansion, etc… But even so, the evolution in techniques didn’t stop in the past 30 years and bio-engineering is looking for methods to enhance the ability of several plants to grow even in harsh conditions of drought and floods, on poorer grounds and/or more salt tolerant. So, the future still looks bright…

Editor
September 8, 2010 11:59 pm

I don’t see Zimbabwe on the LDC list. Are we on a LLDC list *grin*.
The real threat to people is poor governance. Technology, land, labor and inputs are available everywhere but poor governance will always impede people’s ambition to improve their nutrition.
The same is true of the impact of natural disasters. Haiti and NZ had similar magnitude earthquakes with very asymmetrical outcomes. Australia and Pakistan have had monumental floods with once again quite dissimilar effects on the population. Africa has an abundance of good land, water and climate for crop growing but poor governance severely constrains the continents ability to feed itself.
Perhaps Malthus and Erlich are right about the effects of overpopulation they just needed to refine that down to a specific segment of the population, crap politicians.

Inverse
September 9, 2010 12:02 am

Its not what goes in but what comes out of humans is more of a worry!!! 6 billion turds a day, but as only about 1/3 of the world has toilets maybe it helps with the soil nutrients?

September 9, 2010 12:10 am

Then there is the huge amount of food that goes rotten before it gets to market because of bad transportation or bad government, as an example here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thor-halvorssen/a-rotting-chicken-in-ever_b_666805.html

Rod Gill
September 9, 2010 12:14 am

Per Capita food consumption has grown on the rise of cheap energy that has manufactured and shipped fertiliser all over the world, powered machinery and punped water for irrigation. Rather than a green revolution we have had a black revolution based on cheap oil.
Now however the cheap energy has gone, vast areas of flat fertile agricultural land has been built on, fresh water aquifers are rapidly being drained, large areas of other fertile regions are now degraded so their yield per acre are dropping fast.
Phosphate is no longer cheap and our ability to get more and more tonnes per day extracted and distributed is now limited. Without phosphate modern agricultural practices can’t continue as they are.
I believe we are at a point of peak agriculture and the consequences will be far more severe than anything CO2 increases might cause. In fact give us more CO2 to help grow more food!
Hopefully the worst of Malthus’ predictions won’t happen, but with peak agriculture and peak oil just about on us we are living in interesting times.

Hector M.
September 9, 2010 12:20 am

There are several assessments of the food impact of IPCC predicted climate change. The most comprehensive is by a IIASA team, coordinated with FAO, and headed by Gunther Fisher. Even using the worst-case A2 scenario (absurdly high population growth with lowest growth of output), and even more so with other IPCC scenarios, average food consumption, and even more significantly, percentage of people undernourished (ie consuming less than the bare minimum to survive at minimum weight with only light physical activity) will both improve greatly. The current worldwide undernourishment rate is about 14%, and about 17% in all developing countries taken together (developed countries are nearly zero). By 2080 both figures would fall to about 6% in A2 and 1-3% in other scenarios (FAO regards undernourishment rates below 5% as non significantly different from zero because of inherent uncertainties). The future rates of undernourishment are estimated by Fischer et al using a complex “Linked System” using climate projections plus economic models plus agricultural production models, and respecting agroecological zones ie without farms encroaching over unsuitable land such as virgin forests, and under very conservative estimates of future technological change and economic growth (much below current or recent rates).
References
Fischer G., M.Shah & H. van Velthuizen, 2002a. Climate change and agricultural vulnerability. A special report, prepared by IIASA as a contribution to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. IIASA, Johannesburg. Laxenburg (Austria): IIASA. http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Admin/PUB/Documents/XO-02-001.pdf.
Fischer, Günther; Harrij van Velthuizen; Mahendra Shah & Freddy O.Nachtergaele, 2002b. Global agro-ecological assessment for agriculture in the 21st century: methodology and results. IIASA RR-02-02. Laxenburg, Austria: IIASA. http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Admin/PUB/Documents/RR-02-002.pdf.
Fischer, G., M.Shah, F.N.Tubiello & H.van Velthuizen, 2005. Socio-economic and climate change impacts on agriculture: an integrated assessment, 1990–2080. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, 360:2067-2083.
Fischer, Günther; Mahendra Shah, Harrij van Velthuizen & Freddy O. Nachtergaele, 2006a. Agro-Ecological Zones Assessment. IIASA RP-06-03. Laxemburg, Austria.
Fischer, Günther; Guy Jakeman, Hom M. Pant, Malte Schwoon & Richard S.J.Tol, 2006b. CHIMP: A simple population model for use in integrated assessment of global environmental change. The Integrated Assessment Journal 6(3):1-33.
For undernourishment: FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World, an annual publication found at http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/.

September 9, 2010 12:23 am

The fact that politicians (wrongly) propose vast increases in the use of bio-fuels tells you there may be a surplus of agricultural products.
The fact that anaerobic digestion of food waste to produce “renewable energy” is on the increase tells you that we (wrongly) waste vast amounts of food.
As Keith Battye rightly says “The real threat to people is poor governance” “crap politicians”.

TFN Johnson
September 9, 2010 12:27 am

Well put Willis.
Matt Ridley’s new book (The Rational Optimist) is excellent on all this.
A second thought: your recent post on Armagh showed their land record against SST in the Atlantic and the Irish Sea. SSTs have of course changed from testing a bucket to engine inlet measurement and then the satellite date. The former was surface temp, and probably sporadic, the middle was deeper water, and the final method surface again, and more systematic. Maybe your fit with the land record was not that good after all?

Hector M.
September 9, 2010 12:27 am

I may add that according to the same sources cited (FAO) undernourishment by 1980 was about 35% in developing countries, falling to about 20% by 1990-92 and 16.4% in 2004-06, increasing slightly in 2008-10 to about 17% according to very preliminary estimates released by FAO, due to world recession and international rise in food commodities prices, especially in 2008. But the price spike was not so high as initially estimated, nor lasted for long, and thus this estimated temporary increase may not have existed or may be promptly reversed. FAO computes undernourishment based on habitual consumption, approximated by 3-year averages, thus a passing price spike may not alter the figures much.

Espen
September 9, 2010 12:32 am

Very good, Willis! I’m so tired of Malthus and the neo-malthusians myself, and try to stop the mouth of them whenever I can. I agree with you that per capita wealth is a bad measure, but that’s because arithmetic mean is such a bad measure of the expected value for skewed distributions. If they had only used MEDIAN wealth as a measure of per capita wealth, the numbers would have been much more interesting.
Your food statistics is a very good weapon against the doomsayers, I’ll make use of that! My personal favorite evidence that the well-being of humans has been drastically improved even in the last few years is the fact that child mortality has plummeted since 1990: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64N0PM20100524

September 9, 2010 12:39 am

Rod Gill says: … with peak agriculture and peak oil just about on us we are living in interesting times.
There are four fallacies of modern thought:-
Energy consumption will increase.
Food supply will increase.
GDP will increase.
World Population increases.
For those in the know, these are really just the same thing said in three different ways because they are so highly interlinked that a reduction in energy supply/consumption will mean a reduction in food supply, GDP and population.
The only reason people think there is some kind of law that these all increase, is that modern thinkers haven’t lived through an age when they have decreased.
The really interesting/critical question is what will the world be like when these presumptions on which the whole world economy and politics are founded fall apart?
That is why I have a keen interest in history, because history teaches us what is likely to happen when energy (aka food) supplies run out — and the main thing it teaches us is that politicians even democratic forms of government are incapable of handling such situations and therefore the likely outcome of the end of oil is a profound decrease in democracy worldwide.

Tenuc
September 9, 2010 12:47 am

Thanks Willis for another elegantly simple debunking of the green brigades alarmist rubbish.
We haven’t even scratched the surface of what modern technology can do to improve traditional food production in the third world, and in the developed world the move to hydroponics will have a massive impact on efficiency and yield.
The ‘peak ???’ doom-sayers always fail to take into account that circumstances change as we move forward in time. History proves that mankind makes progress in leaps and bounds rather than plodding along in the same groove.

September 9, 2010 12:47 am

How about a volcanic winter with no preparations for 7 billions???
Agrarian pyramid populations COLLAPSE EVERY TIME because of this!

September 9, 2010 12:48 am

Rod Gill: What evidence do you have to support your belief in peak oil and peak agriculture?

Andrew W
September 9, 2010 12:52 am

This is a very light weight post, all you’ve done Willis is extrapolate a trend.
Whether or not the planet can feed 8 billion or 10 billion people hasn’t been addressed in any sensible way. The planet feeds more people now because we consume more resources, those resources are finite, technology gives us the ability to use what’s there, not the ability to create resources that aren’t there.

Jeff Steadman
September 9, 2010 12:53 am

THANK YOU, Willis! I had a geography professor who lauded Malthus day in, day out, and I’m like: “This guy’s ideas are bogus! Doesn’t anyone else think so?”
I’ll read your post in full later (just took a look for a minute), but your title sums up my thoughts about Malthus pretty well.

Mister Mr
September 9, 2010 12:53 am

Excellent post. As someone who has spent time as a relief worker in some of the worst refugee camps on earth, I can relate from first hand experience that, short of temporary natural disasters, the problem is not that there isn’t enough food. There are warehouses with enough food. The problem is getting the food to the people who need it or moving the people to the food (think Darfur). As Keith wrote above, the problem is “governance”. More specifically, what stands in the way most often is men with guns who call themselves “the government” in these regions. It would be more correct to call them criminals, bandits or profiteers. Without the rule of law, they can trample anyone who is weaker and steal their resources or merely shove them onto marginal land where no one can survive.
Forcing starving refugees across a border in search of food can be a tactical weapon to use against adjacent countries. Stealing donated relief supplies and selling them on the black market is just another way to fund their gang. We’re talking powdered milk for infants here. The more experienced gangs don’t even bother stealing the supplies, they just set up checkpoints and charge relief trucks a 60% “roadside tax” enforced with AK-47s.
Whenever I hear news commentators talking about perma-refugees stuck somewhere with “not enough food” it never fails to evoke a bitter, sad laugh. It’s heartbreaking enough for us westerners to think that children over there are starving because there isn’t enough food. When you know that there is adequate food, often within 500 miles, that means these children are starving simply because evil men with power are doing what they always do. It is simply unconscionable. Those that continue to push the Malthusian scarcity meme are accomplices in crimes against humanity because their wrong ideas serve as a smoke screen masking the real problem and delaying real solutions.

Espen
September 9, 2010 12:56 am

Mike Haseler you’re thinking like a malthusian and missing the A and O of demography. The fact is that when a country reaches a certain level of development (and thus, of food supply and energy consumption), it reaches the “fourth phase of demographic transition” and fertility plummets. The main reason is that in such societies, women decide to make a career instead of having ever more children. Even some countries which are considered very backwards by the west, Iran is a good example, now have unsustainably low fertility rates. Iran still has population growth, but if their fertility rate stays at 1.7-1.8 their population will of course start decreasing in a few years. Many European and Asian countries have now reached the fifth stage, where population starts decreasing. Some very rich countries have had a slightly higher fertility rates the last few decades, but it is still below sustainable, and the increase is IMHO solely a result of policies (availability of cheap day care, for instance).

asmilwho
September 9, 2010 1:08 am

Mike Haseler says
“a reduction in energy supply/consumption will mean a reduction in food supply, GDP and population.”
It’s not so straightforward as that. Increases in the efficiency of energy utilisation mean that GDP and food supply can stay the same or even go up, while energy used goes down.

anna v
September 9, 2010 1:16 am

Mike Haseler says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:39 am
That is why I have a keen interest in history, because history teaches us what is likely to happen when energy (aka food) supplies run out — and the main thing it teaches us is that politicians even democratic forms of government are incapable of handling such situations and therefore the likely outcome of the end of oil is a profound decrease in democracy worldwide.

I agree that energy is pivotal to all the rest.
I disagree about peaks in oil or this that and the other.
IF, a big if, there is a peak in oil, there is still coal, shale in large quantities, not to forget oil bearing sands.
I tend to go with the Russian school who think that oil is endogenous to the earth mantle and is created/rises continuously. The finding of a Titan, I think, satellite with methane speaks to that.
We then have sun energy, which is slowly materializing, maybe the flexible panels will become cheap enough to compete with oil, and other alternate solutions .
And to top it all there is fission power, and fusion power. Once fusion is harnessed for production, there will no longer be an energy problem, but an occupation problem.
Progress in technologies, from nano to micro to large scale, inevitably replace human labor with machine and robot labor. There will be this mass of humanity which will be fed and tended by machines, very few people needed for work and intellectual occupation. That will be the real problem.
We have the start of it already, having taken agriculture workers who where over 30% of the population and are producing food with 1% of the population as workers.
And now technology is taking away industrial jobs, that had become available to former farmers. ( ignoring outsourcing for the argument) This has given rise to the dole, and things will get worse and worse instead of better. How many service jobs can there be?
One of the reasons for the rise of bureaucracies is that there is that enormous surplus of workers who in olden times would have been occupied in agriculture and are now in some government NGO niche creating work for themselves an others.
This is the real problem the future humanity will have to solve: a leisure society created by free energy and robotics. History will tell us how the leisure societies worked: some were decadent, some produced Newtons and Da Vincis.

John Marshall
September 9, 2010 1:19 am

I agree we have increased food production enough to feed the increased population. But we are starting to fall behind because of the scramble for biofuel crops. This is the greatest waste of agricultural land ever thought up. To divert land from food production to biofuel is stupid. True agritechnology will help to increase yields as genetic modification is increased, once the scare tactics of the environmentalists have been addressed, but will this be enough? It is not as if biofuels are better than fossil fuels they are not they burn poorer and more fuel is needed per mile driven or Kwatt produced.
Many countries have agricultural land in abundance but due to civil war or lack of knowledge do not use it. Sudan is a case in point. I read that they use 5% of their agricultural land the rest is left to the weeds.
One problem we will have is enough water for crop growth. Genetic modification will help but increased atmospheric CO2 levels, whilst not affecting climate, does help to reduce plant water uptake so the same plants will grow in dryer conditions. This may be important in the future.
It is important to remember that, regardless of reasons for global warming if it happens, all plants prefer warmer conditions to colder ones and crop yield is better with warmth than cold. Plants will not grow under ice.

RW
September 9, 2010 1:33 am

Willis, I usually love your contributions but I take some issue with this one in that I am extraordinarily tired of people who have missed the bulk of what Malthus said.
The Essay on the Principle of Population was a very scholarly work produced at the end of the 18th / beginning of the 19th century and should be read in this context. At this time farming methods had been largely static for centuries, implying constant food supply (subject of course to weather) but new developments were occurring as the Agricultural Revolution started up. Medicine had not had any radical developments and would not for a long time to come. New land was becoming available in North America.
This enabled him to do two pieces of research. The effectively infinite new food supply in the colonies enabled him to draw the conclusion that, unchecked, population would double geometrically – every 25 years if I remember rightly. This figure is probably exceeded today in the Third World, given better medicine.
The second piece of research was into historical records of population, pre Agricultural Revolution, including the many centuries of censuses in the Swiss cantons which provided a form of control environment. This showed that populations in fact tended to remain static.
These findings simply provided empirical measurements backing up the intuitive propositions of the effect of unlimited food and the effect of trivial growth in agricultural production.
Given this hard data, Malthus put the two together and posed the question “what happens to the potential population growth which has not happened if the population has in fact remained static?” His conclusion was that this potential excess would have died off from one of three basic causes – famine, war or disease. (At the time, contraception was virtually unknown and he advocated “moral restraint”, ie abstinence, as a means of avoiding the three nasties).
So far, all eminently sensible. Malthus’ basic principle – as I understand it – was that sustained population growth cannot exceed sustained growth in food supply. One could restate this to say that the population will rise to meet the food supply available, as many examples in the Third World demonstrate.
The discreditation of Malthus stems from his attempt to put a figure on the potential growth in food supply. At the beginning of the 19th century this was OF COURSE a finger in the wind and his estimate was that “the best that can be expected is that food supply increases arithmetically”.
As we know, the point in time at which this estimate was made preceded the vast impacts that science and technology have made on food supply in the last couple of centuries. In damning Malthus for this misguesstimate – he never claimed it was anything more than that, unlike the metrics on history – critics sidestep the enduring issue Malthus raised, namely that population will rise to match any increase in food supply unless it is voluntarily limited (by the contraception he did not envisage or the postnatal contraception the Chinese used) or involuntarily by famine, war or disease.
The ultimate issue is not whether we can continue to geometrically increase the food supply in the short term, but whether we can continue to do this for a sufficent period of time that worldwide people move to a contraception mindset which limits growth.
I will avoid the issue of an ideal population, which is contentious in itself. However I think that the availability of water is going to be the factor which brutally limits growth in the medium term. No matter the other scientific improvements, some areas of the world are soon not going to increase agricultural production the way they have been doing. Look at the Nile valley. And then the pundits will have to acknowledge that Malthus’ basic principle (as opposed to his guesstimate) were right.

Seamus Molloy
September 9, 2010 1:35 am

What interests me is the amount of arable produce (wheat, rice, barley, potatoes, sugar beet etc.) that is used to make alcohol. The figure I have been told is about a quarter of the worlds production. Can anyone confirm this?
I also understand that 80% of grapes grown are used for making alcohol and as we can see from the Muslim world alcohol is not needed to sustain a healthy life, so an awful lot of good food is grown not to feed people but just to make them drunk!
Seamus Molloy

Espen
September 9, 2010 1:39 am

John Marshall says:
To divert land from food production to biofuel is stupid.
Absolutely. This is why policies based on the AGW scare are actually doing real and grave harm today. If, in a few years or decades, it turns out that the sceptics were right, that CO2 warming is mostly benign, it will be too late for those that lost their lives due to food shortages. It will also be too late for ecosystems lost, e.g. the rain forests that have been converted to palm oil farms, and for the species that possibly got extinct on the way.

Ralph
September 9, 2010 1:43 am

.
Willis, we DO have a problem here.
Pakistan has quintupled (x5) its population in 50 years, and then complains that floods are killing many people, and it needs American food aid.
Ethiopia is always complaining about famines, but has managed to septuple (x7) its population in 100 years.
Bangladesh has quadrupled (x4) its population in 100 years, and has become a net food importer.
What we have here, is the population-incontenent Third World growing their populations on the back of population-stable First World food. This is NOT sustainable, Willis.
I don’t want my hard work undermined by the reproductively incontinent. We had a good example on the BBC last week. Someone in Africa was complaining that he was so poor and needed First World help to feed his 12 children. Well, FFS, I would be poor and need outside help if I had 12 children. Don’t ask me to sustain and promote your incontinence. I don’t like being punished for being responsible.
(nb: Britain’s population has increased by just 1.5 in 100 years, and most of that was through the highly divisive policy of immigration – the Third World exporting their population-incontinence to the First World.)
.

September 9, 2010 1:45 am

Tenuc says:
The ‘peak ???’ doom-sayers always fail to take into account that circumstances change as we move forward in time. History proves that mankind makes progress in leaps and bounds rather than plodding along in the same groove.
Quite the contrary Tenuc, history shows there has been virtually no change in the basic forms of energy supply for over two centuries.
The fact is that the main relationship between “innovation” and energy, is that making energy supplies available have enabled innovative ways to consume that energy. In fact, it is very hard to think of any “innovations” that have caused a drop in energy use … that is because “innovation” is really the concept of finding new ways to consume energy.
We innovate because we have energy, unless you have a very long memory innovation hasn’t significantly changed our supply of energy:
Heat from burning coal has been common since the 17th century
Gas hasn’t really changed since the Victorians
Electricity and (perhaps you could count Nuclear power) are the only new forms of energy.
Wind power … was used by the Egyptians to sail up the Nile
Bio-fuels, etc. are all green nonsense.
… oh and I suppose I have to add the infernal combustion engine, which was developed over two centuries ago … together with the technology of drilling a hole and pumping out oil.
To put it another way, the wave of innovation during the 20th century was driven by the previous century’s discovery of another way to delivery energy to the home: electricity. Unless I missing something, there has been no new mechanism to deliver energy to the home/factory in over a hundred years, it is therefore inevitable that sooner or later, that we will run out of innovative ways to use this new form of energy supply, much as previous civilisations ran out of ways to use previous “new” technology.

