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Peak Phosphor - Not Global Warming - As The Number 1 Worry?

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#1 Mattzy

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Posted 15 July 2019 - 02:47 AM

I am shocked to read about the looming crisis of worldwide famine as a result of phosphate rock depletion.

Many scientists are estimating the end of phosphate rock supply at around 70 years.

With current population growth, many are saying that we will not be able to sustain world food supply within that time frame.

A forced return to crop rotation will leave an enormous shortfall in food supply and a resulting  worldwide famine - especially in developed industrial nations that have established their harvests on chemical fertiliser supply.

Consider:-

Phosphor is the first fertiliser element that we will deplete. Every living cell requires it. There is no technological alternative. The phosphor that we sprinkle on the land is being washed rapidly into the oceans where it is far too dilute to extract.

It seems to me that humanity must wake up and start controlling population by management - or face control by famine and war.

I invite discussion.


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#2 exchemist

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Posted 15 July 2019 - 03:09 AM

I am shocked to read about the looming crisis of worldwide famine as a result of phosphate rock depletion.

Many scientists are estimating the end of phosphate rock supply at around 70 years.

With current population growth, many are saying that we will not be able to sustain world food supply within that time frame.

A forced return to crop rotation will leave an enormous shortfall in food supply and a resulting  worldwide famine - especially in developed industrial nations that have established their harvests on chemical fertiliser supply.

Consider:-

Phosphor is the first fertiliser element that we will deplete. Every living cell requires it. There is no technological alternative. The phosphor that we sprinkle on the land is being washed rapidly into the oceans where it is far too dilute to extract.

It seems to me that humanity must wake up and start controlling population by management - or face control by famine and war.

I invite discussion.

I was not aware of this, so thanks for the alert. 

 

I found this short article on the issue: https://www.environm...orus-depletion/. which comes from the University of Oxford so should be fairly reliable. The writer puts the remaining reserves of phosphate mineral at <200yrs.

 

However he makes the point that humanity is washing damagingly high level of phosphate into the water systems of the world, and suggests a big part of the solution may  be to stop this, essentially by reducing the release of phosphates in sewage and agricultural runoff. He does not jump to the conclusion that population control is the only answer. But clearly, along with climate change and the plastic pollution of the world, this is has got to be on our list of things to tackle. 


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#3 Mattzy

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 04:08 AM

Hello exchemist, I read the Oxford article. Thanks for that.

I have also read about efforts to recycle human sewage. The Germans had a serious look at it but pooh-poohed the idea (ha-ha). Unfortunately the idea is futile from the outset because of the very small quantity of phosphor that we consume. Consider a wheat or corn crop. Every plant cell in the field needs its phosphor. That is roots, stems leaves and seeds. We humans extract the only the kernels for consumption and plough the rest back into the soil. In order to get a crop every year we add the NPK mix. Sadly, most of what we sprinkle is not even taken up by the plants but is washed out into the river systems.

If you look up phosphate reticulation systems you will find that they can only be very small operations (so far). Imagine the effort needed to capture the run-off from the great wheat belts of the world! It is thinkable but would need to be based at river mouths and the phosphor is even in those rivers quite dilute for extraction. As you are a chemist I would be interested to know what you might think about that.

I think we can say that phosphor is just not available in concentrated reserves - even though it is not at all rare in the ground.

The other factor to consider is the delay to depletion. As human population increases exponentially, the crisis becomes exponentially worse when the crunch finally comes. The human race would therefor be better off facing the crisis sooner rather than later. The worst news would be to find new reserves and go back to complacency.

The German agricultural Chemist Justus Von Leibig predicted this very crisis more than 150 years ago. We've been ignoring him ever since.

Population control is the only peaceful answer.



#4 exchemist

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 09:44 AM

Hello exchemist, I read the Oxford article. Thanks for that.

