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posted by martyb on Tuesday January 11, @04:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the Betteridge-says-"No" dept.

Can We Feed Billions of Ourselves Without Wrecking the Planet?

We are now producing more food more efficiently than ever, and there is plenty to go around for a human population of 7 billion. But it is coming at a drastic cost in environmental degradation, and the bounty is not reaching many people.

Sustainable Food Production, a new Earth Institute primer from Columbia University Press, explores how modern agriculture can be made more environmentally benign, and economically just. With population going to maybe 10 billion within 30 years, the time to start is now, the authors say.

The lead author is ecologist Shahid Naeem, director of the Earth Institute for Environmental Sustainability. He coauthored the book with former Columbia colleagues Suzanne Lipton and Tiff van Huysen.

This is an interesting interview with the author. Do you agree (or disagree) with his conclusions?

Columbia Climate School

[Also Covered By]: Phys.org


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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday January 24, @03:39PM (6 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 24, @03:39PM (#1215265) Journal

    Wrong AC, Bubba.

    Maybe you're the wrong AC, maybe not. I didn't see any "I'm a different AC" warnings in there. But if you really are a different AC, then keep up by reading previous posts. I'm not here to argue different straw men arguments every time a new AC decides to pipe up. Here, the straw man argument is that I'm somehow advocating for replacing all fertilizer, including non-nitrogen supplements by green manure. Didn't happen.

    "half" is not "remotely keeping pace".

    It's only a factor of three to keeping pace, remotely or otherwise. I'm not claiming that this is going to be just as perfect as using fertilizer, I'm pointing out how close it was in the first place.

    Moreover they explicitly call out P and K nutrients as key elements.

    Again. You're not going to get those elements from fossil fuels. Nobody made any claims about those nutrients and I explicitly noted earlier in the thread that I was looking at nitrogen only. The goalposts have been moved.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 25, @03:07PM (5 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 25, @03:07PM (#1215583)

    The only goalposts shifting here are yours. The original (incorrect) statement was: "You can put the nutrients back into the soil in two ways. The 1st method that all you vegetarians love so much is processing oil into fertilizer. That is not sustainable. The 2nd option is to either graze herds across the crop fields or manually spread natural fertilizer (animal poop)." and this wasn't limited to nitrogen. Your response was: "You're just discussing nitrogen. Green manure is a third way, using a nitrogen-fixing plant or microbe to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and then till that into the soil. Legumes, for example, are a great nitrogen-fixing group of plants and often generate a lot of economic value in addition to the nitrogen-fixing." which is a straightforward misconstrual of the original statement, and even within itself limited to the capabilities of nitrogen-fixers (which aren't up to what we can do with fossil fuels - again, check the mathematics) and in no way addresses all the other nutrients stripped by what the original poster called "effectively mining the soil for its nutrients".

    Even if you want to try to retcon this as only being about nitrogen in your head because that's all that green manures will do for you, you're not solving the big problem, but in reality you're missing the point that it doesn't all have to be from fossil fuels as such if we're using fossil fuels to mine for things like limestone and phosphate deposits, making up for natural nutrient cycles that we have far outstripped. None of those massive mines constitute sustainable agriculture, most definitely not as the original article's author would have it.

    Summary: if it's not just about nitrogen (as per the original poster, and the original article), then you're monumentally wrong. If it is just about nitrogen (as per your particular beef, which nobody else seems to follow), then the sums still don't work for you.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday January 25, @10:00PM (4 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 25, @10:00PM (#1215686) Journal

      Even if you want to try to retcon this as only being about nitrogen in your head because that's all that green manures will do for you

      What part of "You're just discussing nitrogen. Green manure is a third way, using a nitrogen-fixing plant or microbe to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and then till that into the soil." is wrong?

      you're not solving the big problem, but in reality you're missing the point that it doesn't all have to be from fossil fuels as such if we're using fossil fuels to mine for things like limestone and phosphate deposits, making up for natural nutrient cycles that we have far outstripped. None of those massive mines constitute sustainable agriculture, most definitely not as the original article's author would have it.

      We don't have to use fossil fuels as such for things like limestone and phosphate. Just saying.