GAZ
September 9, 2010 1:45 am

Of course you can’t assume that the trend will continue. The Green movement and the wamists are doing their best to:
1. Increase the cost of energy through the silly war on CO2 emissions
2. Reduce the availability of food by mandating the use of biofuels
These are the REAL things we should worry about. These are the factors that will lead to starvation.

HR
September 9, 2010 1:50 am

What I hate about the climate science is the old, white, male conservative denier can sound a heap more progressive than the young, post-modern, radical environmentalist.
You’re turning the world upside down. Congratulations on this article Willis.

Alan the Brit
September 9, 2010 1:53 am

Other contributers have spoken well on this subject. Deja Vu? Which of the WAGTD scenarios spouted forth over the last 500 years has ever come true? Erlich & his ilk are the negative, miserable doomsayers, who have limited brain capacity to actually sit down & think about a positive solution to a problem, but only the negative ones. That’s Marxist Socialism for you, take control, punish success, enrich yourself in the process, dole taxes out to corrupt elements in poor countries. Most of the named countires in Africa have corrupt socialist governments & or dictators, doing much of the aforemention practices.
Humanity, namely the so called free democratic free world, rose to the challenge of rising populations, by doubing the food production & more! What the hell has Paul Erlich et al contributed to the world? IMHO, nothing, zilch, nada, rien!

Tim
September 9, 2010 1:55 am

I hope you haven’t alerted the manipulators of statistics to the fact there’s still an honest and credible disseminator of information out there. The FAO will now need to be pulled into line, surely.

Alan the Brit
September 9, 2010 1:55 am

Forgot to add, you colonials in the Virginian Colonies don’t play much proper sport, although your rugby team makes a valiant effort, but have you seem the size of those Samoan rugby players, built like brick lavatories!!! They must get fed somewhere.

Rod Gill
September 9, 2010 2:01 am

Rod Gill: What evidence do you have to support your belief in peak oil and peak agriculture?
Search the web on Peak Oil, but if cheap energy is readily available, why are oil companies spending US$100 million per hole desperately drilling in extreme deep water, thru molten salt and into even more uncharted and deeper terriotories (BP disaster in GOM) and getting excited about drilling in the Arctic (think ice bergs and cold that can shatter steel)? The oil that’s left is expensive and hard to get out of the ground. Result reduced capacity to get it out of the ground which is what peak oil is about.
For peak agiriculture look back to 2008 when oil consumption peaked. Food riots. Look at Russia today. A bit of a drought and a few fires and they have to ban all exports. Food riots in some countries that depend on Russian wheat exports. Understand what’s needed to keep modern agriculture running and even a hint of peak oil sees it start to fall apart and that’s without water scarcity and idiots growing biofuel instead of food. If the negative PDO and weak solar cycle does produce Global cooling then agriculture is going to be hit big time.
I’m an Engineer. Cause and effect. I live and work by cause and effect, so peak oil and peak agriculture is as obvious to me as is the fallacy of CO2 being a pollutant and causing run away global warming.

Ed
September 9, 2010 2:02 am

I was quite distressed during Richard Dawkin’s first documentary on Charles Darwin (which was really an apotheosis of himself). He dealt with Malthus’ theories, then the documentary immediately switched to the HIV epidemic in Africa. Could Tricky Dicky have made his rather sinister views any clearer?
Ehrlich said there would be starvation on a massive scale due to food shortages by the 1980s at the moment. The huge droughts in Africa were due to corruption, not shortages, and a cadre of Westerners with too much money to spare who made things worse with their gullibility.

September 9, 2010 2:05 am

Mike Haseler says: September 9, 2010 at 12:39 am

…I have a keen interest in history, because history teaches us what is likely to happen when energy (aka food) supplies run out — and the main thing it teaches us is that politicians even democratic forms of government are incapable of handling such situations…

Mister Mr says: September 9, 2010 at 12:53 am

Excellent post. As someone who has spent time as a relief worker in some of the worst refugee camps on earth, I can relate from first hand experience that, short of temporary natural disasters, the problem is not that there isn’t enough food… what stands in the way most often is men with guns who call themselves “the government” in these regions…

Agree.
What really concerns me is when
* one group of people see factor A as crucial but completely underrate factor B, and
* another group of people see factor B as crucial but completely underrate factor A –
* and when mudslinging starts between the groups when it’s not really clear to outsiders what the full evidence is, either for or against either factor A or factor B.
I see the Roman Empire dissolving in the chaos of the end of the Roman Warm Period. I see Nazi Germany arising in a general time of increasing affluence largely because of an acute economic bottleneck there (Versailles Treaty PLUS depression PLUS majority of citizens no longer able to grow their own food, being town-dwellers).
I see crucial factors easily overlooked. And in a time of change such as now, I see the possibility for such factors to be hugely multiplied. But I also know that “Hope Springs Eternal” both in the spiritual and the scientific / technical realms.
I think it’s seriously possible that the alarmists’ picture of Peak Oil is badly exaggerated. But I remain unconvinced that there is no problem here at all. And I am very sure that the foundation of energy is important. But Cuba managed in an extraordinarily creative way when the oil supplies were suddenly cut off. But OTOH North Korea managed extraordinarily badly in a parallel situation.
I’m most concerned by those who shout “THE DIALOGUE IS OVER!”
Thank you everyone here. And PS, a primer on the issues of Peak Oil both for and against, as a post here, to make the basic facts more accessible to flounderers like myself, would be nice.

Ian Wilson
September 9, 2010 2:05 am

Normally I agree with the postings on WUWT, but not this time. I believe the dangers of AGW to be grossly exaggerated but the danger of adding 6 million more humans a month to the planet to be much understated.
Probably shortages of water, rather than food, will hit first, and indeed in some parts of the world are already doing so, but food will do so when price or shortage of oil hits agricultural output. The halting of Russian grain exports and riots over food shortages in Africa and elsewhere should be ringing alarm bells.
Malthus is much maligned – his theory is sound even if mechanised farming, which he could hardly have foreseen, delayed its reality.

September 9, 2010 2:12 am

When we try to quantify things that are too fantastically complex, we make fools of ourselves. Malthusian calculations are the best example – or were until the rise of “climate science” – of the blindness engendered by intellectual conceit.
Take a look about. The world is almost empty of people. There are bugs and plants everywhere…but very few people. Am I not supposed to notice that?
As far as resources go, I’m with Julian Simon:
“Coal, oil and uranium were not resources at all until mixed well with human intellect.”
Am I not supposed to notice that?
In spite of the Duke of Edinburgh’s yearning to be reincarnated as a virus to wipe out much of humanity, and in spite of the best efforts of Communism in Asia, the only sustainable (ugh) way to reduce birth rates – if you must – is to develop a society with a dominant middle class. Works every time! Am I not supposed to notice that?
Of course, a big bourgeoisie is the one solution the elites don’t want to contemplate, because it entails a world indifferent to their theories and fulminations. Hence the popularity of the Che Guevara tee-shirt among the pensive classes.

Disputin
September 9, 2010 2:18 am

I wonder how many have actually read “An Essay on Population”? All the Rev. Malthus was pointing out is the difference between the arithmetic increase of food production and the geometric increase in population. If you increase your effort or land area you can double the food you grow, but you have then to maintain the same effort year in year out because the output is a linear function of effort and area. The increase in population, however, is a function of population – i.e. there is positive feedback. The current doubling period of humanity is lss than thirty years.
The much-maligned “Club of Rome” did a similar exercise in “Limits to Growth” in the sixties, taking great pains throughout to repeat that theirs were not predictions but illustrations of the mathematics. Naturally, this message was lost.
It seems that Willis is making the same error for which we castigate the warmisti – extrapolating a short trend. Surely nobody actually believes that continuing geometrical increase in the human population will not at some point overwhelm the available food supplies? Food, anyway, is not the only factor which makes life worth living. What about space? Many people are apparently happy to live crammed into small spaces, but anecdotal evidence shows movement away when wealth permits.
I am reminded of the chap who jumped off a skyscraper and was heard to say, as he passed the 13th floor, “See, I told you it wasn’t dangerous”.

Alexander K
September 9, 2010 2:19 am

Thanks Willis, for your usual application of intelligence, research, good sense, all delequently and succinctly expressed.
Expanding on Keith Battye’s comments re the Christchurch (NZ) and Haitian earthquakes; the majority of buildings damaged severely in and near Christchurch were those classed as ‘heritage’ buildings and cherished as reminders of the not-so-distant past, built using the methods and materials of the Victorian era. Only two people were injured seriously and no fatalities occurred in the Christchurch ‘quake, while in Haiti many were buried and died under old colonial-era buildings that simply collapsed. A massive international effort was required to assist Haiti and there are now complaints that much of the promised aid has not materialised and rebuilding is very slow or not happening at all, while New Zealand is getting on with repairing the damage, estimated to be in the region of 2 billion NZ dollars, without any calls for international aid.
The vast contrasts in these two cases are a stark illustration of the difference between a culture that supports good government at all levels and invests in scientific research which is applied to continually improving its own infrastructure and a culture that does not.
The lessons that can be taken from these examples are; as the developing world becomes more afluent, better educated and subject to increasing levels of good government and governance, even massive and unforseen natural events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts and floods can have their impacts minimized by the sensible application of science and technology. The Malthusian view does not take into account Man’s abilities, but sees Mankind as a helpless mass. Nothing could be further from reality.

Peter H
September 9, 2010 2:20 am

I can’t see how, on a finite planet, there can’t but be, at some point, a limit to population and growth.
Perhaps it wont be with 16 billion people and doubled economic output, perhaps not with 32 billion people and another doubled economic output but at some point things and space run out.

Ken Hall
September 9, 2010 2:21 am

“Then there is the huge amount of food that goes rotten before it gets to market because of bad transportation or bad government,”
Then added to that there is the huge amount of good, edible, nutritious food that is thrown away and never gets to market because it is the wrong shape, or size, or the colour is not just right and it is rejected.
Then added to that is the huge amount of food that does get to market, and is not sold by the “display before” dates and is thrown out, despite still being good and edible food.

September 9, 2010 2:21 am

For Rod Gill and others concerning peak oil, see http://climaterealists.com/index.php?id=6261
It confirms Anna V who says “I tend to go with the Russian school who think that oil is endogenous to the earth mantle and is created/rises continuously.”

Jimbo
September 9, 2010 2:27 am

Hi Willis,
You could also have added the vast tracts of un-cultivated land that is suitable for food production. There is also the IRRI recently released flood tolerant rice. There is also the development of drought-tolerant, and salt-tolerant rice. There is also work currently under way with the wheat genome to “develop new strains with greater yields“. Finally we have the development of heat tolerant wheat and corn. The list goes on…………….
I dare say that the world’s population will stabilise long before any mass starvation. The Alarmists like to ignore the agricultural revolution as well as current crop research and assume land will run out or food output will flatten or drop which has not been the case since the 1960s. I too am tired of Malthus speak.
References:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11099378
http://ittefaq.com/issues/2010/06/16/news0234.htm
http://www.springerlink.com/content/q68k376783w1qn16/
http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Heat-tolerant-wheat-the-future-of-food-development
http://tinyurl.com/y8azbqm [IRRI]
http://www.irri.org/flood-proof-rice/
http://www.scidev.net/en/news/tsunamihit-farmers-to-grow-salttolerant-rice.html
http://tinyurl.com/2uj9e3y [IRRI]
http://beta.irri.org/news/index.php/front-page/irri-bred-rice-varieties-for-the-philippines.html
http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/sixbillion/sixbilpart1.pdf

Hector M.
September 9, 2010 2:29 am

Andrew W says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:52 am
“This is a very light weight post, all you’ve done Willis is extrapolate a trend.
Whether or not the planet can feed 8 billion or 10 billion people hasn’t been addressed in any sensible way. The planet feeds more people now because we consume more resources, those resources are finite”
Andrew, there is more to this than summarized by Willis, as I tried to convey in a previous comment. As a person involved in estimating food production and food security for a long time, I can say something on this.
1. World population is currently predicted to peak at about 9 billion around 2050-60 and then starting to decline. Currently published UN population projections go only up to 2050, when population is seen as still growing at a nearly zero rate, but using their own assumptions (not an extrapolation) to extend the projections a few more years, you may see the population falling. Declining from 2050-60, population by 2100 should be between 7-8 billion, and still declining.
2. This may happen earlier indeed, because the UN uses a simplifying assumption that world fertility would stabilize at 1.85 children per women (worldwide and in each country) in the coming decades, forgetting that fertility levels are a function of economic per capita output, education, and similar variables. The decrease in fertility as a function of per capita GDP (or the wider Human Development Index of the UN encompassing GDP, education and health) extends down to about 1.3 children per woman, and then (at extremely high levels of income) it climbs back to about 1.5-2.0, still below replacement level. As observed trends agree with this, demographic growth in the coming decades is quite likely to be lower than expected by the UN (their figure for 2050 has been steadily falling at each yearly or bi-yearly revision since 1996 to 2008).
3. Food production is not an extractive process, like burning oil. It is done by combining carbon with nitrogen and other substances, through photosyntesis. This year’s food is recycled (via your body waste and your own body decomposing in the future) into future food production. Moreover, increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations imply significantly increased photosynthesis and then higher yield for C3-type crops like wheat or rice, and not so high increase in photosynthesis but significant reduction in water requirement for C4-type crops like maize. Also, any global warming would enable plenty new land for agriculture and increased yields in temperate and cold regions like North America, Northern Europe, Russia or Argentina. All in all, including the negative impact of severe warming on agriculture in some tropical regions, world food production would increase even without any further technical progress. For the time being, thus, neither a population explosion nor an exhaustion of the planet resources is expected to cause increased hunger. The complex human/natural process of reproducing and feeding ourselves through agriculture has a lot of self-adjusting mechanisms.
3. It is not true that “Whether or not the planet can feed 8 billion or 10 billion people hasn’t been addressed in any sensible way”. It has been addressed, including the case of 15 billion people by 2100 in the absurdly high population hypotheses underlying the A2 scenario. See my previous comment and references for more details. According to all serious endeavours in this matter (see also Mendelsohn 2000 and Mendelsohn & Dinar 2009) per capita food availability will be higher, and the prevalence of undernourishment and malnutrition would be decreasing towards vanishing proportions along the present century. Some analyses expect climate change to have an impact, either positive or negative for the world as a whole, but always by a very limited proportion of future food production. That does not preclude alarming predictions by some others (like Cline 2007 & 2008) using extremely faulty concepts, but the serious guys all agree on this.
4. Note that predictions about future agriculture are carefully based on suitable arable land only, not involving any encroaching onto non suitable agro-ecological zones such as tropical forests. Even at its most conservative hypothesis, Fischer et al (2002, see refs above) predict increased rainfed cereal production in 2080, with predicted climate change but with today’s technology on land currently cultivated with rainfed cereals, thus not including more irrigation, not including new land opened to cultivation by global warming, and no technical improvement at all during the 21st century. All these omitted factors would have a positive impact.
Cline, William R., 2007. Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country. Washington DC: Center for Global Development and Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Cline, William R., 2008. Global warming and agriculture. Finance & Development 45(1): 23-27.
Mendelsohn, Robert, 2000. Measuring the effect of climate change on developing-country agriculture. In FAO 2000, Two essays on climate change and agriculture – A developing country perspective. FAO Economic and Social Development Papers No.145. Fao, Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/x8044e/x8044e00.htm.
Mendelsohn, Robert, William D. Nordhaus & Daigee Shaw. 1994. The impact of global warming on agriculture: A Ricardian analysis. American Economic Review 84(4): 753–71.
Mendelsohn, Robert & Ariel Dinar, 2009. Climate change and agriculture: An economic analysis of global impacts, adaptation and distributional effects. Cheltenham (UK): Eduard Elgar.

Jimbo
September 9, 2010 2:37 am

Rod Gill says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:14 am
Now however the cheap energy has gone, vast areas of flat fertile agricultural land has been built on, fresh water aquifers are rapidly being drained, large areas of other fertile regions are now degraded so their yield per acre are dropping fast.

I say you are wrong because there are still vast tracts of un-cultivated land (eg in Africa and South America), flood, drought and salt resistant crop varieties being developed, etc. You underestimate human ingenuity, the same ingenuity that has allowed you to post a comment on WUWT. Something unthinkable in 1950. If you look back in history you will read about commentators who thought that the streets of London would be piled high in horse manure by 2000.

Jimbo
September 9, 2010 2:43 am

Rod Gill says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:14 am
———–
Furthermore, there were those who though that sanitation would be a problem because of the copper drainage pipes on the outside of houses would run out. Humans simply switched to pvc. :o)

Bob Layson
September 9, 2010 2:45 am

Resources in nature are but discovered utilities resulting from human insight and investigation. Early man had fewer resources than are now known and used. Natural resources come into economic existence as they are seen to be worth extracting and processing. Resouces are a function of human resourcefulness – which is unlimited.
The stone age didn’t end because man ran out of stones. Some cheaper or better substitute was developed. The same will happen with oil in the ground. If will become cheaper to use other sources of energy to make hydrocarbon fuels rather than extract them. This is not Panglossian optimism but something unwise to bet against.
If trends in population are to be extrapolated then why not those in science and technology? Actually, as has been pointed out, population seems to be the thing soon to peak – and not because of lack of food.
On all this read Julian Simon and Matt Ridley.

Jimbo
September 9, 2010 2:48 am

Rod Gill says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:14 am
———–
Finally, the real shocker might come in 20 or 30 years should nuclear fusion become viable. This would render solar and wind power redundant for the West at least and end the dreams of the eco-nuts who want us to return to wattle and daub housing.

Bob Layson
September 9, 2010 2:49 am

Correction: ‘It will become cheaper to….’

September 9, 2010 2:59 am

RW says: September 9, 2010 at 1:33 am

Willis, I usually love your contributions but I take some issue with this one in that I am extraordinarily tired of people who have missed the bulk of what Malthus said…

Thanks RW, an enlightening post.
Ralph says: September 9, 2010 at 1:43 am

…Pakistan has quintupled (x5) its population in 50 years, and then complains that floods are killing many people, and it needs American food aid…

Thanks Ralph for crucial reminders. These issues are very difficult to put in a way that all sides can work with together. Good luck on developing this art further.
Mike Haseler says: September 9, 2010 at 1:45 am

…history shows there has been virtually no change in the basic forms of energy supply for over two centuries…

Good reminder. But you seem to forget nuclear energy AND the future potential here w.r.t. LENR and thorium; to say nothing of even more exotic possibilities whispered about no debunked no illustrated well, at least, h’m, suspected.
Willis Eschenbach says: September 9, 2010 at 1:56 am

Andrew W says: September 9, 2010 at 12:52 am…technology gives us the ability to use what’s there, not the ability to create resources that aren’t there….
Quite the opposite. Technology is what turns a raw material into a resource… there is enough potential rain-fed farmland lying idle in the Sudan to feed all of Africa…

Here’s a classic case of where, IMO, the one is not quite the opposite of the other – both are important considerations. Thanks Willis for a generally thought-provoking thread and posts. But your Sudan link is not telling me anything. However, my awareness of permaculture definitely supports that possibility.

Henry Galt
September 9, 2010 3:00 am

Rod Gill says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:01 am
Search the web on Peak Oil, but if cheap energy is readily available, why are oil companies spending US$100 million per hole desperately drilling in extreme deep water, thru molten salt and into even more uncharted and deeper terriotories “..
And finding lots of the stuff. Then capping it (or, as in your example, attempting to) and moving on? Over and over and over again?
Do you believe that “catastrophic climate change” is the only great lie?

Henry Galt
September 9, 2010 3:04 am

Peter H says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:20 am
I can’t see how, on a finite planet, there can’t but be, at some point, a limit to population and growth.”
As with most things Peter; Education, education, education.

Archonix
September 9, 2010 3:04 am

anna v says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:16 am

This is the real problem the future humanity will have to solve: a leisure society created by free energy and robotics. History will tell us how the leisure societies worked: some were decadent, some produced Neutons and Da Vincis.

To pick a nit, Newton was born and raised during the civil war and Da Vinci lived in one of the most oppressive and violent regimes of his period. Their art grew out of adversity, not leisure.
I’m not sure it will be possible to predict what sort of society would result from he near-utopia you’ve described, but I would love to find out.