I have also read about efforts to recycle human sewage. The Germans had a serious look at it but pooh-poohed the idea (ha-ha). Unfortunately the idea is futile from the outset because of the very small quantity of phosphor that we consume. Consider a wheat or corn crop. Every plant cell in the field needs its phosphor. That is roots, stems leaves and seeds. We humans extract the only the kernels for consumption and plough the rest back into the soil. In order to get a crop every year we add the NPK mix. Sadly, most of what we sprinkle is not even taken up by the plants but is washed out into the river systems.

If you look up phosphate reticulation systems you will find that they can only be very small operations (so far). Imagine the effort needed to capture the run-off from the great wheat belts of the world! It is thinkable but would need to be based at river mouths and the phosphor is even in those rivers quite dilute for extraction. As you are a chemist I would be interested to know what you might think about that.

I think we can say that phosphor is just not available in concentrated reserves - even though it is not at all rare in the ground.

The other factor to consider is the delay to depletion. As human population increases exponentially, the crisis becomes exponentially worse when the crunch finally comes. The human race would therefor be better off facing the crisis sooner rather than later. The worst news would be to find new reserves and go back to complacency.

The German agricultural Chemist Justus Von Leibig predicted this very crisis more than 150 years ago. We've been ignoring him ever since.

Population control is the only peaceful answer.

But the human population does not increase exponentially. 


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#5 Mattzy

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 06:49 PM

OK, I'm guilty of exaggeration there. But the problem doesn't go away as we increase by around 80 million per year (ref. tUnited Nations). I've seen the "don't panic about population" argument and how it will stabilise but there was no consideration for available nutrition to get to those enormous numbers. Long before those projected numbers are reached we will run out of adequate food supply. 

I have read that we are already at crisis population for a crop rotation supply system. The earths carrying capacity without NPK is around 2.4 billion !! Here is a good link if you are interested.

 

What is the Earth's Carrying Capacity? | AGR Partners

 

 

Also:

 

Scarcity of phosphorus threat to global food production -- ScienceDaily

 

  •  
  • Here are some more projections from the United Nations:
  • The world population will reach 9 Billion by 2050.
  • There are today 3.7 Billion people undernourished.
  • Phosphorus Solutions - MIT
     
    The above MIT site says that we will run out in 80 years. This figure is around what I commonly find. But the site talks mainly about near term solutions that don't tackle the end game of depletion and demand.

     

  • Also:
  • Agriculture is a major contributor to global warming (for those that think that it is a bigger concern)
  • When phosphate rock depletes it will be the developed world that already relies on it most heavily for food production that will have the worst crisis.
  • A brutal developed world could arguably stand by and watch the third world starve (as it already does) but what will happen when IT is starving? 
  •  


#6 GAHD

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 06:55 PM

And yet, nitrogen is chemically the same if a little slower to react, no?

Thing about world food supplies is morbidly funny to me. Most of the places with food problems are places that don't use procreation control and SHOULD be able to feed themselves if they bothered to limit their spawn while developing their land.

 



#7 VictorMedvil

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 07:02 PM

And yet, nitrogen is chemically the same if a little slower to react, no?

Thing about world food supplies is morbidly funny to me. Most of the places with food problems are places that don't use procreation control and SHOULD be able to feed themselves if they bothered to limit their spawn while developing their land.

 

I agree with GAHD here, if these people would get off their lazy butts and actually farm the land then it would not be a problem many of these countries are against GMO crops too, such as in Africa there is plenty of land that could be farmed that is currently not being used because of the utter lack of willingness to actually farm the land or use the proper plant for the environment there. I have said this before but half this planet are savages while the other half is advanced into the space age. I personally am almost to the point that Hitler was right we need to kill certain people as the entire species will die if something isn't done about the people in countries breeding like rabbits, I am starting to think eugenics was correct and some people aren't worth the air that the breathe and not necessarily just in Africa either, but other countries too we have these parasitic vermin and don't say "I am a racist" it isn't about race this is about human parasites that contribute nothing to society and use resources that seem to have too many kids that they cannot feed, it is a general planetary problem across all ethnic groups, it happens everywhere even in 1st world countries. A little eugenics would do this planet a world of good, I wrote this with the best intentions I want to remind you maybe the world would just be better off without some people, "Arbeit Macht Frei".