      Summary: if it's not just about nitrogen (as per the original poster, and the original article), then you're monumentally wrong. If it is just about nitrogen (as per your particular beef, which nobody else seems to follow), then the sums still don't work for you.

      The problem word: "if". And the "sums" do work for me. I already said how.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 26, @03:43PM (3 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 26, @03:43PM (#1215843)

        "What part of "You're just discussing nitrogen. Green manure is a third way, using a nitrogen-fixing plant or microbe to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and then till that into the soil." is wrong?"

        The original poster did not say nitrogen, but "Growing crops is effectively mining the soil for its nutrients." Nutrients. In fact, not even merely bulk nutrients (which might have been a reduced reference to NPK) but also includes others from sulphur to selenium. That is what is wrong, moreso because even if you had a magic legume that fixed all the nitrogen you'd need without a growing period of its own (spoiler: not even close), it wouldn't do diddly for the other nutrients on the list. It's like saying your car only needs gasoline, when in fact it also needs air, lubricant, coolant and so on - and everyone else is talking about fluid needs while you keep thumping a jerrycan.

        "We don't have to use fossil fuels as such for things like limestone and phosphate. Just saying."

        No, we don't. We can go back to pickaxes and pit ponies. You're right about that, but the prospect of doing so is minute, the cost would be exorbitant, and even if we mine it with cuddly bunnies and happy thoughts we're still exhausting mines rather than using a sustainable cycle. This seems to fall under what the original author would have called "wrecking the planet", because it becomes less welcoming as a place to feed ourselves.

        "The problem word: "if". And the "sums" do work for me. I already said how."

        Yeah, we already covered your problems there, whistling past the graveyard of why farmers aren't saving bank on urea because of all the problems with green manure.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 26, @04:04PM (2 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 26, @04:04PM (#1215851) Journal

          The original poster did not say nitrogen

          Hence, my correction. You're welcome.

          We can go back to pickaxes and pit ponies.

          Or electricity from non-fossil fuel sources. I bet that would go further. Funny how you missed that one. Looks to me like you're too busy moving the goal posts to rationally think about this.

          Yeah, we already covered your problems there, whistling past the graveyard of why farmers aren't saving bank on urea because of all the problems with green manure.

          And we already covered how you acknowledged I was right in a backhanded way. I consider this finished.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 31, @02:57AM (1 child)

            by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 31, @02:57AM (#1217118)

            "Hence, my correction. You're welcome."

            If only it were a correction. Instead, many other nutrients, untouched by green manure as a strategy, are of major concern. This is why your focus on nitrogen is so misleading; the green manure strategy does precious little for the larger problem, and depending on factors such as soil acidity can make it actually worse.

            If that's your idea of help, please go help the Taliban. I understand they need all the help that they can get.

            "Or electricity from non-fossil fuel sources. I bet that would go further. Funny how you missed that one. Looks to me like you're too busy moving the goal posts to rationally think about this."

            Thus ignoring this part: "...even if we mine it with cuddly bunnies and happy thoughts we're still exhausting mines rather than using a sustainable cycle. This seems to fall under what the original author would have called "wrecking the planet", because it becomes less welcoming as a place to feed ourselves."

            Funny how you mention moving goalposts in this context. I like 'em just where they are, so would you care to address the point at issue: the exhaustion of mineral resources and the damage involved in doing so?

            "And we already covered how you acknowledged I was right in a backhanded way. I consider this finished."

            ... self-delusion aside, apparently the answer would be not. I mean, please, do feel free to farm all with green manure all the time and show us how to do it. Go on. Be famous.

            But please do it for the Taliban, because we don't deserve your kind of help.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday February 02, @02:05AM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 02, @02:05AM (#1217883) Journal

              This is why your focus on nitrogen is so misleading; the green manure strategy does precious little for the larger problem

              Same goes for fossil fuels. You're not going anywhere with this.

              "...even if we mine it with cuddly bunnies and happy thoughts we're still exhausting mines rather than using a sustainable cycle.

              Or open up new mines. Not seeing the point of your concern about sustainability since such exhaustion is a lot slower than the problems of population growth.