Archonix
September 9, 2010 3:07 am

Yes I know Newton was a scientist. Just thought I’d mention that.

Graham Green
September 9, 2010 3:10 am

First and foremost; these data come from the UN and IMHO should be treated with extreme caution but the point that Willis makes about population doubling together with ordinary read in the newspapers anecdotal evidence does seem to give the graphs credibility.
Speaking as a complete synic I’m assuming that the UN FAOSTAT has some sort of vested interest in making it look like some other part of the UN is doing really well with their share of grants.
The other thing is that you cannot equate lack of industrialisation with unavailability of food. The island nations mentioned surely don’t have their populations wasting away from malnourishment but it doesn’t stop their leaders expecting handouts from New Zealand.
As somebody once said you don’t have famines in democracies.
Either way I don’t think we’ll be seing any data from FAOSTAT in AR5.

Editor
September 9, 2010 3:12 am

Nicely done. Guess it’s time to roll out the “no doom” links… but first:
Willis, your estimates on sea water U are very short. The LAND Uranium is enough for about 10,000 years. Thorium adds another 20,000 years or so (and is presently in use in reactors). The ocean U has enough new U erode into the ocean each year to power the entire world and then some, so we can extract U as long as there is planet left. It is, functionally, infinite in lifespan. The present cost is slightly more than land based U, but well under the level needed to be effective. (About $150 / lb IIRC).
For the issue of running out of food. 2 quick things. 1) Animals eat most of it and don’t turn it to meat very efficiently. We could support about 5 x present population just by being more vegetarian. 2) We can get about a 10 x increase just from greenhouses and such. The technologies are already identified. Rice Intensification, for example, is good for a 4x at least and maybe even a 6 or 8 x gain with some work.

Rod Gill says: Per Capita food consumption has grown on the rise of cheap energy that has manufactured and shipped fertiliser all over the world, powered machinery and punped water for irrigation. Rather than a green revolution we have had a black revolution based on cheap oil.
Now however the cheap energy has gone,

Nope. PLENTY of cheap energy for tens of thousands of years to come. (Modulo stupid politicians). Nuclear is very cheap (ask India) and we have a few million years of it. And getting cheaper. Several hundred years of coal. Oil took 200 years to reach this point, and IF it’s “peak oil” it takes the same time to drop down the back side. But we’ve just started finding oil at a layer of depth that was previously thought to be ’empty’. There is a whole new shell of depth to explore.

vast areas of flat fertile agricultural land has been built on, fresh water aquifers are rapidly being drained, large areas of other fertile regions are now degraded so their yield per acre are dropping fast.

OK, first off, ag land need not be flat. Heck, you can put a greenhouse on a rocky cliff and grown vegetables at market prices. (Most high end lettuce is now greenhouse grown and much of it hydroponic. Tomatoes too.) In Saudi Arabia they have a giant greenhouse making food using desalted sea water. The aquifers are an interesting issue, but not very important really. I have some tepary beans that grow in the desert and are tasty. For greenhouses, you can make them a nearly closed system if you like. BTW, Greenhouses give about 10x the yield per acre…
But the notion that ‘vast areas’ are built on is just broken. The entire world population could fit in Texas and Oklahoma in standard suburban homes with large yards leaving the rest of the world empty. If done at the population density of London, it would clearly be far less land.

Phosphate is no longer cheap and our ability to get more and more tonnes per day extracted and distributed is now limited. Without phosphate modern agricultural practices can’t continue as they are.

Um, two things. First off, that mined phosphorus does not leave the planet. It’s still here. So it just gets moved to places a bit less convenient to ‘mine’. It’s still available if we want it. Second, check out what POT Potash corp is doing in expanding mines. There are LOADS of phosphate rock still to be mined. It is just not true that it’s limited. You stop expanding when prices are too LOW. When price rise, you expand the mine. For some reason “greens” regularly get tripped up on that simple economic feedback system and assume it’s something physical. Further, there is a load of phosphate in “poo” that we don’t bother to reclaim. Ditto bones, where huge quantities go to landfills. Not gone, just waiting.

I believe we are at a point of peak agriculture and the consequences will be far more severe than anything CO2 increases might cause.

Well, we are no where near “peak agriculture”. One small example. In a Farm magazine I was reading last week there was an article on corn spacing. Planted in even 30 inch rows in most places. By going to staggered positioning, you get about 6% more yield. Only a few folks have done that as it involves changing practices, but not new equipment, so it is slowly happening. The other point in the article was that by going to 15 inch rows, you get another 6% for about 12% total gain. Almost nobody was doing that, as you needed to buy another head for the harvester with 15 inch spacing. Over the next 30 years or so as the equipment is replaced, folks may move toward that. Or maybe not. It will depend on the price of corn…
So here is an existence proof that WITH NO OTHER CHANGES you can increase corn yields by 12%, and it’s not being done because it’s not needed for most farmers.
There are similar things with most every crop. We have high yield rices that are not grown because they don’t cook up the same as traditional food preferences require. (Calrose type does not appeal to folks used to Basmatti …) There are high yield crops we don’t eat because we like something else better (sorghum cakes? buckwheat muffins? Both grow on land that’s more problematic for corn.) And there are tomatoes that grow on salty soil and with brackish water, with work proceeding on other crops too. I’ve got my eye on some perennial wheat seeds recently developed, for example. Finally, we can grow about 10 x as much algae as wood on any given acre. About 500 TONS per acre per year. We can eat it or we can feed it to cows and chickens and fish. Oh, and it grows well on sewage. It’s CO2 limited, so is best near coal fired power plants with the exhaust bubbled through the ponds.
The simple fact is that the problems facing agriculture are mostly about GLUT and not about shortage. We grow what we want, not what yields the most. Heck, I’m growing a 150 day corn this year in my garden. There are 45 day corns. I could get 3 crops instead of one if I wanted…
So please, when you look around and see food just barely in balance with population, remember that “this behaviour is by design”! We don’t grow more because we would need to throw it away at a loss from price depression.
http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/there-is-no-shortage-of-stuff/
and that includes food…
http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/there-is-no-energy-shortage/
and there never will be…
http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/ulum-ultra-large-uranium-miner-ship/

Editor
September 9, 2010 3:15 am

Archonix says:
September 9, 2010 at 3:07 am
Yes I know Newton was a scientist. Just thought I’d mention that.

Leonardo da Vinci was as well.

Philip
September 9, 2010 3:25 am

Everything I’ve ever read about this that relies on the figures rather than pet theories says Willis is right. The population has grown due to decreased mortality. The population will stabilise due to increased prosperity. Food production has so far outstripped population and will continue to do so. Even water supplies will support projected populations, provided such supplies are properly managed. The only “if” is that development, innovation and change be allowed to continue and grow. Hence the only chance the doom-mongers predictions will prove true is if we follow their advice and just give up. Our choice, I’d say.

Al Gore's Holy Hologram
September 9, 2010 3:25 am

To be more specific, the middle classes are better fed than the rich these days as they tend to socialise and consume more. The urban poor would also be better fed than the rich if they would consume less junkfood and make their food from fresh ingredients – healthier and cheaper.

September 9, 2010 3:28 am

Rod Gill says:
For peak agiriculture look back to …
Back in the days when I was into such thing I spoke to the civil servant in charge of renewables and asked why we didn’t have a renewables obligation for petroleum. But the futility of that course of action soon became very apparent when I actually did the sums – on a typical farm, around 50% of the “bio-fuel” crop needs to be used on the farm to power the machinery.
That is to say, 50% of the energy output from a farm is energy input in fossil fuels. When you then add fertilisers, herbicides, and then add to that the energy in transporting that food off farm to manufacturer, from manufacturer to supermarket, then from supermarket to home. Then add to that cost any fossil fuel used in cooking.
Well it soon dawned on me that the reality of “bio-fuel” is that we’d need some 3-7 times as much farmland as we have now just to grow the bio-fuel. At which point I realised that
food production is just another fossil fuel powered manufacturing process
Fossil fuel in, food out.
Or … No fossil fuel in, no food out to the consumer.
QED:
PEAK OIL === PEAK FOOD === PEAK HUMAN POPULATION

Lawrie Ayres
September 9, 2010 3:29 am

A totally enjoyable and informative post. People are either optimists or pessimists. Pessimists gain most column inches because they frighten the reader. Optimists are derided for their faith and hope based on common sense and experience.
Keith Battye @11.59 asks “where is Zimbabwe?”. Rhodesia used to be called the diamond in the crown of the British Commonwealth, the breadbasket of Africa. Then good governance gave way to tribalism and tyranny. Likewise Uganda. In fact every one of those countries on the LDN list are poorly governed.
It is a reality that the best way to reduce populations in LDNs is to educate the women. The men are too stuck in tradition whereas the women enjoy the freedom that comes from having an income of their own. The more affluent a society the more equal women are treated and the less children they have.
As far as food production is concerned modern farming uses less fuel and fertilizer for unit of production now than in the past. Artificial fertilizers destroy the soils biodiversity so more farmers are finding natural processes to improve soil fertility rather than using artificial fertilizers. Biochar is just one. Cattle and pastures in rotation with grain cropping is effective, profitable and managed properly increases soil fertility as well as reducing erosion. The biggest threat to food production would be the ridiculous penalising of livestock in the interest of saving the planet from AGW. The last thing we need is some city green telling farmers how to run their farms.

KenB
September 9, 2010 3:46 am

Have just read through some amusing comments that really ignore your facts Willis that humans are managing to feed the rapidly increasing world population despite all the doom and gloom.
Why can’t we be thankful and at least think positively of ways that man can adapt and work with nature, produce new foods and energy sources. I wondered about the gent that thought we would run out of sources of fertiliser, and the other that talked about politicians talking crap. Thought, the penny might drop, that the increasing number of humans will also produce increasing amounts of crap (fertiliser) surely enough to combine with the rubbish that they don’t eat or waste and recycle that as composted fertiliser.
The dreary tales of water shortages, lots of that to treat and recycle too, and already some countries with money are desalinating water from the ocean. and some advanced countries have been using less water to produce more food for years. Matter of education and opportunity meets need!!
We do know that the one thing that does work to decrease the rate of population increase is to improve basic living standards and access to education, so therein lies part of the solution.
Otherwise if you cripple those countries that have the ability to raise the technology and increase food production and the methods of delivery, all you are left with is natures way of controlling population, war, pestilence and starvation or,” worse still nature aided by “mad scientist”meddling in the efficiencies of control and culling, trying to play god. (the nature of man!!).
It might not be our idea to use crap as fertiliser, but the chinese have done this for centuries, water conservation and drip feeding plants, or developing new food plants that need less water, new sources of protein?. Why do some recoil at eating horses and dogs for goodness sake, when they eat cattle, rabbits, little wooly lambs or whatever.
I am sure that there will come a time when man finds to survive they need to adapt, I hope that future generations will ethically agree that eating their own is not the “only” solution, and look to other ways to limit population growth and continue to provide sufficient food, shelter and comfort to share among all.
If they can’t then the matter will be completely in the hands of nature and whatever “god” you believe in.
My two cents!!

Ken Hall
September 9, 2010 3:48 am

Re peak oil:
I had an interesting interaction on a conspiracy forum with an advocate in the peak oil belief. Whilst I personally do not know IF we are reaching, or have reached, or are anywhere near reaching an actual peak oil. this person was of the belief that we are already there and global stocks have peaked.
Yet they were also of the belief that the amount of oil coming out of the leak in the Gulf of Mexico was in an amount of millions of barrels that would make the Saudi oil fields the second biggest after the Gulf of Mexico. This and the discovery of lots of other fields showed that there was LOADS of oil left that can be extracted profitable at $80 per barrel, Yet he could not see why that would prevent the peak oil being a fact now.
At $30 per barrel, we have long since passed peak oil, at $100 per-barrel we are no where near it.
I think that we do not know for certain how much oil is left, and we have to rely on corporations who also do not know for certain how much oil there is. And even if they do, (which I doubt) then how do we know that they are telling the truth about their reserves?

September 9, 2010 3:50 am

Keeping humans fed, educated, sheltered, entertained, healthy and comfortable right now is the best preparation for the future of humanity. In fact, it’s the only preparation, because it creates a class with high expectations. It must, of course, be a large and dominant class, not an elite. (Sorry Al and Rajendra, you’ll have to share.)
As far as predicting the future goes, it’s a bit like your grandfather pronouncing that one day there’ll be a punch-card machine in every home. Predictions and extrapolations from present conditions are mostly wrong. Probably always wrong.
Shop hard. Turn on the heating or the air conditioner, go for a drive for no reason, and generally enjoy this generation’s resources. Don’t “sustain” them for coming generations. They won’t want them.

Mooloo
September 9, 2010 3:50 am

The reason the oil companies are drilling in more and more difficult situations is that they don’t have access to the easy stuff any more. Oil is still available in large amounts in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Really large amounts. Big reserves of gas are in Russia and the stans. That is a major issue for the oil companies, but is not a good indicator of how much oil there actually is.
Presumably the people who work for the oil companies know how much oil there is. Are they getting out of the industry? My brother-in-law works for a major as a geologist. He knows what there is to find. He isn’t worried that he will be out of a job in his lifetime, though he does admit it will be increasingly gas, not oil.

Joe Lalonde
September 9, 2010 3:55 am

Change your diet and eat a tree!
After you chew on the bark, you can use the wood to build a house!
Beavers do, and so should you!
🙂

simpleseekeraftertruth
September 9, 2010 3:57 am

El Ejido, Spain. Once arid and poor situated south of the Sierra Nevada and supporting mostly goats but now prosperous and diverse because of food production. Distribution of that food extends to central Europe.

Archonix
September 9, 2010 4:01 am

Lee Kington says:
September 9, 2010 at 3:15 am
Yes… I suppose if I pick nits I should expect my nits to be picked in turn. 🙂

Editor
September 9, 2010 4:02 am

Disputin says: I wonder how many have actually read “An Essay on Population”? All the Rev. Malthus was pointing out is the difference between the arithmetic increase of food production and the geometric increase in population. If you increase your effort or land area you can double the food you grow,
Wrong. Just wrong. Shorter maturity crops, for example, can give 2 or 4 crops / year instead of one. Different varieties can give a double yield. See The System Of Rice Intensification, for example.
Furthermore, population is NOT exponential. It is an S shaped curve. See any biology text.

The much-maligned “Club of Rome” did a similar exercise in “Limits to Growth”

Much maligned with good cause. I’ve seen reports that the same Club of Rome folks are behind the AGW scare too. The modus operandi matches. In “Limits” they used stupid computer models to show that if you assumed exponential growth in demand with linear supply eventually a catastrophe happened. “Given these conclusions what assumptions can we draw” fits it nicely. Just bogus.
Did you know we completely ran out of natural gas in 1980? The whales are all dead now too… (I had an entire class devoted to debunking that book.)

in the sixties, taking great pains throughout to repeat that theirs were not predictions but illustrations of the mathematics.

No, they were the originators of the “projections not predictions” idea. Another way of saying “making up stuff, but not willing to be held accountable for it being terribly wrong.”
Their major problem was not allowing anything for resource substitution (like, oh, using fast growth poplar species instead of old growth forests; and using aluminum in cars instead of steel). Secondary issues were not understanding the difference between a resource a reserve and a raw material. For example, the 20,000 years of energy we can get from known deposits of Thorium sands are counted as NOTHING in their book. Finally, they allowed nothing for technological advances. So the few TRILLION cubic feet of natural gas from “tight shale” that are now flooding the market could not happen. Just foolish.

Naturally, this message was lost.

I only wish it were lost … but it lives on like all Urban Myths, never dying as more folks are sucked in by it’s broken message.

Surely nobody actually believes that continuing geometrical increase in the human population will not at some point overwhelm the available food supplies?

Count me as one. First, there is NO geometrical increase. It’s S shaped. Second, we can manufacture food, if need be. Trash can be turned into sugars fairly easily. No, we won’t need to do that as there is just so much land we don’t need to.

Food, anyway, is not the only factor which makes life worth living. What about space? Many people are apparently happy to live crammed into small spaces, but anecdotal evidence shows movement away when wealth permits.

Nope. Given half a chance, folks abandon the country and move into a city. Look around. Small cities in one building. Me? I like the suburbs to country better but the other 3 people in my family want center urban. And you could fit the entire world population in London density cities in about 6 Britain sized spots. The rest of the world being completely empty. But if you want to spread out, everyone can have an ocean view condo, with no building higher than about 4 stories (IIRC) and with only ONE building thickness between ocean and backyard. (That is, one end of your condo looks at the ocean, the other end looks at ‘big empty’ inland. No other buildings). The math is rather interesting. (One issue you run into is the fractal nature of coastlines, but that’s another story…) So pretty low ‘density’ in any one place.
The simple fact is that the world is astoundingly empty. You just think it isn’t because you live in a pile of other people (as most of us choose to do) and not out in the middle of Kansas or the Sahara or Alaska or the Outback or …
We could use the entire Sahara to make food if we wanted to do so. It’s just cheaper to grow food elsewhere. (Saudi is presently using the needed technology to grow food for itself, so there is an existence proof.)

Ben D.
September 9, 2010 4:03 am

The capacity of the planet may be finite, but anyone who claims to know what this “capacity” is is simply guessing and has no idea what they are really talking about. Heck, with high density housing, we could theoritically fit trillions of people on this planet, grow enough food given technological increases, and all at the same time increase GDP.
But this is all a case of “possibilities.” Truth is, no one knows what the human capacity of the planet is. With scientific development typically resulting from “necessity” and not “whim” its difficult to peg at what point our farming practices will max out at if they do indeed max out at some point.
Given any resource, its price over time drops (see Julian Simon). Peek oil/gas/food is over-hyped. Its a given at any point we will reach the maximum production of a certain commodity but this is based on economics, not on need. If oil becomes too expensive, well then we will probably switch to other sources (common sense) and the production total of oil is maxed out, but this does not create huge economic issues as stated, rather its just a gradual change from one commodity to another.

Patrick Davis
September 9, 2010 4:03 am

“Ian Wilson says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:05 am
….and riots over food shortages in Africa and elsewhere should be ringing alarm bells.”
These riots are nothing to do with supply, there is no shortage. Ethiopia is not the dust bowl many poeple think it is (There is a lot of food waste in Ethiopia IMO and experience, certainly in Addis Ababa). It is infact VERY fertile, one problem there is traditional farm practices, which are slowly changing, with water conservation schemes where a farmer can cultivate two main crops in a single year rather than waiting for “rains” and transport. Fuel is “expensive” and these costs are passed on to very poor consumers. My wife is Ethiopian and our family there has lost all their land the family had to corrupt Govn’t officials and now cannot raise beasts or food, there just isn’t enough space for that now.
The main problem is cost, due to imports, pressure on farmers to export (Better price), fuel and official corruption. Cost of food, if people cannot produce themselves, is outstipping incomes. There is also a trend of migration from rural areas to the city, Addis Ababa.

Ralph
September 9, 2010 4:15 am

Perhaps this is what you all want – the mega metropolis in Star Wars that covered an entire planet.
http://www.himajin.jp/mt/ei/Coruscant.jpg
You may desire such a future – the inevitable consequence of reproductive-incontinence – but I would consider it to be hell on Earth.
Anyway, history has taught us that civilisations that cannot control their populations are always doomed to failure and extinction. Look at Teotehuacan in Central America, or Angkor Wat in Vietnam. Two of many civilisations that appear to have succumbed to famine when at the peak of their powers.
Don’t think that we are so clever that we cannot not suffer the same fate.
.

Ralph
September 9, 2010 4:19 am

>>Ethiopia is not the dust bowl many poeple think it is. It is infact
>>VERY fertile, one problem there is traditional farm practices.
Whoa, there Patrick.
Everyone is saying we should return to traditional, sustainable farming, instead of building mono-culture mega factory farms. But that is simply not possible.
If you are campaigning for population increase, please do not let anyone campaign for Green agriculture and sustainability at the same time.
.