Edited by VictorMedvil, 17 July 2019 - 08:22 PM.


#8 Mattzy

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 07:30 PM

Ghad and Victor, you are missing the point. It will be the developed world that will starve as a result of our own stupidity. The third world will be less affected by a phosphor shortage because they are not wholly dependent on it. Little will change for regions that don't import fertilizers. It's a tortoise and hare story.

On nitrogen; that would become a problem after phosphor because of gas depletion - which is needed to fix N from the atmosphere by heating to 1600 degrees C. (Natural gas prices are the main factor in ammonium nitrate prices).

But that is not relevant because there will be no use for ammonium nitrate or potassium without phosphate in ratio. That is the Malthus pinch point.

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#9 OceanBreeze

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Posted 18 July 2019 - 02:26 AM

I agree with GAHD here, if these people would get off their lazy butts and actually farm the land then it would not be a problem many of these countries are against GMO crops too, such as in Africa there is plenty of land that could be farmed that is currently not being used because of the utter lack of willingness to actually farm the land or use the proper plant for the environment there. I have said this before but half this planet are savages while the other half is advanced into the space age. I personally am almost to the point that Hitler was right we need to kill certain people as the entire species will die if something isn't done about the people in countries breeding like rabbits, I am starting to think eugenics was correct and some people aren't worth the air that the breathe and not necessarily just in Africa either, but other countries too we have these parasitic vermin and don't say "I am a racist" it isn't about race this is about human parasites that contribute nothing to society and use resources that seem to have too many kids that they cannot feed, it is a general planetary problem across all ethnic groups, it happens everywhere even in 1st world countries. A little eugenics would do this planet a world of good, I wrote this with the best intentions I want to remind you maybe the world would just be better off without some people, "Arbeit Macht Frei".

 

This is a science forum, not some Neo-Nazi skinhead forum.



#10 VictorMedvil

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Posted 18 July 2019 - 01:07 PM

This is a science forum, not some Neo-Nazi skinhead forum.

You have me pegged wrong this isn't about race this is about that person that has 15 children from 15 different baby daddies that are in general spreading "Bad Genes" into the population at enormous rates. There is the science of Natural selection to take into account which is no longer currently happening in our society which is a bad thing maybe we should enforce natural selection like in China maybe there should be limits on the number of children that people can have to prevent the IQ drop that has been happening for generations due to things like this. Basically, It goes back to the idea that only stupid people are breeding because of a lack of natural selection in animal populations those weaker links would not be allowed to breed. If we must kill the lesser links to establish a better gene pool then it should be done or this planet will turn into idiocy with a inferior type of human inhabiting the planet too stupid to survive.


Edited by VictorMedvil, 18 July 2019 - 02:34 PM.


#11 Amplituhedron

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Posted 18 July 2019 - 01:56 PM

... inferior type of human ...

 

Look in mirror, asshat.


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#12 VictorMedvil

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Posted 18 July 2019 - 02:45 PM

Look in mirror, asshat.

Will always be until the day I die.

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We tend to think about things like this.

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Edited by VictorMedvil, 18 July 2019 - 02:50 PM.


#13 exchemist

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Posted 18 July 2019 - 02:52 PM

 

OK, I'm guilty of exaggeration there. But the problem doesn't go away as we increase by around 80 million per year (ref. tUnited Nations). I've seen the "don't panic about population" argument and how it will stabilise but there was no consideration for available nutrition to get to those enormous numbers. Long before those projected numbers are reached we will run out of adequate food supply. 

I have read that we are already at crisis population for a crop rotation supply system. The earths carrying capacity without NPK is around 2.4 billion !! Here is a good link if you are interested.