GM
September 9, 2010 4:25 am

Apparently the authors has zero awareness of basic principles of ecology. You will never do better than the moment when you are in maximum overshoot just before the crash begins. And then, of course, the crash begins, but you’re so deep in overshoot that it’s too late to do anything about it.
This is your typical pipe-dream cornucopian post that is really the intellectual equivalent to the person who jumped from the 88th floor and while he was passing the 20th on his way down, said “See, I’m doing fine, nothing to worry about”
Yes, we produce enough food to feed our present population. No, we aren’t going to produce even a fraction of that when the converging effects of peak oil, gas and phosphorus, fossil aquifer depletion, topsoil loss and climate change make our present way of producing food impossible in most areas. So there is plenty to worry about.

Hector M. says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:29 am
1. World population is currently predicted to peak at about 9 billion around 2050-60 and then starting to decline. Currently published UN population projections go only up to 2050, when population is seen as still growing at a nearly zero rate, but using their own assumptions (not an extrapolation) to extend the projections a few more years, you may see the population falling. Declining from 2050-60, population by 2100 should be between 7-8 billion, and still declining.

These are often quoted numbers, the problem is that it is very unlikely that they will ever be reached. Two things are more likely to happen:
1. The die off will begin before that, around 2030.
2. As the demographic transition in the Third world is predicted solely on the assumption that the Third world will become rich and developed, it is useful to ask the question is the Third world going to stop reproducing at the current rate if it doesn’t develop. And it is 99% certain that it will not develop as the energy and resources for that simply aren’t available, which means that fertility rates aren’t going down any time soon there. Of course the die off is still 100% certain in such a case, but it may be that it will not start before 2050 and then those projections will be surpassed.

3. Food production is not an extractive process, like burning oil. It is done by combining carbon with nitrogen and other substances, through photosyntesis. This year’s food is recycled (via your body waste and your own body decomposing in the future) into future food production.

Food production at present is not only an extractive process like burning oil, it is in fact burning oil. We are essentially using soil to convert oil, gas, fertilizers and fossil fresh water into food, while destroying a lot of that soil in the process. And it is not recycled, it typically goes into the ocean

September 9, 2010 4:26 am

Espen says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:56 am
“Mike Haseler you’re thinking like a malthusian and missing the A and O of demography. The fact is that when a country reaches a certain level of development (and thus, of food supply and energy consumption), it reaches the “fourth phase of demographic transition” and fertility plummets. The main reason is that in such societies, women decide to make a career instead of having ever more children.”
Espen is spot on about the Demographic Transition (DT). It’s unfortunate that dummies like Paul Ehrich and John Holdren cannot grasp the concept. However the DT is not always a given. For example, without massive food aid from the US, Haiti would have been a Malthusian hell a long time ago.
There are several things that promote the Demographic Transition in a developing country:
•Urbanization
•Industrialization
•Strong property rights
•Universal public education
•Respect for the rights of women
•Rudimentary public health measures
Is population a problem? Yes and no. Other things being equal, smaller populations in the developing countries would mean higher living standards there. For example, more meat and/or dairy products on the table.
On the other hand, human population in a developing country can become a non-draconian, self-regulating system if the initial conditions for the Demographic Transition are satisfied. The catch is that even with the DT kicking in everywhere, human population levels would be displeasing to certain influential misanthropic Environmentalists. Hence the present hoo-ha.

Editor
September 9, 2010 4:26 am

Lucy Skywalker says: Thank you everyone here. And PS, a primer on the issues of Peak Oil both for and against, as a post here, to make the basic facts more accessible to flounderers like myself, would be nice.
I cover it to some reasonable degree in the “no shortage” postings. Some expansion in the comments. The “short form” is that most oil fields deplete in a bell curve, so by extension the whole world, if thought of as one ‘field’ ought to do the same.
The “issues” that make this view problematic are pretty straight forward.
1) Saudi is NOT developing at full possible speed, so we don’t know how much they really have. They ‘banked it’ for a long time, and they are the major player.
2) Depth. We’ve recently found oil at ‘impossible depths’. The prior theory said oil could not exist that deep, so folks didn’t drill that deep. Now that we know better, a very large number of places that ‘had no oil’ may in fact have oil, just deeper.
3) Refilling fields. There is a theory, mostly popular with the Russians, that oil is made by carbonate rocks being subducted and heated. Since we can turn carbonates into oil in the lab, this seems pretty well proven as possible. Further, most of the worlds oil fields are found near present or former subduction zones (California, Indonesia, Saudi) or collision zones between ancient plates. In the Gulf of Mexico, there is at least one ‘played out’ well that was found to be refilling from below with oil of a different isotope signature… The fact is, we don’t really know where oil comes from or how much more there is.
4) Technological advance. In the short term of 20 or 30 years, a field is a bell curve depletion. But over 50 to 60 years we develop whole new ways to raise oil. We’ve gone back to ’empty’ fields and made them produce more. At present, fields that are ’empty’ have about 1/2 their oil still in them… and technology is still advancing.
5) What is “oil” changes over time. We’re now using ‘tar sands’ that were ‘useless’ 30 years ago. There is more oil in “useless” shale right now than in the rest of the worlds reserves combined.
6) We can make oil. Companies like Rentech and Syntroleum turn trash and plants into oil. How much oil you want? We can get 50 tons / acre of wood, or about 10 x that in algae, and make it into oil.
There are more “issues” but then this would not be a short summary. I’ll just end with noting that the 200 years it took to reach this point implies 200 years before we ‘run out’… Oh, and the whole ‘EROI’ Energy Return On Investment argument is broken. It says you reach a point where it takes more than a bbl of oil to raise a bbl so you stop. The reality is that we will use nuclear electricity to raise the oil as the FORM of energy in oil is more convenient. Oh, and the whole ‘need it for chemicals and plastics’ is broken too. We can make them from trash, trees, anything with carbon in it. Even coal, that was used before we decided oil was handy. BTW, right now we use natural gas for plastics as it’s cheaper and more plentiful…
Hope that helps.

September 9, 2010 4:27 am

We DO have to stamp out the biofuels industry. It is a waste of energy in every way and only serves to raise the cost of food to the point where poor in the world cannot afford it. It is criminal to make food into fuel when there is not a shortage of fuel and also criminal to commandeer crop land, which could be raising food, for biofuel-specific crops.
The biofuels industry has its purpose which is stated above – to raise the cost of food and allow people to die naturally, of starvation.

Pascvaks
September 9, 2010 4:31 am

[Snip]
[REPLY: Aligning / comparing AGW supporters with Radical Islamic Terrorists is NOT going to fly… (biglee57 ~ mod)]

Bernie
September 9, 2010 4:35 am

If we turned Rhode Island into a soccer stadium, everybody in the world could be accomodated. However, there would be a bit of a traffic jam after the match if everybody left at once.

egFinn
September 9, 2010 4:39 am

Everyone believing that there are too many people in the world, should lead by example…

simpleseekeraftertruth
September 9, 2010 4:49 am

The population of the planet and the land area of Ireland in m^2 are similar. Now imagine everyone standing in Ireland with the rest of the world available for housing, agriculture, energy, manufacture etc. A silly idea I know but helps to put things into perspective. BTW, last time I was in an Irish pub on a Saturday night, 1m^2 per person would have been a luxury!

Pascvaks
September 9, 2010 4:53 am

(Mea Culpa for the last ‘toooooo tooooo’ near the edge)
“I Am So Tired of Malthus”
Everything you said is so true. Unfortunately, nothing we say here will change anything outside of WUWT. As illogical and wrong as their argument is about population and global resources, about anthroprogenic global warming, about ‘climate credits’, etc., they will continue to use every argument (and ‘Food’ is a good one) to win their way. This is not a polite argument about a complicated scientific theory where each side is merely trying to determine the ‘truth’.

Atomic Hairdryer
September 9, 2010 5:02 am

Why do Malthusians have large families? Why don’t neo-Malthusian groups like the ‘Optimum Population Trust’ ask for proof of sterilisation before granting membership? If they lead by example, people may trust them more.

Patrick Davis
September 9, 2010 5:02 am

“Ralph says:
September 9, 2010 at 4:19 am
>>Ethiopia is not the dust bowl many poeple think it is. It is infact
>>VERY fertile, one problem there is traditional farm practices.
Whoa, there Patrick.
Everyone is saying we should return to traditional, sustainable farming, instead of building mono-culture mega factory farms. But that is simply not possible.
If you are campaigning for population increase, please do not let anyone campaign for Green agriculture and sustainability at the same time.”
Nice one Ralph, take my post out of context! Well, you are wrong. I did not mention sustainable farming practices but that traditional farming practices, like “waiting for the rains”, were not reliable (Hence famine). Water conservation is improving in Ethiopia because of, in part, LiveAid in the 80’s and western influences. Local farmers find it works.
As for mono-cultures, it is a BIG issue, and with bee populations under pressure, I don’t see that as sustainable. Australia’s bee population is the ONLY bee population on earth right now that is not infested with the viroa bee mite. In fact we export bee colonies to other contries, with vast mono-culture systems, to assist in fertilisation. They are “sacraficial” bees as they become infested with the mite at the local site.
This planet can sustain many many more people, the only problem is human nature and the desire to screw others for profit (Africa = Govn’t/official corruption for resources = coal, gold, silver, oil and diamonds. Like Elephant tusks, change the market, the “resourse” recovers).
You were aware that Afican’s had no concept of borders, until the “whiteman” (I put that in quotes because if one traces one’s mitochondrial DNA, on your mothers side, it will lead you to Africa) arrived?

Patrick Davis
September 9, 2010 5:05 am

“simpleseekeraftertruth says:
September 9, 2010 at 4:49 am ”
Actually, the entire population of the planet could, albeit pretty compact (LOL), stand on the Isle of Wight, just south of Portsmouth, England.

Richard111
September 9, 2010 5:10 am

Wasn’t it Soylent Blue which contained the real people? Was a rare treat!

Curiousgeorge
September 9, 2010 5:15 am

Willis, you should enjoy (or be infuriated by ) this set of position papers by the UN recently. The story is carried by: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/09/08/years-setbacks-looks-world-leader/?test=latestnews and the actual position papers are linked to within the story.
The UN seems to think they can address all these “problems”, if only the rest of the world would give them the unlimited power to do so.

Bernie
September 9, 2010 5:15 am

simpleseekeraftertruth:
Alas, you are off by a factor of 10.
Area if Ireland: 84,421 km2 = 84 billion m2
You could fit them all in County Cork!!

pyromancer76
September 9, 2010 5:17 am

Great post, Willis. Great comments. I especially enjoy those who try so hard to be pessimistic in this group of trained specialists in how optimism works. The “bad government” argument is a very serious one. I think no funds (tax-payer money) should go to those bad governments under the guise of helping (feed, etc.) the “poor people of the world”. When we do these things, we primarily support bandits and thugs. Instead we should encourage the inventive use of human minds through technology in the presence of raw materials How? By sending our helpful tax dollars to those governments/societies that are creatively enabling their populace to work productively at their food supply and to live enjoyably (yes, many different definitions here, but the possibility seems to encourage amazing work efforts), men and women with relatively equal opportunities. Anything else seems like shooting ourselves in the foot. We know Earth can feed everyone.
As to the bad times — when we cannot feed ourselves, other than when bad governments are in charge — these seem to come not from “peak” something, but from drastic “climate change”. A massive volcanic eruption or multiple large ones, large impactor(s) from space, or our present unknown — the creep into the next ice age. Knowing that almost every civilization has fallen from these kinds of events (if you can’t feed your people or if those who can’t feed themselves want your land….), one would think that the malthusian-types would turn their pessimism, along with inventiveness, toward prevention, including food storage for the bad (cold) times. Historically, geologically, cosmically, these events/conditions are inevitable. We simply are very fortunate if they do not happen in our individual life times. Someone mentioned the model of Christchurch-New Zealanders building with those inevitable destructive earthquakes in mind. That’s the model I have in mind.

Sam the Skeptic
September 9, 2010 5:27 am

Jimbo says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:37 am
If you look back in history you will read about commentators who thought that the streets of London would be piled high in horse manure by 2000.

… or earlier!
And remember Ford’s comment that if you had asked the average late-19th century traveller what development he would like to see he would have replied “a faster horse”. One of the reasons why the neo-Malthusians and their close relatives the eco-luddites can win arguments relatively easily is that they can always end an explanation with “it stands to reason.”
Every time I hear that phrase I know that I am going to have an uphill battle on my hands. It is a seductive statement, partly because it involves both the speaker and the hearer in that most pleasant of pastimes — not having to exercise the intellect.
Most human development has to some extent been counter-intuitive; almost all science has sprung from a refusal to accept the status quo. Marx and his disciples (especially the ones who take his writings at face value because the alternative would be to exercise their intellects) persistently refused to acknowledge the existence of human nature either as a force for good or a force for bad or simply as a force for disproving theories.
I have never forgotten the simple marxian theory that if you set a boy to do something that will take an hour then two boys will do the same thing in 30 minutes. Anyone who believes that has never met boys; you’ll be lucky if the job gets finished in a day!
Unless of course you provide an incentive but even then the inevitable interaction between them will almost certainly act to extend the time.
And that does “stand to reason”!

September 9, 2010 5:27 am

Some of the best food in the World is available aplenty to us here in Oz. We have no limit to growth except age. My teeth are getting too weak to rip into a huge T-bone steak.
The concept of peak fertilizer is hardly correct. You have to look beyond the consumption phase to the waste cycle and realise that for a given, stable population there is a circulating flux of most nutrients that sustains with very little topping up. Elements like P and K do not disappear into the ether, they just get put somewhere else where it might be more expensive to recover them.
It is so blindingly correct that the big problem is government. Cross the border from Calif to Mex. Why, you can clearly see the border on Google earth because the organised patterns of US agriculture degenerate into low yield subsistence farms in a few miles. And that’s even allowing for Arnie being not too bright.
Then compare agricultural output N & S Korea. Israel and Lebanon. Use your head, not your heart.

pwl
September 9, 2010 5:27 am

“Some 30 years ago, I have read a book in Dutch, called “De Groene Aarde” (“The Green Earth”), that the earth can sustain about 130 billion people for food. … So, the future still looks bright…” – Ferdinand Engelbeen
‎”130 billion people for food” is a LOT of Soylent Green!!! Yum, the future looks bright indeed.
[:)]

September 9, 2010 5:29 am

RW says: (September 9, 2010 at 1:33 am) Willis, I usually love your contributions but I take some issue with this one in that I am extraordinarily tired of people who have missed the bulk of what Malthus said. […] The Essay on the Principle of Population was a very scholarly work…
Thank you for this comment. RW; it brings a nice addition to knowledge. It is all too easy to suffer from a little knowledge to the detriment of our attempts to gain wisdom.

Steve from Rockwood
September 9, 2010 5:31 am

Patrick says “Ethiopia is not the dust bowl people think it is.”
I spent a month in Ethiopia back in the 90s. Never saw so many Mercedes and Land Rovers – pretty expensive cars for such a poor country. In the country-side to the south locals would stand by the side of the road selling everything from chickens to fresh vegetables. There was food everywhere. We ate like kings (of course we had lots of money).
If history teaches us anything it it that humans have been incredibly successful. The most successful are also the wealthiest – regardless of whether you use a mean or median to calculate it.
To discuss peak oil or peak food (which are interesting points of discussion but are hardly limiting the Earth presently) you also need to discuss the distribution of oil and food to the poorest regions of the world. What do you do when people do not have money to buy?
Show me a place on this planet where humans have enough money but cannot get access to food and oil and I might start thinking like a Malthusian.

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 5:39 am

This is what is all about:
http://euro-med.dk/?p=13656

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 5:42 am

Ferdinand Engelbeen says:
September 8, 2010 at 11:54 pm
That was the result of the “green revolution” (and glass greenhouses), ….
Hope global warmers´greenhouse effect would be true. Warm is good, cold is bad!

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 5:48 am

There is, however, a big problem in developed countries: starving of real knowledge and starving for lack of human values.

Patrick Davis
September 9, 2010 5:49 am

“Steve from Rockwood says:
September 9, 2010 at 5:31 am
Patrick says “Ethiopia is not the dust bowl people think it is.”
I spent a month in Ethiopia back in the 90s. Never saw so many Mercedes and Land Rovers – pretty expensive cars for such a poor country.”
Ethiopia, the Head of the African Union. Many many countries with embassies there, including the US. But I am surprised, Mercedes and Land Rovers? Surly you mean Fiat/Lada and Toyotas in terms of numbers. But wow, what an impression after only a month.

Jere Krischel
September 9, 2010 5:50 am

“Fat in excess is justly maligned in the Western diet”
Actually, it is unjustly maligned. The cause of the “diseases of civilization” (diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, alzheimer’s, and other chronic diseases) is not dietary fat, but dietary carbohydrate. We’ve misdiagnosed the problem for the past 40 years thanks to low-fat advocates who twisted and tortured the science worse than anyone at CRU.
http://webcast.berkeley.edu/event_details.php?webcastid=21216
Fat, *real* fat (not the trans fats in “I can’t believe it’s not butter”), is good for you, in any quantity. The killer is the carbohydrate we eat.

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 5:52 am

friendship says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:47 am
How about a volcanic winter with no preparations for 7 billions???
Agrarian pyramid populations COLLAPSE EVERY TIME because of this!

Better come here to WUWT and stop watching those channels!

Tenuc
September 9, 2010 5:52 am

Mike Haseler says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:45 am
“…Quite the contrary Tenuc, history shows there has been virtually no change in the basic forms of energy supply for over two centuries…”
Sorry Mike, but you are completely wrong about this!
The first Nuclear powered generator (Calder Hall at Windscale, UK) was connected to the grid and delivering electricity in 1956. Nuclear power stations currently produce around 15% of the worlds demand for electricity and it would be feasible to build enough new stations to provide for the energy needs of the world for the next several thousand years.
The only reasons we do not use the nuclear option are that it costs more than fossil fuel generation and there are political issues which need to be resolved. Safety and disposal of nuclear waste are no longer a serious problem regarding modern plant designs.
While fossil fuels remain plentiful and cheap, there is little interest in developing pf commercialising alternative energy generating technology. The current crop of uneconomic ‘green’ solutions are not suitable for base load generation and have only been introduced as a sop to liberal sentiment.

jaymam
September 9, 2010 5:54 am

220 wrong predictions of the End of the World, mostly for religious reasons:
http://i51.tinypic.com/24b517p.jpg
“The oceans will shrink. Deserts expand. Crops will fail; there will be massive starvation Widespread emotional and mental collapse; increase in crime and violence. Changing weather patterns; basic laws of nature will be disrupted…”

Craig
September 9, 2010 5:54 am

I don’t see what the problem is. Given the fact that CO2 is a plant food and less than doubling it could create >35% crop yields and a doubling of pine tree growth
http://rps3.com/Files/AGW/EngrCritique.AGW-Science.v4.pdf
The answer seems simple to me. More CO2 = More food.
Now, how man can affect the atmospheric CO2 content to such an extent given his current, minuscule contribution in comparison to the natural is, quite frankly, one for the boffins to sort out. 😉

Berényi Péter
September 9, 2010 5:56 am

Food supply is adequate and growing. However, a global crop failure, most probably because of an abrupt cooling event, could wreak havoc with the world any time.
The market is inadequate for providing reasonable food security. It’s because food is a special commodity in that if consumers are denied of it for a couple of months, they get permanently removed from the market (because later on, even if food becomes available, they neither eat nor can make money any more). Therefore the time window to make up for a long time investment in food storage is very short.
World food stockpile is at an all time low, it can cover consumption only for two or three months. It means we are just a single major volcanic eruption away from a global disaster unprecedented in human history. Could be worse than the extreme weather events of 535–536.
This is because governments utterly fail to take due responsibility and neglect public food stockpiling recommendations described in this paper (stocks for seven years are needed).
There was a sign from the sun, the like of which had never been seen and reported before. The sun became dark and its darkness lasted for 18 months. Each day, it shone for about four hours, and still this light was only a feeble shadow. Everyone declared that the sun would never recover its full light again.
That’s how climate change looks like.
“We have had a winter without storms…” “a spring without mildness [and] a summer without heat… The months which should have been maturing the crops have been chilled by north winds,” “When can we hope for mild weather, now that the months that once ripened the crops have become deadly sick under the northern blasts? …Out of all the elements, we find these two against us: perpetual frost and unnatural drought”
“the stars were lost from view for three months. The sun dimmed, the rain failed, and snow fell in the summertime. Famine spread, and the emperor abandoned his capital…”
“Then came drought [or floods], famine, plague, death…” “Food is the basis of the Empire. Yellow gold and ten thousand strings of cash cannot cure hunger. What avails a thousand boxes of pearls to him who is starving of cold”
“At first, relatives and domestics attended to the burial of the dead, but as the violence of the plague increased this duty was neglected, and corpses lay forlorn narrow in the streets, but even in the houses of notable men whose servants were sick or dead. Aware of this, Justinian placed considerable sums at the disposal of Theodore, one of his private secretaries, to take measures for the disposal of the dead. Huge pits [that could hold up to 70,000 corpses] were dug at Sycae, on the other side of the Golden Horn, in which the bodies were laid in rows and tramped down tightly; but the men who were engaged on this work, unable to keep up with the number of the dying, mounted the towers of the wall of the suburb, tore off their roofs, and threw the bodies in. Virtually all the towers were filled with corpses, and as a result ‘an evil stench pervaded the city and distressed the inhabitants still more, and especially whenever the wind blew fresh from that quarter.’”

Henry chance
September 9, 2010 6:01 am

Today we have more obesity than hunger in the world. We also have a lot of government meals at schools and huge amounts of food are wasted.

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 6:03 am

Jimbo says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:27 am
Hi Willis,
You could also have added the vast tracts of un-cultivated land that is suitable for food production.

That is absolutely true: Hundred of thousand hectares have been cultivated along the former deserted lands of west South American coast where rainfall per year is ONE or two millimeter per year, and the majority of these crops are exported to the US.
This has been done with new irrigation technologies, where almost all nutrients for crops are dosified through the irrigation system, being quasi hydroponic systems.

Craig
September 9, 2010 6:07 am

Patrick Davis says:
September 9, 2010 at 4:03 am
Ethiopia is not the dust bowl many poeple think it is

Indeed. Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile and contains some of the most fertile land on the planet.
And despite the doomsayers claiming that the Ethiopian forest ( yes, forest, not desert) could be gone by 2020
(BBC 2000) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1766717.stm
The forest cover today is in fact very healthy and 3 times what it was when those comments were made.
http://news.mongabay.com/2010/0721-hance_ethiopia_trees.html
It’s not a lack of arable land that halts the progress of the poor. It’s the governments who deny them use of, and access to it.

Patrick Davis
September 9, 2010 6:08 am

“Jere Krischel says:
September 9, 2010 at 5:50 am
Fat, *real* fat (not the trans fats in “I can’t believe it’s not butter”), is good for you, in any quantity. The killer is the carbohydrate we eat.”
This post is so accurate it’s almost unreal to see on a webpage! *THUMBS UP*

pedex
September 9, 2010 6:10 am

the oil situation is gonna put a big dent in people’s idea that we are going to just keep breeding like rabbits
the “green revolution” wasn’t green at all, we simply convert petroleum into food

September 9, 2010 6:21 am

Phillip Bratby says: September 9, 2010 at 2:21 am

Philip, thanks for the article ref. Glad to see the aboitic oil issues gradually surfacing. However the article’s still making too many assertions I don’t trust. For instance, I think there is a time issue involved in abiotic oil… it seems to recover but pretty slowly… and this affects its economic power directly.
Could you do your own article perhaps?? Would WUWT be able to handle it?

Jimbo says: September 9, 2010 at 2:27 am
[Add] the vast tracts of un-cultivated land that is suitable for food production. There is also the IRRI recently released flood tolerant rice… [etc etc + refs]

Jimbo, it would be nice to see you do a whole article on this.

E.M.Smith says: September 9, 2010 at 4:26 am

Thanks a million EMS, just the key info on “no shortage” I wanted. Now can we have this as a thread at WUWT?

Pascvaks says: September 9, 2010 at 4:53 am …Unfortunately, nothing we say here will change anything outside of WUWT…

I beg to disagree. I see pioneers here, opening up a new way of doing Science, and sure, it will take time to catch on. See the above for evidence.

Patrick Davis
September 9, 2010 6:23 am

“Craig says:
September 9, 2010 at 6:07 am
It’s not a lack of arable land that halts the progress of the poor. It’s the governments who deny them use of, and access to it.”
Totally agree with your entire post. I snip this bit out, and agree with you. However, what you see in rural areas, like the source of the Blue Nile, feeding the Nile in Egypt, the Whispering Falls, which 75% of flow is diverted to hydro power generation, is brand new, shiny galvanised steel mobile network radio towers amoung mud hutts. I agree with this, in terms of communication. In recent times, since about 2005, the “Govn’t” blocked text messages, recently that block has been removed. People can communicate at great distances.

William R. Catton, Jr.
September 9, 2010 6:25 am

I am so tired of [snip] who criticize Malthus with statistics about how much food we are producing right now, rather than how much food we will be able to produce in the future and how overconsumption contributes to the degradation of the commons. I suggest you read my book Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change for real insight into this issue.

JP
September 9, 2010 6:28 am

To anyone who pays attention to recent trends in global fertility rates know that over-population will not be a problem. Quite to the contrary, de-population is and will continue to be a problem through-out most of the world. According to figures posted by both Wiki and the CIA Factbook, almost all of the G20 nations (including China, but excluding India) have TFRs (Total Fertility Rate) below replacement levels. As a matter of fact, nations like Japan, Russia, Italy, Greece, and Spain have had TFRs below 1.5/female for a decade or more. Even in the more fecund East Asia, nations like Turkey and Iran have seen decreasing fertility rates in recent decades. Yes, Yeman and Afghanistan have TFRs in excess of 4/female. But they are the exceptions. In Africa, war, famine, and AIDs are devestating populations. And even in Central and South America, the rate of population growth is slowing.
And for the first time in world history, large segments of global populations will age to levels not dreamnt of even 50 years ago. This means that in the short term our populations will continue to grow, as fewer eldery will die at younger ages. That is, the median age will go up. But, all of these grand parents and great grand parents will have a much smaller legacy. And thier grand children and great grand children will have even less offspring.
The UN has global populations peaking sometime around 2050. I cannot remember the exact numbers; but, like the IPCC the UN tends to over-estimate things.

Pytlozvejk
September 9, 2010 6:33 am

@ Baa Humbug. Your point about the Pacific Islands is interesting. Sure, they’re not paradise (cf Thor Heyerdahl on Fatu Hiva), but they’re not so bad either. The best indicator is people movements. When we were being told that East Germany was all hunky dory, they had to build barbed wire fences to keep the people in. Today we look at countries whose nationals hide inside shipping containers to get into the US or UK. The Pacific Islands are not in that category. As far as I know, the Pacific countries on the list are poor, but the people aren’t escaping in desperation. From what I’ve heard, they just enjoy life. It’s different to your choice and my choice, but it’s still their free choice. Hooray for diversity, and I’m sure they’re not bothered by some accountant in Washington who says that they live an awful life.

mike sphar
September 9, 2010 6:44 am

I planted 75 vines of Cabernet Franc this spring, just doing my part. Its growing but has been struggling against the cold. Oh well, waiting and counting on some warming.

L Nettles
September 9, 2010 6:46 am

Under Malthus’s Theory would it be likely that plants would consume so much of the CO2 in the atmosphere that it would reach historic lows unless there was another intervention to restore CO2 to optimal levels?

DT
September 9, 2010 6:51 am

the oil situation is gonna put a big dent in people’s idea that we are going to just keep breeding like rabbits
No, the “oil situation” is going to put a big dent in environmentalist’s idea that we are going to just shut off all oil exploration and development, and shrink as a people and economy.
We have over a century worth of oil in the Green River shale formation. We have centuries worth of energy that can be converted into oil and auto fuels sitting in our coal deposits. When living standards start to seriously decline because of the artificial restraints placed on oil extraction and use, people in the U.S. are going to become an angry mob. They are going to learn about the readily available and easily extracted alternatives we have. When they do, any environmentalist or politician in their way is going to be removed from power if not physically harmed.
We need nuclear power and we need to continue to research ways to use electricity to power our vehicles. While we work on that, we must have oil. Not having it is simply not an option. I’m guessing we’re a good 40-50 years away from an electrically powered auto fleet. Until then, we must have and we will have oil.
Right now we have a green bubble, no different from the housing or education bubbles, a malinvestment of resources and political power into a given area, group, or ideology. Environmentalist policies have dragged on the U.S. economy, but there hasn’t been a shock to the system that causes the average apathetic voter to clearly link green policies and lower living standards. When that shock comes and the bubble bursts, watch out. Right now it’s popular to say you’re green. After the bubble bursts telling someone you’re green will likely endanger your well being. No politician will touch the phrase or the policies. It’s like anything else in American politics. A good idea is converted to a rigid ideology that then goes too far and is pulled back by the voter. It happens every election cycle.
Keep dreaming that government can place restriction upon restriction on fossil fuel use to “save the Earth.” You think Americans are mad at their government now? Wait until gasoline hits $6 a gallon, THEN you will see mad. And you will see every politician who doesn’t promise shale and coal fuel development sent packing to the unemployment line.

JDN
September 9, 2010 6:58 am

I was just reflecting on the fact that Malthusians have hundreds of years of failure without any decline in popularity. Can we expect a hundred years of failed prediction by climate doomsayers?
Misanthropy is to be wiped out.

David, UK
September 9, 2010 7:06 am

Keith Battye says:
September 8, 2010 at 11:59 pm
The real threat to people is poor governance.

I would modify that a bit – the real threat to people is OVER-governance. Less government = more freedom, more prosperity, less wastage, less laws, less tax. Less politicians. Less BS.

Archonix
September 9, 2010 7:14 am

People often say that we’re addicted to oil. It’s rather silly. Like saying we’re addicted to water… in the sense that were physiologically incapable of surviving without it yes, in a way, we’re addicted. But it’s not an “addiction” we can give up. Oil is civilisational water. It’s not a teenage angsty “cannot survive” issue, where you scream “I’ll die if I don’t get my sugar-laden snacks!”; we literally cannot survive without it.

Bryan
September 9, 2010 7:22 am

Exactly the same doom and gloom statments have been made for the last thousand years.
Here in Britain they pay farmers not to produce food.

Jaye Bass
September 9, 2010 7:29 am

I think the best metric is number of acres per person required to feed that person. A figure that has been going down with a vengeance for the last 200 years.
Mr. Catton people like you have been so wrong for so long that its hard to take anything the likes of you or Holdren or Ehrlich say with any sort of seriousness. Ehrlich and Holdren made fun of some poor guy for suggesting that societies transform their birth rates voluntarily and naturally. They were of course wrong and this guy was right. Ehrlich has been wrong so much that he has stopped putting dates on his dire predictions. Didn’t he lose a bet with, was it Julian Flood, about the future cost of minerals. Just give it a rest or make an accurate prediction.

latitude
September 9, 2010 7:48 am

Why don’t all these people that can predict the future, do something really useful…
….tell me which lotto numbers to pick

CodeTech
September 9, 2010 7:51 am

William R. Catton, Jr. says:
I suggest you read my book Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change for real insight into this issue.

Ah yes, because only you have “real insight”, anything else is just fake insight.
With our agricultural capabilities still underutilized, huge piles of food going to waste every year, and a declining first-world population, I suggest your book is most likely nothing more than another excuse to cut down trees.

Tenuc
September 9, 2010 8:08 am

It’s strange that so many people think having more people on Earth is a bad thing. The good news is that most of the leaps forward mankind makes is down to geniuses who, often working alone, come up with world changing ideas.
Only about 2% of the population meet Mensa’s standards and can be defined as real geniuses. Based on today’s population there are about 120 million people worldwide who would qualify for Mensa membership. As world population grows, the extra geniuses will improve the chance of further major leaps forward, in areas no one can envisage now.
Mankind’s future is bright provided world population continues to grow.

GM
September 9, 2010 8:19 am

Jaye Bass said:
September 9, 2010 at 7:29 am
Mr. Catton people like you have been so wrong for so long that its hard to take anything the likes of you or Holdren or Ehrlich say with any sort of seriousness.

CodeTech said
September 9, 2010 at 7:51 am
Ah yes, because only you have “real insight”, anything else is just fake insight.
With our agricultural capabilities still underutilized, huge piles of food going to waste every year, and a declining first-world population, I suggest your book is most likely nothing more than another excuse to cut down trees.

While I am not 100% sure it is the real Catton who posted, you should indeed read his book and fix the deficiencies in your education. (snip)
People like Catton have hundreds of years of research in ecology plus thousands of years of human history to back up their predictions. The exact timing of collapse after overshoot will be hard to predict, of course, there are so many unknowns, but it is 100% certain that it will happen. To deny that, you have to deny one or all of the following:
1. Such things as the laws of thermodynamics and physics
2. Basic principles of ecology and population dynamics such as the already mentioned ecological overshoot-population collapse sequence of events. Things that have been observed hundreds and thousands of times in the wild and in the lab and are absolutely indisputable
3. That 1) and 2) apply to humans. This is the essence of the “technology will save us” mantra that gets repeated so often by economists and which the majority here have completely bought into. Yet it all really boils down to denial of 1) and 2) (usually caused by total lack of understanding of those fields, which in turn is caused by the complete failure of our educational system but let’s not go into that)

September 9, 2010 8:28 am

Willis, how do you spell “peak oil”. IIASA assumes no limits to fossil fuels. Oil exports peaked in 2005, and total world oil supply is set to go into decline by 2013 at the latest. Before people start jumping on me about Venezuelan bitumen, Athabasca tarsands and shale oil think “stocks and flows”. It doesn’t matter what the stock is if the flow is low, and decades and billions of dollars have not solved the flow problem. If we really succeed in developing shale gas (and that is likely unless polluted water supply becomes a major issue) we can substitute some oil for a few years, bu then NG will peak before 2040. If we double or triple coal production as an offset, coal will peak before 2050. Before I get jumped on about the vast coal deposits in the USA think flows again, ie depth of deposits and thickness of seams. The gains in food supply are from cheap abundant energy, and those days are numbered. Murray

DirkH
September 9, 2010 8:28 am

Very interesting. All the Malthusians who have answered don’t understand the concept of technological development. They share this with 80% of the population.
A market ripe for the taking (again… and again…).

GM
September 9, 2010 8:31 am

Tenuc said on I Am So Tired of Malthus
September 9, 2010 at 8:08 am
It’s strange that so many people think having more people on Earth is a bad thing. The good news is that most of the leaps forward mankind makes is down to geniuses who, often working alone, come up with world changing ideas.
Only about 2% of the population meet Mensa’s standards and can be defined as real geniuses. Based on today’s population there are about 120 million people worldwide who would qualify for Mensa membership. As world population grows, the extra geniuses will improve the chance of further major leaps forward, in areas no one can envisage now.
Mankind’s future is bright provided world population continues to grow.

Ah, I was waiting for that canard to come up.
First, your 2% is in all likelihood only true for developed countries. In the Third world (and probably in the US too) where the majority of population growth occurs, it is much lower.
Second, by the way you worded your post, I take it that you definitely don’t belong to those 2% and you have never taken one of those tests. So let me enlighten you – the vast majority of those 2% are neither capable of nor will they ever contribute anything to the advancement of humanity (by becoming scientists or engineers which is what you imply), they will go on to such not just unproductive but totally counterproductive activities such as becoming bankers, lawyers, etc. There isn’t much correlation between MENSA scores and scientific productivity, it is more like a necessary but far from sufficient conditions. Those 2% tests are a joke anyway so it is laughable to call the people who pass them geniuses.
Third, what proportion of he population right now is involved in productive R&D activity that will help (in your pipe dreams, not in reality) raise the carrying capacity of the planet? 2%? Or much much lower than that. And what proportion is useless eaters? Wouldn’t it be wiser to aim for a smaller population with a much larger proportion of people involved in productive activity? Say, instead of having 10 million out of 7 billion involved in R&D, having 50 million out of 100 million?
Because, and this is fourth, no amount of technology can beat the combination of exponential growth against very finite carrying capacity, much less in the time frames we are speaking of right now (for those who haven’t woken up to reality yet, we basically need a miracle in the next decade or two, and miracles only happen in works of fiction like the Bible and the Quran). So you either face reality and shrink or you overshoot and collapse.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 8:32 am

“I think it’s seriously possible that the alarmists’ picture of Peak Oil is badly exaggerated. But I remain unconvinced that there is no problem here at all. ”
http://www.tsl.uu.se/uhdsg/Publications/GOF_decline_Article.pdf
http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/2010/JOE_2010_o.pdf
http://www.tsl.uu.se/uhdsg/Publications/PeakOilAge.pdf
http://www.tsl.uu.se/uhdsg/Publications/IPCC_article.pdf
http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/tiki-index.php?page=Global+Oil+Depletion
http://www.energybulletin.net/node/50234
https://www.msu.edu/~ralsto11/PeakOil.pdf
New report by the German Military who are taking it very seriously:
http://energybulletin.net/stories/2010-09-01/german-military-study-warns-potentially-drastic-oil-crisis
The fact is for every calorie of food we eat there is 7-10 calories of oil energy in it.

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 8:35 am

Access to water will be the limiting reagent on human population growth.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 8:37 am

“It confirms Anna V who says “I tend to go with the Russian school who think that oil is endogenous to the earth mantle and is created/rises continuously.””
Abiotic theory of oil formation was shown incorrect:
http://static.scribd.com/docs/j79lhbgbjbqrb.pdf

Gary Pearse
September 9, 2010 8:44 am

A priori reasoning gives birth to Malthus and his clones. It is the kind of reasoning that teenagers with no experience give their parents. Their theses are always “obvious”. In Malthus’s case, he saw cities spreading so wide that horse-drawn carts could’nt deliver the goods necessary. In his a priori (linear) he thinking didn’t perceive buildings rising above a few stories, he couldn’t anticipate more efficient, speedier transport, not only for goods but for people too. They keep dusting off this old preacher’s idea because they can’t escape his kind of thinking. They don’t believe we will taper off in pop growth, which demographers give us sensible reasons for this development. I haven’t read much about the man himself, but from his clones, I would surmise he hated people, too, like Erhlich.

September 9, 2010 8:46 am

Was it Lincoln who said, “God loves ordinary people – that’s why he makes so many of them.” ?
What we are seeing is ‘Eugenics’ by the back door.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 8:49 am

Posted on the oil drum yesterday:
Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room – Revisited
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6924

September 9, 2010 8:51 am

E. M. Smith, I love your certainty, even though it is clearly based on “a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing.” I repeat “stocks and flows”. when we go back in to recover oil from old fields the flows are from 2% to (rarely) 10% of peak flow. Oil wells used to decline in a bell shaped curve. for 2 decades wer have been using “maximum reservoir contact” wells, especially in Saudi Arabia. When they “water out”, and they will, they will “drop off a cliff”. Abiotic oil is a myth, as explained several times by Jean Laherrere. the decline rate of existing oil production is now quite well established (until MRCs start to go down), and new projects have just kept pace within plus or minus 3% for the last 5+ years. It takes 6 years or so to bring a new project on line, and the new projects under way are well known (see the Megaprojects wiki). the coming decline is baked in the cake. Argue as you will. You also overestimate both coal reserves and their recoverability. time to do your homework. Murray

September 9, 2010 8:56 am

GM – well said! I just barely qualify for Mensa, and I feel really stupid compared to the much much smaller number of very bright people, and of that much smaller number how many get the education needed to innovate in today’s state of technical advancement. 2%??? ROFL.

rbateman
September 9, 2010 9:01 am

Marvin the Robot on Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “What’s the Use?”.
Marvin was depressed because he had no hope. Marvin was a machine, a computer with attachments.
Beware the Malthusians, who ersatz mankind’s dreams all day long with dread & fear.

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 9:01 am

pedex says:
September 9, 2010 at 6:10 am
the oil situation is gonna put a big dent in people’s idea that we are going to just keep breeding like rabbits

Do you know what happens in the bottom of the seas with all the organic residues, under such pressures and in some places (thermal vents) with temperatures up to 400 C (water does not boil up at those pressures)?
This is a well kept secret..an oily secret…

Bernd Felsche
September 9, 2010 9:04 am

Keith Battye says:
September 8, 2010 at 11:59 pm
I don’t see Zimbabwe on the LDC list. Are we on a LLDC list *grin*

I believe that the term that you’re looking for is TPLAC 🙂

Ryan Welch
September 9, 2010 9:05 am

The problem with nearly all of these predictions is that future technology, inventions, processes, discoveries, improvements, and energy sources are never accounted for. You cannot take a population trend and extrapolate that out to infinity while using current technology to infinity. The creativeness of humans is infinite, and with population growth we will have more humans around to think of new inventions. Add to that the fact that necessity is the mother of invention and there is no foreseeable limit to human population on earth. We can live and grow plants underground, underwater, and in space. There is no limit.