 

What is the Earth's Carrying Capacity? | AGR Partners

 

 

Also:

 

Scarcity of phosphorus threat to global food production -- ScienceDaily

 

  •  
  • Here are some more projections from the United Nations:
  • The world population will reach 9 Billion by 2050.
  • There are today 3.7 Billion people undernourished.
  • Phosphorus Solutions - MIT
     
    The above MIT site says that we will run out in 80 years. This figure is around what I commonly find. But the site talks mainly about near term solutions that don't tackle the end game of depletion and demand.

     

  • Also:
  • Agriculture is a major contributor to global warming (for those that think that it is a bigger concern)
  • When phosphate rock depletes it will be the developed world that already relies on it most heavily for food production that will have the worst crisis.
  • A brutal developed world could arguably stand by and watch the third world starve (as it already does) but what will happen when IT is starving? 
  •  

 

We won't wake up one day to find we've run out. The price will go up as demand exceeds supply and ways of conserving it (mentioned in the Oxford article and others in your list) will become economic. But you are right to draw attention to the issue. It is not much talked about.  



#14 VictorMedvil

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Posted 18 July 2019 - 03:23 PM

We won't wake up one day to find we've run out. The price will go up as demand exceeds supply and ways of conserving it (mentioned in the Oxford article and others in your list) will become economic. But you are right to draw attention to the issue. It is not much talked about.  

I agree with this too, either way some day we will truly wake up and all the phosphate will be gone and when that happens there will be mass starvation there is enough proof to merit the depletion of said resource as with all rare resources the price will go up as the demand goes up making food more expensive as time goes on as the resources required to construct said food becomes more rare and expensive, the idea of the derivative of the market comes into play. So, unless you want to eat solent green I suggest something be done about this little situation, people think the means of survival are expensive now, wait until food is 500 dollars for a big mac, but this goes for any resource that is being depleted.


Edited by VictorMedvil, 18 July 2019 - 03:48 PM.


#15 Mattzy

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Posted 19 July 2019 - 12:45 AM

I repeat: The earth's carrying capacity is around 2.4 billion people without chemical fertilizer. We are now at 7 billion. The population will continue to increase until the number of people starving is the resulting control - unless we start with a serious push on population control.

What you are saying is that those who will be able to afford the phosphate - or win a war for it - will be the survivors, and they will watch the other 7 billion starve all around them. I am saying that is an enormous crisis for future generations to be saddled with and for us to be nonchalant about.

Even if you only care about your own section of humanity, you should read about the rise and fall of nations throughout history. I think you will have heard that the only thing guaranteed is change. I think it would be a stupid gamble to assume that you can predict who the winners and losers will be. Remember too that  there is considerable difference in wealth between those world powers that have nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. When starvation bites and the millions are all around, currency, diamonds and gold will be worthless.

I agree that most people alive today will not be affected by it, but it seems brutal to leave a time bomb without a care.

Fitfully sleeps the head that wears the crown.



#16 GAHD

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Posted 19 July 2019 - 12:54 AM

Fitfully sleeps the head that wears the crown.

...Then don't pretend to be royalty?

Don't understand where you get your 2.4b number from, it looks like a sphincter-pull number to me.


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#17 Mattzy

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Posted 19 July 2019 - 01:20 AM

We won't wake up one day to find we've run out. The price will go up as demand exceeds supply and ways of conserving it (mentioned in the Oxford article and others in your list) will become economic. But you are right to draw attention to the issue. It is not much talked about.  

We are running out now. The price has been rising for many years. We have no way of conserving it. We are using more each year. You are confident in what technology? Are you thinking that we may as well just let the disparity between supply and demand continue to increase because humanity will sort out the crisis when it gets bad enough to force a solution? How can you be sure that panic will provide the answer?  That is like going back to sleep in a burning building with the confidence that the fire brigade will arrive on time.

If we forget about phosphate for a moment, the problem is simply that the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet is finite and the population is now 3 times that.

Now is the time to act against overpopulation before a crisis arrives. 

Many of humanities other problems are related to overpopulation. For unemployment and all that goes with it, read overpopulation. As we become increasingly more efficient in manufacturing, how can we be nonchalant about increasing population?