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 9:09 am

@ DT says:
September 9, 2010 at 6:51 am
I’d like your sources on the estimates you provide for the amount of oil in the green river shale. And what does that mean when you say, “We have over a century worth of oil in the Green River shale formation”? Does that mean, oil to fuel all of the US for 100 years? or we will be able to extract oil, even if it is only a half-barrel a day for 100 years?
@ anna v says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:16 am
“I tend to go with the Russian school who think that oil is endogenous to the earth mantle and is created/rises continuously. The finding of a Titan, I think, satellite with methane speaks to that.”
Really? Just because? That idea is total nonsense.

Tom
September 9, 2010 9:12 am

I don’t often look into the overpopulation issue, but from what I gather it’s that the population in the future (9 billion by 2050, the UN projects) that may cause problems. Or maybe not, I don’t know.
“We have doubled the population and more, and yet we are better fed than ever.” I think you’re making an implicit assumption that because we doubled the population in the past and nothing bad happened, we can increase it by a third again in the future and nothing bad will still happen. I don’t have any data with me but I have to wonder, is that a valid assumption?

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 9:13 am

@ Enneagram says:
September 9, 2010 at 9:01 am
Please expand with what you are saying. I can’t wait to hear your oily secret!

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 9:16 am

@ Phillip Bratby says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:21 am
Nice article. Too bad it’s junk science. The sources for the article you cite come from Kudryavtsev N.A work in the 50s, all of which has been shown false.
You folks just believe anything you read if it fits your narrative?

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 9:19 am

@ Richard Wakefield says:
September 9, 2010 at 8:37 am
Thank you for paying attention.

Ralph
September 9, 2010 9:50 am

>>Espen:
>>when a country reaches a certain level of development (and thus,
>>of food supply and energy consumption), it reaches the “fourth
>>phase of demographic transition” and fertility plummets.
That has been true of the Western world, but it has not been tried and tested in the Islamic world. Islam promotes reproductive incontinence, as a method of dominating a region, through demographic saturation.
There is no reason for Islam to stop their irresponsible behaviour, however rich they become. Bin Laden, for instance, was one of about 120 children in his family.
.

David, UK
September 9, 2010 10:02 am

Andrew W says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:52 am
This is a very light weight post, all you’ve done Willis is extrapolate a trend.
Whether or not the planet can feed 8 billion or 10 billion people hasn’t been addressed in any sensible way. The planet feeds more people now because we consume more resources, those resources are finite, technology gives us the ability to use what’s there, not the ability to create resources that aren’t there.

WRONG! Technology opens up whole new resources which did not even exist before (i.e. things that were not resources prior to the appropriate technology existing). A thing is only a “resource” because it can be used by humans. For example, oil was not a “resource” 200 years ago (discounting oil lamps and cooking oil). The motor engine had not been invented, and so oil was of no use and no one talked about “peak oil.” As we contiue to come up with other technologies, so new resources are opened up for use. Nuclear material only became a “resource” after the nuclear reactor was invented.
Apart from all that, it’s utterly naive to think we’re anywhere near peak oil now. Of course we’re not. There are myriad untapped oil fields in the world, which will be exploited as soon as it is economically feasible to do so (i.e. when current sources run dry). If oil was in any danger of running out soon, the Green idiots wouldn’t be screaming so loud about limiting its use.
And please stop your bed wetting, it became boring a long, long, long time ago.

Ralph
September 9, 2010 10:03 am

>>>Berenyi
>>>Food supply is adequate and growing.
This is not a simple calculation of food production, based upon farming techniques. This is the total interconnectedness of civilisation, that is dependent on each of its many spokes operating, to maintain everything in motion.
If one spoke breaks, like the political spoke, the whole thing collapses. And the more people there are in the world, the quicker it can collapse.
Take the Holodomor, for instance. Stalin destablilises the economic/political system that organises agriculture in the USSR, and up to 10 million people starve in the Ukraine.
Yes, up to 10,000,000 people starved, in just one small region.
Think it cannot happen again? Take a look at Rhodesia. Breadbasket of Africa in the 1950s. Change the political system, and the place is now starving. The problem being, the greater the world population, the more will starve to death.
.

Ralph
September 9, 2010 10:13 am

>>Tenuc:
>>Nuclear power stations currently produce around 15%
>>of the worlds demand for electricity
Yes, but electricity only accounts for 8% of total energy demand. So nuclear power is still a very small percentage of our power – I make that 1.2% of total energy supply.
Mike was right, there has been little change in our energy supply materials for two or more centuries.
And if the oil/coal prices rises, due to shortages in supply, then the price of food will rise alongside it. You may find that much of the expanding world population could not afford to eat, even if the food was able to be grown.
And don’t talk to me, please, about pulping our precious food and turning it into petrol (or diesel). That, is the most barmy idea ever contemplated.
.

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 10:22 am

GM,
Your idea that the laws of thermodynamics impose an imminent cap on growth is an intriguing one, but is a little short on detail. Could you flesh it out a bit for those of us less intellectually endowed?

September 9, 2010 10:25 am

Sorry, Willis, but I think Malthus had a good (if incomplete) point — with limited land and natural resources and generally diminishing marginal products, the marginal product of labor has to diminish as population increases unless capital (produced factors of production neglected by Malthus) and/or technology increase at a sufficiently rapid rate. Remarkably, they have, but we can’t count on this to continue.
In any event, clearly the biological reproduction rate is untenable. My own Scotch-Irish ancesors bred like bunnies (about 8 children surviving to marriage per marriage) until their ministers read Rev. Malthus in the early 19th c, and suddenly the rate dropped to 2 kids per generation. If it hadn’t, they would still be on the brink of starvation, just as their ancestors were in Ireland and Scotland, and with nowhere left to emigrate to.
The solution is not Chinese-style quotas on babies, but merely to require both biological parents to support their offspring. President Obama admirably preached “responsibility” during his campaign, but I haven’t heard much about it since his election…
I purchased a copy of Malthus’s Essay on Population a few years ago to see what he actually said, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. 🙂
In the long run (say over 10,000 yrs), the survival rate has to be between 2.0 and 2.1 per generation, or else we would be up to our ears in babies: 1.05^(10,000/20) = 3.9E10. Historically, (over the past 100,000 years say), this has been enforced by famine, epidemics, infanticide, monasticism, and/or genocidal warfare. Fortunately now we have birth control.

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 10:26 am

@ David, UK says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:02 am
“Apart from all that, it’s utterly naive to think we’re anywhere near peak oil now. Of course we’re not. There are myriad untapped oil fields in the world, which will be exploited as soon as it is economically feasible to do so (i.e. when current sources run dry).”
Oh yeah? What are some examples of those myriad of untapped oil fields? Now keep in mind, these will have to be pretty big to keep pace with current demand, and a whole hell of a lot of them.

Jimash
September 9, 2010 10:27 am

GM likes to think of people as “useless eaters”.
GM and Catton are like a bad disease.
I would not think of poisoning my mind with such pretentious fluff.
“Die-offs” “Peak everything” “collapse” of this or that .
Remember “Peak Whale oil” and Peak Horses” and “Peak buggy Whips” ?
Give it a break Einstein.
These nihilistic pronouncements of death upon apparently MOST of humanity are and have been prominently disproven over and over again.
The suggestion that we forget about any future progress and hunker down to live like SERFS in the vain and really personally vain , ( based on a paranoia ) effort to continue in perpetuity to live an unambitious life in an unchanging status quo ,
would make your “Utopia” far more useless than the useless eaters you decry.
You sicken me, sir.
Forgive me, I like TV. I notice a distasteful show called “Life after people” and a book of the same name, and I see the the gleeful scientists, proving their dislike for people by predicting the decay of our civilization.
But there is another show, where the REAL scientists and engineers explain their inspiration
for many of the developments you are using right now.
So I ask you, “Haven’t you ever seen Star Trek “?

Ralph
September 9, 2010 10:28 am

>>Bryan:
>>Here in Britain they pay farmers not to produce food.
That was called the “set-aside” policy, because Europe had a grain surplus.
But with Europe’s increasing population, that policy was abandoned in 2008.
If you are looking for unsustainable, exponential Hockey Sticks, there are plenty to be found in population charts.
http://www.visualizingeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/popgrowthsince_1500.jpg
.

Jaye Bass
September 9, 2010 10:31 am

GM says:
September 9, 2010 at 8:19 am

1. It appears that the unit of food produced for each hectare per human is going up.
2. The population is self correcting, transformative demographics I believe is the term.
Predator/prey models not withstanding about the only thing that will sink us as a population is if we give up on less land intensive sources of energy (like coal, oil and nuclear power) and stay away from land intensive renewable energy like biofuels, wind mills (much more land use, material use (concrete and steel) and fewer dead birds than your average nuke plant).
I suppose people like you were the ones proclaiming that London would be 10 meters deep in horse poop by the early 20th century. Try getting a prediction right, then people will listen. Did you note the bits about Ehrlich/Holdren’s utterly incorrect dismissal of transformative demographics and Ehrlich’s bet about present value of minerals? Have people like Ehrlich ever been right about anything? Not bloody likely.

Sun Spot
September 9, 2010 10:32 am

Everyone recognizes natural varying climate cycles, warming equals prosperity, cooling equals disaster ! WHO is doing the science on what will happen with the earths population is and when we encounter the next LIA, it will happen sooner or later. This is part of the AGW disaster the inability to do any science that runs counter to the AGW dogma.

Jaye Bass
September 9, 2010 10:33 am

Hu,
But they didn’t keep on breeding like that did they? Populations, as they get wealthier, tend to regulate their breeding rate. No worries on that I’m afraid.

Jimash
September 9, 2010 10:35 am

Benjamin P. says:
September 9, 2010 at 9:09 am
“@ anna v says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:16 am
“I tend to go with the Russian school who think that oil is endogenous to the earth mantle and is created/rises continuously. The finding of a Titan, I think, satellite with methane speaks to that.”
Really? Just because? That idea is total nonsense.

Really ?
Methane is classified as a “fossil fuel”.
Finding not just abundant but omnipresent Methane on Titan where there are , arguably NO Fossils, kind of blunts your resistance.

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 10:36 am

Benjamin P. says:
September 9, 2010 at 9:16 am
@ Phillip Bratby says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:21 am
Nice article. Too bad it’s junk science. The sources for the article you cite come from Kudryavtsev N.A work in the 50s, all of which has been shown false.
=========================
The article refers to thousands of papers, not just those of Kudryavtsev. It has already been shown that oil can be manufactured in laboratories using enormous temperatures and pressures, and the chemical reactions are well understood. Of course, none of this proves oil is abiogenic – it merely shows it is chemically possible.

RK
September 9, 2010 10:43 am

Seamus Molloy says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:35 am
What interests me is the amount of arable produce (wheat, rice, barley, potatoes, sugar beet etc.) that is used to make alcohol. The figure I have been told is about a quarter of the worlds production. Can anyone confirm this?
I also understand that 80% of grapes grown are used for making alcohol and as we can see from the Muslim world alcohol is not needed to sustain a healthy life, so an awful lot of good food is grown not to feed people but just to make them drunk!
I am taking strong exemption with above statement
http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/AlcoholAndHealth.html
Alcohol And Health
Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers. In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine or distilled spirits or liquor) are generally less likely to suffer hypertension or high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease and the common cold.
Sensible drinking also appears to be beneficial in reducing or preventing diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, bone fractures and osteoporosis, kidney stones, digestive ailments, stress and depression, poor cognition and memory, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis A, pancreatic cancer, macular degeneration (a major cause of blindness), angina pectoris, duodenal ulcer, erectile dysfunction, hearing loss, gallstones, liver disease and poor physical condition in elderly.
Moderate drinkers tend to live longer than those who either abstain or drink heavily.
A Harvard study found the risk of death from all causes to be 21% to 28% lower among men who drank alcohol moderately, compared to abstainers. (Camargo, C. A., et al. Prospective study of moderate alcohol consumption and mortality in US male physicians. Archives of Internal Medicine, 1997, 157, 79-85.)

David, UK
September 9, 2010 10:43 am

Benjamin P. says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:26 am
“Oh yeah? What are some examples of those myriad of untapped oil fields? Now keep in mind, these will have to be pretty big to keep pace with current demand, and a whole hell of a lot of them.”

OK, here are some examples. Montana has an untapped oilfield amounting to 40 billion barrels. Alaska has an untapped oilfield of about 10 billion barrels. The Bakken is the largest one we currently know of – the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates it at 503 billion barrels. Need any more examples, Mr Oh Yeah?

Ralph
September 9, 2010 10:44 am

>>Anna:
>>I tend to go with the Russian school who think that oil is
>>endogenous to the earth mantle and is created/rises continuously.
Brilliant !!
So who puts the Foraminifera into the oil deposits, and the fern leaves into coal deposits eh??
Oh, yes, I remember – the same guy who put fossils into rocks, to make us think the rocks were much older than they really are……. 😉
.

GM
September 9, 2010 10:48 am

Vince Causey says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:22 am
GM,
Your idea that the laws of thermodynamics impose an imminent cap on growth is an intriguing one, but is a little short on detail. Could you flesh it out a bit for those of us less intellectually endowed?

Simple. Entropy always increases in a closed system, human bodies are a very low-entropy system, human civilization as a whole is at even lower entropy. So you need an external source of energy/negative entropy to keep things from falling apart. The size of the external flows of negentropy puts a hard limit to the growth of any human civilization

GM
September 9, 2010 10:52 am

David, UK said
September 9, 2010 at 10:43 am
OK, here are some examples. Montana has an untapped oilfield amounting to 40 billion barrels. Alaska has an untapped oilfield of about 10 billion barrels. The Bakken is the largest one we currently know of – the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates it at 503 billion barrels.

1. OOIP = Original Oil In Place
2. URR = Ultimately Recoverable Reserves
URR < OOIP.
URR <<<< OOIP if rock porosity is very low. So it happens that the Bakken shale has an extremely low porosoity (which is why it is shale and you can't just poke a pole in the ground and collect the resulting gusher as people were doing in Texas and the Middle East back in the days). Which makes you 530 billion barrels more like 1 or 2, and at a very meager flow rate on top of that

Jaye Bass
September 9, 2010 10:52 am

Ralph says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:03 am

Historically, only particular kinds of political transformations have caused famine. Movements away from free trade to central planning and despotism are usually the culprits. Occasionally, the absence of government has resulted in a flourishing society. Italian trading cities in the early Renaissance being a prime example.

GabrielHBay
September 9, 2010 10:52 am

Some nice viewpoints on the reality of population size vs the size of the available land. (Texas, Ireland) When in doubt, I always find it comforting and enlightening to estimate that the entire world population could merge into one organism probably less than half a cubic kilometer in size. While that would be a formidable creature, it would be barely a speck of dust on the surface of the earth. Now exactly how unsustainable can that be? I don’t claim to know, but I do find it a reality check.. Earth really is huge, and man filled with hubris as to his own importance….

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 10:53 am

Benjamin P. says:
September 9, 2010 at 9:13 am
Easy, its first product is Methane C (Carbon) plus 2H2 (hydrogen from water)=CH4.
During WWII Germans synthesized fuel from mineral carbon and water.
July 2009 worldwide commercial synthetic fuels production capacity is over 240,000 barrels per day (38,000 m3/d), with numerous new projects in construction or development.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_fuel

GM
September 9, 2010 10:54 am

Jaye Bass said on I Am So Tired of Malthus
September 9, 2010 at 10:31 am
1. It appears that the unit of food produced for each hectare per human is going up.

It can not go higher than the theoretical limit of conversion of sun light into chemical energy by photosynthesis. and sun light is very limited. So much for your “we can grow as much food as we want” fantasies.

Ralph
September 9, 2010 10:56 am

>>>Patrick:
>>>You were aware that Afican’s had no concept of borders,
>>>until the “whiteman”
Pffff !!! What utopia world do you live in?
There were tribal borders in Africa thousands of years ago, and they were and are every bit a real as any national border today. And if you went into the wrong tribal area, there was every possibility that the machete or its equivalent would get an outing.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gukurahundi
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_in_Darfur
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007–2008_Kenyan_crisis
etc: etc:
(At their heart these are all tribal wars, a continuation of millennias of tribal conflict.)
.

Enneagram
September 9, 2010 10:58 am

What produces starvation, poverty, etc. it is not reproduction of people but the unconscious reproduction of bad politicians. An example:
Now he tells us: Cuba economic model doesn’t work, says Fidel
http://www.smh.com.au/world/now-he-tells-us-cuba-economic-model-doesnt-work-says-fidel-20100909-153bb.html?from=smh_sb

Gail Combs
September 9, 2010 11:06 am

Mister Mr says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:53 am
Excellent post. As someone who has spent time as a relief worker in some of the worst refugee camps on earth, I can relate from first hand experience…
________________
Reading your post reminds me of Stalin’s starvation of Ukrainian farmers, where millions died as the food they produced was stolen and exported. The worst horror was the way Westerners, eating that food, consistently denied that the atrocity was taking place. http://www.ukemonde.com/news/rferl.html
WHEN SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL visited Stalin at the Kremlin in August, 1942 he asked: ” … Have the stresses of the war been as bad to you personally as carrying through the policy of the Collective Farms?”
“Oh, no” he (Stalin) said, “the Collective Farm policy was a terrible srtuggle … Ten millions,” he said, holding up his hands. “It was fearful. Four years it lasted. It was absolutely necessary …” http://www.infoukes.com/history/famine/gregorovich/
I agree crap/evil politicians are the real problem.

Tenuc
September 9, 2010 11:07 am

GM says:
September 9, 2010 at 8:31 am
“Ah, I was waiting for that canard to come up.
First, your 2% is in all likelihood only true for developed countries.”

What a load of nonsense. People in the third world are no different as to innate metal ability, but they don’t get the same educational opportunities. However, history shows that geniuses are good at self learning and a western style education is not necessarily good for promoting new thought – too much rote learning and scientific dogma. Perhaps geniuses are not as easily recognised amongst them, but the are most certainly there. It is vital to development of mankind that the world population continues to grow as quickly as possible.
Every single new genius is incredibly important, as he/she could be the one to make a paradigm shift in our understanding of science. Without these inspirational people mankind would still be back in the caves!

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 11:09 am

David, UK says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:43 am
Oh yeah? Give me the sources.
And lets see, 503 Billion barrels at 30 Billion Barrels per year (and increasing) yields 16.8 years. Awesome.
And, maybe I did not look hard enough but I see the EIA giving the number of 198 Billion Barrels.
http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/pdf/pages/sec4_2.pdf
Please help me understand better.

Jimash
September 9, 2010 11:18 am

“Simple. Entropy always increases in a closed system, human bodies are a very low-entropy system, human civilization as a whole is at even lower entropy. So you need an external source of energy/negative entropy to keep things from falling apart. The size of the external flows of negentropy puts a hard limit to the growth of any human civilization”
[snip] and doubletalk.
{ re-organizing desk} “I refute it thus”.
[watch the language ~jove Mod]

Benjamin P.
September 9, 2010 11:20 am

@Jimash says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:35 am
Yeah, okay I will give you methane. We’ve observed that process on earth. But liquid petroleum, I don’t think so. Sorry for my ambiguity using the term “fossil fuel” when I meant oil.

September 9, 2010 11:23 am

It is a logical fallacy to think that, because things are the way they are currently (i.e. because we more than doubled caloric production in the past that we will be able to again), that they will continue to remain this way. It is a logical fallacy to think that, simply because Malthus has not be right up to this point, that he will always be wrong.
Famines have never been caused by a lack of food production but by a breakdown in mechanisms to deliver those foods.
We may be on the cusp of such a breakdown currently, as peak oil begins to take hold. That top-secret German army intelligence report had some pretty ominous predictions regarding this.
The Oil Drum’s article on the German military’s assessment of the geopolitical impact of peak oil: not for the squeamish

pedex
September 9, 2010 11:24 am

@ David UK
it is quite obvious you do not understand peak oil
It is obvious because showing untapped oil reserves does not in fact dispute how peak oil works, matter of fact as oil production worldwide declines there will always be untapped reserves, some economically viable and some not, nor will the oil ever run out as much of it can’t even be extracted.
about the best you could do argument wise here given present knowledge about the world’s endowment of oil which can be extracted would be to show that the world hasn’t reached the 50-60% mark of what can ultimately be extracted in an economically viable fashion
many people of course have already done this and their conclusions do not jive with yours
At present as mentioned earlier in this thread several govt’s have already published papers and outlooks laying all this out and what the potential fall out will be, unlimited never ending population growth of course isn’t among those conclusions. Malthus was right, he was just a bit premature. Basic physics places some hard limits on what can and cannot be done.

Gail Combs
September 9, 2010 11:41 am

On the issue of population expansion in Africa where the birth rate is high.
“…However, until the late 1980s there was little evidence of any change in fertility. Since then, many changes have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Although population growth rates remain high, signs of reductions in fertility are appearing in several populations once regarded as having little or no prospect of lower levels of reproduction in the short term…
Barney Cohen reviews levels, differentials, and trends in fertility for more than 30 countries from 1960 to 1992. He finds evidence of fertility decline in Botswana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, confirming the basic results of the DHS. What is new here though is his finding that the fertility decline appears to have occurred across cohorts of women at all parities, rather than just among women at middle and higher parities, as might have been expected on the basis of experience in other parts of the world. He also presents evidence that fertility may have begun to fall in parts of Nigeria and possibly in Senegal…”

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=2207&page=3
And as I have mentioned before there allegedly has been work done on sterilization with or without consent of those sterilized.
Epicyte’s Spermicidal corn: http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/56608
Covert Sterilization programs: http://www.whale.to/m/sterile.html

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 11:43 am

GM,
“Simple. Entropy always increases in a closed system, human bodies are a very low-entropy system, human civilization as a whole is at even lower entropy. So you need an external source of energy/negative entropy to keep things from falling apart. The size of the external flows of negentropy puts a hard limit to the growth of any human civilization.”
I understand that energy always increases in a closed system, but the Earth is an open system, one that is fed by energy from the sun. This has allowed entropy to remain low on earth for a billion years of evolution. However, in your earlier post, you implied that the laws of thermodynamics would cause a collapse of civilization by 2030. Surely, the entropy problem you are talking about is only what will happen when the sun dies.

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 11:44 am

Correction: I understand that ENTROPY always increases. . .

September 9, 2010 11:46 am

The following was written originally in 2001, and updated a bit in 2004. If I updated it today I would simply emphasize that rather than a clear peak we are on a bumpy plateau since late 2004, and will start the terminal decline about 2012/2013, and would discuss Ghwar and MRC wells in some detail.
“There is a phenomenon, well known in the oil industry but little publicized, that when an oil field has been about 50% depleted, production begins an irreversible decline. In the mid 1950s, a petroleum geologist named M. King Hubbert applied this concept to an analysis of the lower 48 states, and predicted a decline of production starting about 1970. He was derided at the time, but lower 48 USA oil production has been in decline since 1970. The phenomenon has been named the Hubbert Peak, and the production growth and decline curve is often referred to as a Hubbert Curve.
In 1998, using the best petroleum industry database available, two petroleum engineers (Campbell and Laherrere) applied a Hubbert analysis to the entire world, and predicted a peak between 2000 and 2010. Refined analyses since then focus on 2005 to 2010. In fact, due to economic and political factors, there is more likely to be an irregular plateau, with possibly several small peaks before the decline, but a decline by 2010 seems inevitable. There is a great deal of real data to support such a view and little but untenable optimism to support alternative views. “In God we trust, others please bring data!”
Almost all known world oil provinces are now in or very near decline. The major exceptions are the Middle East and the Caspian region. The Middle East can still increase output, but not enough to fully offset rest-of-world decline beyond 2010. The Middle East will also be in decline before 2020. The Caspian reserves are only a little more than one year’s world oil consumption, so will not long delay a peak.
The petroleum industry employs a complex, inconsistently-applied terminology referring to resources, reserves, oil in place, estimated ultimately recoverable, etc., and there are no standardized and regulated reporting rules or controlled reporting agency. Therefore only careful analyses of database trends over time, by industry experts (geologists, not corporate heads) can produce a reasonably reliable picture. Such analyses tell us that the world’s original endowment of recoverable petroleum liquids (conventional petroleum plus natural gas liquids), is between 1800 and 2,300 Gb. About 900 Gb have already been used, leaving (optimistically) 250 to the Hubbert Peak. At present consumption rates, that is less than 10 years, and consumption is growing. (It could be quite less!)
We know that Middle East reported reserves grew by about 280Gb between 1987 and 1990, with little additional exploration, and remained constant during the 1990s in spite of continuous production. It is more likely that reserves are overstated than understated. Middle East reported reserves seem to have been influenced by OPEC quotas.
Recoverable oil is relatively rare in the earth’s crust and lies in now well-understood geologic formations. The entire world has been mapped by satellite and promising areas have been surveyed. Hopeful areas have been seismically explored and the best have been drilled. Oil is distributed fractally along a curve of declining field size versus increasing field occurrence. There are very few super giants, (and only one Ghawar, the most super giant) a few more giants, more majors, etc. down to many, many insignificant fields. Because they are the easiest to detect, the big ones are found first, and they have been found. There are about 41,000 known oil fields worldwide, of which about 21,000 are termed very small to insignificant. The probability that we have found so many small fields, and overlooked any more big ones is near zero.
Oil discovery peaked about 1963. During the decade from 1958 to 1968, discovery averaged about 42 Gb per year, mainly due to the Middle East. More than 70% of the world’s oil was discovered more than 30 years ago. Discovery averaged about 6 Gb per year during the 1990s, (about ¼ of consumption) and discovery per exploration dollar has been in decline for decades. Reserves growth peaked in the late 1980s with the development of new tools like 3D imaging, digital analysis, and horizontal drilling, as well as political issues like OPEC quotas. In the 1990s discovery averaged about 25% of production, and discovery plus real reserve growth may have been 35% of production.
World discovery has been in decline for nearly 40 years, and discovery plus reserve growth for at least 10 years. Now total reserves are also in decline. At some point, production must also begin to decline, and that point is soon.
The USA consumes about 25% of world oil production and imports about 55% of consumption. With growing demand from developing countries and exploding populations in OPEC countries, we will not be able to maintain our present share of world oil, short of occupying the Middle East. When world availability begins to decline, our availability will decline faster. What happens when, about six years from now, a 1%-2% annual increase in demand encounters a 3%-4% annual decrease in supply?”

1DandyTroll
September 9, 2010 11:47 am

I have a very easy solution to yer problem right. It’s not considered a kind of heart solution but alas that’s a more philosophical problem.
Any person or persons that think the world is getting overpopulated or that the world otherwise can’t sustain the world population or that the world otherwise that the mass of population is creating a less sustainable environment than the world can handle, well they are all, hopefully, free to off ’em self to help support their own claim and be part of their own solutions.
I’m not sorry if that sounds crude for a person who want to dictate for others first need to live up to his own solution to his dictated problem.

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 11:48 am

Ralph,
“So who puts the Foraminifera into the oil deposits, and the fern leaves into coal deposits eh??”
From what I’ve read, proponents of abiogenic oil believe the foraminifera enter the oil as it moves through fossil deposits. As far as I’m aware, this hypothesis has not been falsified, but it is by no means certain to be true either.

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 11:50 am

Ralph,
“So who puts the Foraminifera into the oil deposits, and the fern leaves into coal deposits eh??
I should have pointed out as well, it is universally accepted that coal is a fossil fuel. It is only oil that has the alternative theory.

Tenuc
September 9, 2010 11:57 am

GM says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:52 am
“URR <<<< OOIP if rock porosity is very low. So it happens that the Bakken shale has an extremely low porosoity (which is why it is shale and you can't just poke a pole in the ground and collect the resulting gusher as people were doing in Texas and the Middle East back in the days). Which makes you 530 billion barrels more like 1 or 2, and at a very meager flow rate on top of that”
More rubbish – your cup must always be half empty, GM. The development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology changes the game and this, along with the continuing high price of crude, will make the Bakken shale the target of the next ‘black gold’ rush.
No-one knows how much oil and natural gas the large areas of shale can produce and the experts estimates vary widely. The late Lee Price, who spent most of his career researching the Bakken shale, estimated the yield could be as high as 50% of reserves, while values presented in ND Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Hearings have ranged from a low of 3 to 10%.
Useful paper on the topic here:-
https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/bakken/newpostings/07272006_BakkenReserveEstimates.pdf
I have full confidence that as technology advances our current estimates of what can be recovered from oils shale across the globe will look ridiculously low by 2040.

September 9, 2010 11:59 am

Bakken recoverable is estimated at about 2% of OOIP, and d on’t expect technology to change that much. The technology is very mature. 10 Gb recoverable – 1/3rd of world annual consumption.

Gary Pearse
September 9, 2010 12:03 pm

Lets get a measure of the population to help us understand what we are dealing with.
Lake Superior could hold 90 billion people, 15 times the present pop of earth, each with one square meter to tread water in. The only problem is the transportation to get them there, and of course assuming they want to go there.

Andrew W
September 9, 2010 12:05 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:56 am
Iron ore, crude oil, natural gas are all resources by any definition I’ve ever heard of, what’s made as a result of processing these things and turning them into useful items are called products.

Andrew W
September 9, 2010 12:08 pm

anna v says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:16 am
Abiotic oil is nonsense, if oil were produced in the Earths mantel we’d find it in volcanically active areas.

DirkH
September 9, 2010 12:16 pm

GM says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:48 am
“[…]So you need an external source of energy/negative entropy to keep things from falling apart. ”
Bugger. Exactly quantified as usual. But i wanted to say a different thing. I found out who GM is.
The Ghost of Malthus.

September 9, 2010 12:19 pm

One big problem with food supply has historically been plagues that used to destroy up to 80% of food production. A fast example was the Irish starvation in the mid 1800 when the blight affected potato crops. Today it is unthinkable another event like that due to advances in fungicides and other pesticides.
But crops are subject to rot and decomposing during storage and transport that can spoil up 60% of production. The only fumigant effective and cheap enough to prevent this has been bromide dimethyl that gets rid of pests. But it has been targeted as an ozone depletion substance and will be banned from use worldwide. We know that the world population reduction lobby was behind the ozone scare (and scam), as it is behind the banning of most useful products, processes and techniques related to agriculture, as pesticides and herbicides, GMO, irrigation, construction of new dams, etc.
As for soil fertility loss, Argentina and Brazil have been using the tilling method of “surface seeding”, abandoning the traditional deep tilling that involves lots of work, lots of fuel use and double pass of machinery. We are presently planting the seed in just one pass with a very shallow removal of the soil (about 2 inches). This prevents wind and water erosion by a big deal.
The use of nitrogen fertilizers is not very much extended because of its cost in grain crops, but there are people who use it for expensive crops, especially in “greenhouse farms” producing vegetables. Another great improvement in yields has been the introduction of satellite technologies, where machinery equipped with GPS and computer programs takes the job from human operators and do the job automatically.
That way, Argentina and Brazil have increased their grain yield and production almost 3X while reducing costs. Actually, the Horse Power input to agriculture has been steadily reduced since the early 70s. But Argentina could produce even more grains, meat, and other foods –only if we had a government that stopped fighting and looting farmers and cattle ranchers. We are the only country that taxes exports up to 50% of the gross crop value while the EU subsidizes agriculture and meat production!

Yarmy
September 9, 2010 12:29 pm

As I’ve said elsewhere, not only was Malthus emphatically wrong, he was also a deeply unpleasant human being. He blamed the poor for their own poverty and opposed any kind of welfare or mass relief since it would only make them even more idle.
As for the Irish, ‘a great part of the population should be swept from the soil.’

Jimash
September 9, 2010 12:34 pm

“Benjamin P. says:
September 9, 2010 at 11:20 am
@Jimash says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:35 am
Yeah, okay I will give you methane. We’ve observed that process on earth. But liquid petroleum, I don’t think so. ”
Thanks. Certainly the classification of methane as a fossil fuel is not unreasonable, as a biological source is easily identified.
Yet it exists without the biology.
Whether the same can be said for liquid petroleum could still be a question.

GM
September 9, 2010 12:39 pm

DirkH said on I Am So Tired of Malthus
September 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm
GM says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:48 am
“[…]So you need an external source of energy/negative entropy to keep things from falling apart. ”
Bugger. Exactly quantified as usual. But i wanted to say a different thing. I found out who GM is.

Sid I just see some cretin reject the Second law? I never thought I will live to see this day, they never go that far, but there’s always someone….
The Ghost of Malthus.

Djozar
September 9, 2010 12:43 pm

Yarmy says:
“As for the Irish, ‘a great part of the population should be swept from the soil.’”
So are we back to Jonathan Swift and “A Modest Proposal”?

Steve from Rockwood
September 9, 2010 12:51 pm

Willis,
Population growth and food production do not have to be geometric or arithmetic but they will be roughly the same. They are closely linked because people grow food for their own consumption – directly or indirectly (by feeding cattle for example). More people, more food. The link between population growth and food production is similar to the link between temperature rise and CO2 increase, although the time lag of the former is much shorter 🙂 (couldn’t resist).
Great work Willis. Enjoy reading your thoughts.
Malthus did not know that mechanized farming would change food production. He was just another unfortunate soul whose theory was wrecked by the future.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 12:51 pm

Vince Causey says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:36 am
The article refers to thousands of papers, not just those of Kudryavtsev. It has already been shown that oil can be manufactured in laboratories using enormous temperatures and pressures, and the chemical reactions are well understood. Of course, none of this proves oil is abiogenic – it merely shows it is chemically possible.
—————-
Get and read the book Oil 101, it explain why oil must be biogeneic.

Neo
September 9, 2010 12:53 pm

Let me guess .. that upturn in LDC calories in the past 12-15 years is due the the proliferation of McDonalds restaurants into LDC countries.

September 9, 2010 12:54 pm

“It’s people. Soylent Green is made out of people. They’re making our food out of people” – Detective Thorn, Soylent Green
Sorry, I could not help it after reading the article.

September 9, 2010 12:54 pm

Ralph says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:03 am
Take the Holodomor, for instance. Stalin destablilises the economic/political system that organises agriculture in the USSR, and up to 10 million people starve in the Ukraine.
Yes, up to 10,000,000 people starved, in just one small region.

It was a bit more than simply destabilizing the economic/political system that organized agriculture in the USSR. The famine was most certainly pre-designed, the last scraps collected by armed militia, hiding food was punished by imprisonment and forced labor, people were prevented fleeing by barbed wire fences and the food collected this way was sold on the international market. That’s what happened, a fine act of social engineering.
It has nothing to do with Malthus, as neither the Bengal famine of 1943 or the post-war German famine, when infant mortality went up to a horrible 60%.
It is the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-51 that comes closest to a Malthusian catastrophe. Population of the Irish isle even now is smaller than it used to be in 1840, at the same time there are about seventy million people worldwide claiming Irish origin.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 12:56 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:33 pm
And since food growth around the planet (mechanized or not) has kept up with population growth, I fear that Malthus’s theory is entirely and completely wrong. Population growth is not geometric, nor is food production growth arithmetic. Not sure how much wronger someone could be, but Malthus based his theory on two points, and both were wrong.
———-
That food growth was possible only because of the growth in oil production, something Malthus couldn’t possibly known about.
It is interesting that food production in China is getting so far behind that they are buying land in African countries to grow food for them.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 1:10 pm

Tenuc says:
September 9, 2010 at 11:57 am
No-one knows how much oil and natural gas the large areas of shale can produce and the experts estimates vary widely. The late Lee Price, who spent most of his career researching the Bakken shale, estimated the yield could be as high as 50% of reserves, while values presented in ND Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Hearings have ranged from a low of 3 to 10%.
————-
50% is not possible for Bakken. Even light sweet crude deposits give up only 40-60% with high porosity. The official USGS figure for Bakken is about 1% of the deposit over it’s life span.
You need to understand, all who question peak oil, it’s not about what’s in the ground. It’s about flow rate and ERoEI. Soon as a deposit costs more energy than you get out of the deposit, it’s game over for that deposit. In the 1960’s EroEI was about 100:1. Today it’s 20:1. The Alberta tar sands is 6:1 (their number) for extraction and production at site, not including local infrastructure and down stream refining and transport. 4:1 is the break even for society.
Flow rate is also very important. If the decline rate of older fields is greater than the extraction rate of new fields, then we are in an over all terminal decline. No matter how much is in Bakken, or the Arctic or in the “oil” shales of Colorado (It’s not oil, it’s kerogen).
Soon as net available oil is smaller than demand, then countries will out bid others for that oil.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 1:19 pm

Enneagram says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:53 am
During WWII Germans synthesized fuel from mineral carbon and water.
July 2009 worldwide commercial synthetic fuels production capacity is over 240,000 barrels per day (38,000 m3/d), with numerous new projects in construction or development.
————–
That process is a negative ERoEI. It costs more energy to make that fuel than you get out of it. Society runs on NET energy, not gross energy.

Steve from Rockwood
September 9, 2010 1:21 pm

@ Patrick Davis.
Many Toyota Land Cruisers as well. Hard to gain a feel for an entire country in only one month, I agree. I was very surprised by the amount of food present (given the recent famine in Ethiopia back then) and the high relative number of expensive cars. Mercedes in Addis, Land Rovers and Land Cruisers in the country. Fiats, yes of course.
I guess the point was there was a lot of money in Ethiopia even during the famine. Food could easily have made its way to the poor and starving, in a Mercedes or a Fiat. But what drives famine is not a lack of food but a lack of money by the poor who are suddenly left with nothing. There will always be more food than compassion to share it.

Tim
September 9, 2010 1:21 pm

If widespread starvation does happen it is not due to a lack of food. Just do a 10% reduction in the arms race like was done in the 1990s and you have lots of money to do lots of cool projects like provide clean water, sanitation etc. One thing that the Malthus types always seem to “forget” is that if population is a real problem just raise the standard of living and the population growth rate drops or actually goes negative. Raising the standard of living doesn’t mean up to our level and certainly not with our resource consumption level. Just enough clean water, sanitation, food and shelter would be enough in most places.

GM
September 9, 2010 1:22 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm
However, if you’d like to defend your claims, please define for us what “overshoot” means in terms of food. Next, let us know how you are measuring overshoot, so that you are able to determine that we are currently in “maximum overshoot”. Then provide some evidence, not further claims but evidence, that things improve during overshoot and are therefore best at the point of “maximum overshoot”.
Once you have that evidence in hand, you will have a viable hypothesis. Until then, you are just repeating meaningless Malthusian claims in the finest Ehrlichian tradition.

This is what I wrote before in this same thread, worth repeating:

People like Catton have hundreds of years of research in ecology plus thousands of years of human history to back up their predictions. The exact timing of collapse after overshoot will be hard to predict, of course, there are so many unknowns, but it is 100% certain that it will happen. To deny that, you have to deny one or all of the following:
1. Such things as the laws of thermodynamics and physics
2. Basic principles of ecology and population dynamics such as the already mentioned ecological overshoot-population collapse sequence of events. Things that have been observed hundreds and thousands of times in the wild and in the lab and are absolutely indisputable
3. That 1) and 2) apply to humans. This is the essence of the “technology will save us” mantra that gets repeated so often by economists and which the majority here have completely bought into. Yet it all really boils down to denial of 1) and 2) (usually caused by total lack of understanding of those fields, which in turn is caused by the complete failure of our educational system but let’s not go into that)

September 9, 2010 1:25 pm

William R Catton, who advises to read his book which he says is the real authority, wrote a paper on “the problem of denial” which, inter alia, clearly affirms AGW.

RK
September 9, 2010 1:38 pm

Ralph says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:03 am
Think it cannot happen again? Take a look at Rhodesia. Breadbasket of Africa in the 1950s. Change the political system, and the place is now starving. The problem being, the greater the world population, the more will starve to death.
Place (Zimbabwe ex South Rhodesia) is not starving. It had big potential for starvation but thanks to UN, US, EU et al. help did not starve.

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 1:43 pm

Richard Wakefield,
“That food growth was possible only because of the growth in oil production, something Malthus couldn’t possibly known about.”
Eureka! Something happened that an expert couldn’t possibly have foreseen. Do you see a pattern emerging here?

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 1:45 pm

Richard Wakefield,
“Get and read the book Oil 101, it explain why oil must be biogeneic.”
I don’t want to buy the book. Can you summarise in 2 sentences why oil must be biogenic?

Vince Causey
September 9, 2010 1:47 pm

Richard Wakefield,
“4:1 is the break even for society.”
Why 4:1 and not 2:1 or 3:2?

Steve from Rockwood
September 9, 2010 1:48 pm

Richard Lakefield says ” …food production in China is getting so far behind that they are buying land in African countries to grow food for them”.
Is this because China is facing a shortage of food, or an excess of capital that now allows them the luxury of having other countries grow their food more cheaply than China could grow it themselves?
This seems to be the way of the world. Work hard, get rich, get everyone else to work for you. Get fat and complacent. The people you hired are one day richer than you. They start the next cycle.
A fat and complacent China. Now that could lead to a food crisis…

Espen
September 9, 2010 1:52 pm

Ralph That has been true of the Western world, but it has not been tried and tested in the Islamic world. Islam promotes reproductive incontinence, as a method of dominating a region, through demographic saturation.
It’s true that some islamic leaders have made such statements, but facts are that it has indeed been “tried and tested” in the Islamic world, and with great success: The fertility rate in several of the largest islamic countries is plummeting. Most notably, it’s down to 1.7 in Iran, due to very efficient government-initiated family planning. Perhaps even more remarkable: The fertility rate in the vast islamic country Indonesia is now at 2.28 and will presumably drop below the 2.1 level in a few years.
I suggest that you inform yourself better before you spread BS the next time.

Z
September 9, 2010 2:07 pm

The problem can be summed up in a few graphs:
Crop yields: http://blog.sustainablog.org/wp-content/files/2009/08/cornwheat1.jpg You can see the start of the green revolution. You can also see that the improvement in yields is still linear even after that.
http://www.population-growth-migration.info/images/Past-World-Population2.gif
You can plainly see, that population growth is exponential.
Now this is a big old world, and linear production can continue to be higher than exponential demand for a long time – but I will GUARANTEE that over time exponential will always triumph over linear. Always.
Now there are people who say that population has an S shaped curve, but don’t say why it has an S shaped curve. Under animal populations, it is because they run short of some resource or other (like food or water or breeding sites).
Some humans may choose not to be fertile. Over the long-run their numbers will reduce (even if just proportionatly), and that section of humanity that chooses to be fertile will overrun them. You can see this in action is many contended areas around the world such as the Balkans, Northern Ireland, South Africa etc etc.
Peak Oil is also another problem mentioned. If you mention “Peak Oil” and “Reserves” in the same breath, you simply don’t understand the issue. It’s a production issue, not a reserve issue. Imagine I found out an infinitely renewable resource that could be used to power my car – would I be happy? Of course! Now let’s imagine that infinitely renewable resource is actually your saliva. I have somewhere to go – tomorrow – it’ll take 15 gallons – of your saliva – fill ‘er up!
Oh…and one final graph…
http://www.raisethehammer.org/static/images/fig5.jpg

pedex
September 9, 2010 2:18 pm

@ vince causey
4:1 is about as low as we can go and still have enough leverage to enjoy all the power oil allows us to have or any energy source for that matter
it all boils down to leverage, using 1 barrel of oil to get 4 back provides enough extra energy or leverage to transport, process, distribute, and consume all the products oil is used for and still have enough margin to make it all work
The higher the leverage the better and we have for a long time now enjoyed some high levels of energy return on energy invested. This is what makes any energy source valuable. This is why oil became so prominent over coal or wood, not just its handling properties but its return on energy used to be quite high.

bill
September 9, 2010 2:19 pm

even if the abiotic oil theory is bunk, there’s an awful lot we don’t know about porosity, and paths to recoverability. Campbell once told me, if it (abiotic theory) is right, then all of geology is wrong. Interesting idea. Geologys only been around for a couple of hundred years, why shouldn’t it be wrong? Geology certainly has shifted its ground (ha ha) When I was at school Geology was quite clear that oil only came out of on end of a syncline, found in Saudi, Texas, one or two other places. Obviously a lot more synclines around these days. AGW has been around for over 100 years, and its wrong.

GM
September 9, 2010 2:20 pm

Vince Causey said on I Am So Tired of Malthus
September 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm
I don’t want to buy the book. Can you summarise in 2 sentences why oil must be biogenic?

He will do it and then you are going to say “Ugh, I wanna see evidence, not mere assertions, give me peer-reviewed articles”. It has happened to me before here.

September 9, 2010 2:23 pm

“But the notion that ‘vast areas’ are built on is just broken. The entire world population could fit in Texas and Oklahoma in standard suburban homes with large yards leaving the rest of the world empty. If done at the population density of London, it would clearly be far less land. “
hmmm …
World Population = 6 billion people
Land Area of TX & OK = 331,000 mi^2 (US Census Bureau)
Density = 6 x 10^9 people/ 3.3 x 10^5 mi^2 = 18,000 people / mi^2
or about 7,100 people km^2
The current population density of London = 4,800 people / km^2 ( from Wikipedia). So putting one giant “London” over all of TX and OK would STILL provide only 2/3 of the space needed for the world population. We would need considerably MORE room, not considerably LESS room.
**************************************
“everyone can have an ocean view condo, with no building higher than about 4 stories (IIRC) and with only ONE building thickness between ocean and backyard. (That is, one end of your condo looks at the ocean, the other end looks at ‘big empty’ inland. No other buildings). The math is rather interesting. ”
hmmmm …
World Coastline: 356,000 km (CIA World Factbook)
6 x 10^9 people / 356,000 km = 17,000 people per km of shore line.
Stacked 4 floors tall = 4,000 people/km = 4 people/m.
But the fractal nature would come into play. If the CIA estimate is on a broad scale, the smaller bays and peninsulas could boost this a bit. So perhaps each person would get a meter or two of ocean view to call their own. (Although a lot of people would end up with views of the polar ice cap or inhospitable deserts.)
************************************
Part of the problem with any discussion like this is that people throw around “facts” without any particular backing. If a reference was given or calculations shown, then it would be much easier to accept claims.
I’ll go back to my own corner of the internet for a while and leave the rest of you to discuss … 🙂

bill
September 9, 2010 2:26 pm

For those who are interested, I would say the best book on peakoil is Campbells ‘Coming Oil Crisis’. Its a 1997 book, but the analysis holds good even if thedetail is out of date. His later one, Oil Crisis, while interesting, IMHO, not so good/useful.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 2:31 pm

I don’t want to buy the book. Can you summarise in 2 sentences why oil must be biogenic?
———
One is the geology. One can usually find the source rock that the oil came from, it will always be biological. See the source rock for Tupi, the “big” find off Brazil. The second reason is many of the molecules in early formed oil, like kerogen, are the same as biological lipids.
The main argument, in that first link I posted, is that oil at great depth cannot survive the heat.
Also, oil cannot move into tight formations like Bakken. Bakken is an example of the oil being in the source rock.
Again, this is an excellent summery of why abiotic is not viable:
http://static.scribd.com/docs/j79lhbgbjbqrb.pdf

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 2:36 pm

Eureka! Something happened that an expert couldn’t possibly have foreseen. Do you see a pattern emerging here?
———-
No expert can defy the laws of physics.
Fact 1: Oil is finite because the planet is finite
Fact 2: Oil is extremely rare in geological terms
Fact 3: easily extracted oil will aways be consumed first
Fact 4: less easy oil will be of lower quality requiring more energy to extract and refine than easy oil, and will have a lower flow rate
Fact 5: the world’s largest fields are all in terminal decline
Fact 6: new “giant” fields are small. Even Bakken at some 450bb, is only 13 years of world consumption (33bb/year)
No technology, no “expert” can change any of these.

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 2:40 pm

“4:1 is the break even for society.”
Why 4:1 and not 2:1 or 3:2?
—–
It has to do with maintaining and repairing of infrastructure.
http://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/2/1/25/pdf

Tenuc
September 9, 2010 2:42 pm

Ralph says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:13 am
>>Tenuc:
>>Nuclear power stations currently produce around 15%
>>of the worlds demand for electricity
“Yes, but electricity only accounts for 8% of total energy demand. So nuclear power is still a very small percentage of our power – I make that 1.2% of total energy supply.
Mike was right, there has been little change in our energy supply materials for two or more centuries.

Ever more rubbish – looks like you glass is always half full too, Ralph!
In 2005 nuclear power accounted for 6.3% of world’s total primary energy supply. The technology is proven, is scalable – with enough fissionable material to last for thousands of years. Just need the price of fossil fuels to rise a little bit more and the growth of nuclear power will mushroom!

Richard Wakefield
September 9, 2010 2:46 pm

AGW has been around for over 100 years, and its wrong.
—————
AGW has been around for about 30 years.
There is big difference in the two. First Peak Oil is not promoted by a UN body equivelent to the IPCC. There isn’t billions being spend on peak oil studies like AGW. And there isn’t the political motivation behind Peak Oil as their is AGW.
Just because AGW is a myth does not mean Peak Oil is. They have to be judged on their own merits. Peak Oil is being written about from a number of independant studies.
Peak Oil is also far easier to understand than the complex climate system.

September 9, 2010 2:52 pm

“Mushroom”? ha ha

Gnomish
September 9, 2010 3:04 pm

I always enjoy your posts, Willis.
When you bring overwhelming facts to bear on a single issue, there’s never any wiggle room for escape.

Pascvaks
September 9, 2010 3:06 pm

Ref – Willis Eschenbach says:
September 9, 2010 at 1:02 pm
Pascvaks says:
September 9, 2010 at 4:53 am
Willis:
Ok! True enough! When we lose hope, we’ve lost everything. Sometimes I feel like a pauper. But I do think that population and not global warming is what they’re actually so upset about. AGW is a major campaign, not the whole nine yards.
PS: I too hope and (you know) that the silent multitude who read WUWT are taking away all this and passing it on.

GM
September 9, 2010 3:30 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
September 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm
Now, any farmer can tell you when they have exceeded the carrying capacity of the land. How? The yield starts to drop immediately. Not next week. Not “in time”. Immediately.
And since we see no sign of said decrease in yield, I say your claim that we are in “overshoot” is nonsense.

1. Imagine that you remove all the non-renewable resources that you use in order to get these yields – oil to drive the large mechanized equipment, fertilizers (phosphorus and natural gas), pesticides (oil), irrigation (fossil fresh water in most cases), and see what yield will be. So much for not being in overshoot
2. On top of that, you have completely failed to understand the ecological basics of overshoot and the very simple concept of a time lag between entering overshoot and the onset of collapse.

GM
September 9, 2010 3:33 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
So I’d say have having research available means absolutely nothing about the validity of predictions. You keep talking about “overshoot”, but no one yet has demonstrated that “overshoot” even exists, much less that it has the properties that you claim it has. More facts and less theory would go a long way here. You may be “100% certain” as you claim, but surely you must know that means less than nothing without hard evidence to back it up.

Let’s do the following experiment – I am at the balcony of the 10th floor of a building, you are on the street. I will drop a brick on from the 10th floor aiming straight for your head. How much evidence will it take for you to stop denying the laws of gravity and move out of its way?

GM
September 9, 2010 3:51 pm

Willis Eschenbach said on I Am So Tired of Malthus
September 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm
I spell “peak oil” as “technology plus price”. How much oil is out there? Depends on price. If oil is at $10 per barrel, there is very, very little. At $110 per barrel, on the other hand, there is lots.

Ever heard of net energy? Apparently not. There is a reason why oil at $110 is at $110. Not to mention the flow problem. In other words, call me when you find a way to produce the 1 billion barrels of heavy oil in Orinoco at a rate of 20 million barrels a day. And you conveniently forget that 30 years later it will be all gone…

And we are currently burning oil that we could not even access two decades ago, because of the lack of technology.

Yet the majority of our oil still comes from the super giant fields found in the 1950s.

Or for another example, at $100 per barrel, cost-effective technology exists to convert coal to oil. How much oil is there in that case? The “peak” is a function of price and technology.

Again, what is the EROEI in this case and how much could you produce in this case. And even if, in a totally unrealistic scenario, you could replace capacity lost due to depletion with coal-to-liquids, what happens to the climate in such a case and how does this help solve the problems with fossil aquifer depletion, topsoil loss, general ecosystem collapse, depletion of various high grade ores, the list goes on. It doesn’t and Liebig’s law (another thing you are probably in complete denial of or haven’t even heard of but which will continue to be as true as it ever was no matter whether you want to deny it or not) will still do us

Then you say that “exports peaked in 2005″. Nonsense. Here are the numbers:

Where did you get these plots from? They make absolutely no sense.

As you can see, no peak. Nor have proved reserves fallen. In fact, despite all the oil we pump and use, proved reserves have increased steadily since 1980. From the same source:

Again, what is the source? I wouldn’t ask in general, but given that it is a very well known fact that global oil discovery peaked in the 60s, and we are consuming 5 times what we’re finding right now, I have all the reasons to think that you, or your source are simply lying

Gail Combs
September 9, 2010 3:56 pm

Berényi Péter says:
September 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm
Ralph says:
September 9, 2010 at 10:03 am
Take the Holodomor, for instance. Stalin destablilises the economic/political system that organises agriculture in the USSR, and up to 10 million people starve in the Ukraine.
Yes, up to 10,000,000 people starved, in just one small region.
_________________________________________________
The comment, at least by me, was as an example of politicians being the main source of the food distribution problem in answer to:
Mister Mr says: September 9, 2010 at 12:53 am
” Excellent post. As someone who has spent time as a relief worker in some of the worst refugee camps on earth, I can relate from first hand experience that, short of temporary natural disasters, the problem is not that there isn’t enough food… what stands in the way most often is men with guns who call themselves “the government” in these regions…”

SteveSadlov
September 9, 2010 4:01 pm

I even go so far as to question the groupthink that the world population peak will occur 40 years from now or even later. I cannot rule out the possibility we are at it NOW.

GM
September 9, 2010 4:04 pm

Willis Eschenbach said on I Am So Tired of Malthus
September 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm
The issue is not technology. The issue is that when people get hungry they do whatever it takes to feed themselves. They plant more acreage. They double crop. They do what they need to do.

Only if it is physically possible. If it is not, they die. As has happened countless times historically.
[snip]

pedex
September 9, 2010 4:11 pm

[img]http://www.theoildrum.com/files/Oil%20discoveries.png[/img]
[img]http://www.theoildrum.com/files/Oil%20production%20plateau.png[/img]
dunno if those tags worked or not, anyway the IEA disagrees
so does the basic physics of oil fields:
regardless of technology they hit the depletion zone at roughly the time where about half the recoverable oil has been extracted, and all oil fields do this, even with tertiary techniques being used from the beginning—that tends to flatten out the production curve but make the crash far sharper when they do deplete
all the major fields are in decline, the smaller newer ones are no longer keeping up with the decline rates
and that’s but a small data sample, the IEA has much more, so does theoildrum.com
another factor in play here is that as the oil export market shrinks the domestic demand of the oil exporters themselves will also climb and since their exports are what is leftover after satisfying their consumption the export market will fall much faster than the world oil production rate………..this is known as the “land export model” credit to jeffrey brown(I think)

September 9, 2010 4:17 pm

GM says:
“Apparently the authors [sic] has zero awareness of basic principles of ecology.”
Too funny. GM has it exactly backward. “Ecologists” have zero awareness of the Scientific Method. They’re at about the same level of scientific rigor as astrologists.

pedex
September 9, 2010 4:22 pm
September 9, 2010 4:27 pm

On abiogenic oil:

Later in his life, Tommy Gold promoted another heretical idea, that the oil and natural gas in the ground come up from deep in the mantle of the earth and have nothing to do with biology. Again the experts are sure that he is wrong, and he did not live long enough to change their minds. Just a few weeks before he died, some chemists at the Carnegie Institution in Washington did a beautiful experiment in a diamond anvil cell, [Scott et al., 2004]. They mixed together tiny quantities of three things that we know exist in the mantle of the earth, and observed them at the pressure and temperature appropriate to the mantle about two hundred kilometers down. The three things were calcium carbonate which is sedimentary rock, iron oxide which is a component of igneous rock, and water. These three things are certainly present when a slab of subducted ocean floor descends from a deep ocean trench into the mantle. The experiment showed that they react quickly to produce lots of methane, which is natural gas. Knowing the result of the experiment, we can be sure that big quantities of natural gas exist in the mantle two hundred kilometers down. We do not know how much of this natural gas pushes its way up through cracks and channels in the overlying rock to form the shallow reservoirs of natural gas that we are now burning. If the gas moves up rapidly enough, it will arrive intact in the cooler regions where the reservoirs are found. If it moves too slowly through the hot region, the methane may be reconverted to carbonate rock and water. The Carnegie Institute experiment shows that there is at least a possibility that Tommy Gold was right and the natural gas reservoirs are fed from deep below.
[source]

Supporting Dr Gold’s hypothesis are the methane seas on Titan, a moon of Saturn. Did ancient organisms create those hydrocarbons, too?

Z
September 9, 2010 4:28 pm

Not quite sure where your oil production diagram comes from – perhaps it’s BP only.
http://localfuture.org/charts/20080301/20080301WorldOilProductionWissnerLarge.GIF

Gail Combs
September 9, 2010 4:31 pm

Willis, I maybe a pessimist (at least in regards to politicians) but I agree with you on this.
My favorite say for this subject is “LEAD, FOLLOW or get the heck out of the way.”
Instead we have Donkey’s rears like Paul Ehrlich grabbing the ear of the politicians and preaching “de-development of the USA” or John Dewey messing up the US education system to produce mindless followers for socialism. Despite the obstacles the Malthusians and others have thrown up we have had major increases in our food supply. As a farmer, the only reason I can see for this not to continue is because government and regulations get in the way.
I noticed a big argument here about oil…
So how about mini and micro nuclear.
“Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs….” http://www.nextenergynews.com/news1/next-energy-news-toshiba-micro-nuclear-12.17b.html
“In 2007, Toshiba initiated the process for preliminary review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the 4S system, a next-generation, super-small nuclear reactor system, with a view to securing commercialization of the system.
The targeted date of commercialization of the 4S system is after the mid-2010s. “

http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Toshiba%27s_Home_Nuclear_Fusion_Reactor
Don’t like that one , how about one small enough to power a cargo ship or perhaps a train?
“John Deal, the Hyperion CEO, says that such micro nuclear reactors should cost about $25 million each. In the U.S., where people spent more energy than in other parts of the world, such a reactor should be able to deliver power to only 10,000 households, for a cost of $2,500 per home. But in developing nations, one HPM could provide enough power for 60,000 homes or more, for a cost of less than $400. This is quite reasonable if you agree with Hyperion, which states that the energy from its HPMs will cost about 10 cents/watt.
On its home page, Hyperion gives additional details about these reactors and their safety. “Small enough to be transported on a ship, truck or train, Hyperion power modules are about the size of a “hot tub” — approximately 1.5 meters wide…”
http://www.zdnet.com/blog/emergingtech/a-micro-nuclear-reactor-in-your-garden/1089
Those are just two, ready to run now from a quick look on the internet. The only thing keeping us from progressing is the people who “know what is best for us” and the politicians who believe them.
“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.” — H L Mencken

Z
September 9, 2010 4:33 pm

Smokey says:
September 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm
Supporting Dr Gold’s hypothesis are the methane seas on Titan, a moon of Saturn. Did ancient organisms create those hydrocarbons, too?

Ancient organisms create oil in the same way as flour creates bread. They are an ingredient, not a manufacturer.
Organisms are not the only source of carbon and hydrogen, it’s just that on Earth, they are the best concentrators of them. It’s that pesky “oxygen” stuff you see…

Z
September 9, 2010 4:37 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
September 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm
Hu, thanks for your comment. While that may be your point, Hu, Malthus never said anything even remotely resembling your claim. He said that population goes up geometrically, and food supply goes up arithmetically. Since neither of those is even remotely true, what is left of Malthus’s claim?

Look at the graphs I posted earlier – both are doing very good impressions of being true.