Francois and Dano on Agricultural Yields

Here are posts from Francois and Dano on Tilman et al.

Francois posted up the following lengthy comment on Tilman et al on another thread.

Background: In a recent discussion, one poster (Dano) pointed to a paper published in Science in 2001, that presumably shows how human activities other than GHG emissions have potentially dangerous effects on climate, and the environment in general. Upon a first reading of that paper, I noticed how scientifically weak it was, and in a further exchange with Dano, I offered to post a detailed critique. Here it is.

I am not a specialist in ecological sciences. However the paper’s weaknesses are immediately obvious to anyone who has written or reviewed scientific papers. I am a scientist by training (Ph.D. in physics), and have pursued an academic career for 10 years after my Ph.D. before moving to industry. I have published 56 peer-reviewed papers, and 65 talks at international conferences, as well as editing 4 conference proceedings. More importantly, I have acted as a reviewer for probably a few hundred papers, and I have sat on conference program committees, and grant committees, where I had to review proposals that were well outside my main line of research. Thus I have learned to read quickly and with a critical eye. My comments below are the ones I would have made, had I been a reviewer for that paper.

***************************************************

The avowed aim of the paper is to “forecast the potential global environmental impacts of agriculture” for the coming 20 to 50 years. The authors warn that “forecasts are not predictions, but rather estimates of environmental impacts should agriculture continue on the trajectories of the past 35 or more years”. To perform their forecasts, the authors have used data on 6 variables over the past 40 years (1960 to 2000), namely: use of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, global irrigation, global pasture and crop land, and global pesticide use. They have used univariate and multivariate trend estimations as a function of time, population, and GDP to extrapolate the values of those six variables in 2020 and 2050. They use those values as a basis for discussing the future environmental impacts.

While the use of univariate and multivariate trend estimations gives a seemingly rigorous and quantified basis for their forecasting, it nevertheless amounts to a rather simplistic procedure. The authors appear surprised that, despite an expected exponential growth, their variables were well fitted by a linear trend. They seem to ignore that an exponential function is well fitted by a linear function over a short enough interval. A close examination of population data by this reviewer showed that they are indeed exponential. However, and importantly for the paper’s argument, the forecasted population growth is not a simple exponential, as growth is expected to slow over the next 50 years. Developed areas, like Europe, will indeed see a population decline. Other observations point to the possible oversimplistic use of linear trends. For example, while crop and pasture lands appear to follow a linear trend from 1960 to 1988, the trend has very clearly slowed down from 1988 to 2000, and indeed there is very little growth during that period. One wonders if this is indicative of a new trend, or just a temporary phenomenon. At the very least, the authors should have asked themselves that question before blindly extrapolating the trend. On the other hand, in the Nitrogen data, that show an 8-fold increase, the exponential shape should have been more evident. That it doesn’t may be indicative of a sub-linear dependence on other variables, such as crop land. They also show data on pesticide imports expressed in dollars, without saying if the relative price per quantity has changed over that period. Finally, one may question the validity of a multivariate analysis when dealing with non-independent variables, such as time, population, and GDP. Furthermore, there are complex interactions between crop land, fertilizer, irrigation and pesticide use, which may hide more complex trends than the ones assumed by the authors. For example, what is the trend for use of pesticide vs crop land area? What does it mean that irrigated land exceeds crop land area? How is the use of fertilizer related to GDP? Is the damage due to pesticide equally bad, or are some less damaging than others, and what are their respective trends? I believe that the author’s oversimplistic analysis is the main reason why their estimates vary by as much as a factor of two, leaving the reader perplex as to the utility (or futility) of the whole exercise.

But that might be forgiven if not for the rest of the paper. Having forecasted increases in all six variables that anyone could have expected simply because the global population is expected to increase from 6 to 9.5 billions in 50 years, the authors then set out to forecasts the impacts on the environment. However, the entire discussion, which indeed constitutes the bulk of the paper, entirely fails to make the point expressed in the conclusion that: “agriculture has the potential to have massive, irreversible environmental impacts”. That is because, after having made a quantified forecast of use of fertilizers, irrigation, pesticides, crop and pasture land, the authors merely assume that because these activities have been shown to cause potential damage, they necessarily will in the future. But to prove their point, the authors needed three more elements. First, they needed to quantify past damage due to those activities. For this, they would need to use objective and quantifiable indicators of environmental damage. Secondly, they should have shown that the amount of damage has indeed followed the same trends as the activities themselves. In other words have the use of mitigation techniques increased over the given period or not? Thirdly, they need to make a convincing case that this same trend will continue in the future. But the authors have done nothing like that. Indeed, they recognize that “methods to forecast quantitatively the impact on ecosystem functioning of loss of habitat, loss of biodiversity, changes in species composition, and increased nutrient inputs need development”. But one can only wonder (and here I show my ignorance of recent progress in the field), what have ecologists done over the past 50 years?! Certainly, developing tools to quantify environmental damage would be much more useful than making hand-waving arguments about “massive impacts”. If there are such tools and the authors have not used them in their analysis, then they are even more guilty of ignoring relevant work, that would have made their analysis much more substantial and credible.

The rest of the paper is really just a general discussion of well known methods to mitigate the environmental impacts of human agricultural activities. For anyone even remotely following those issues, there is nothing fundamentally new there. In fact, an assertion such as “land use and habitat conversion are, in essence, a zero-sum game” makes this reviewer wonder if the authors have ever been to an oasis! One also wonders why the authors fail to address how social and economic factors are likely to affect the trends they discuss.

In the end, the authors arrive at the revealing conclusion that “these solutions will not be achieved unless far more resources are dedicated to their discovery and implementation”. The entire exercise turns out to be a plea for more funding!

A final word about the abstract. After failing to prove their point about massive damage, the authors nevertheless assert in the abstract that: “This eutrophication and habitat destruction would cause unprecedented ecosystem simplification, loss of ecosystem services, and species extinctions.” True or not, there is no way that this alarmist assertion is demonstrated by the bulk of the paper.

In conclusion, this paper, under the veneer of a quantitative and scientific analysis, completely fails to demonstrate the conclusion it asserts. While it is obvious to everyone that the growth of the world population will pose a great challenge to agriculture, and that we must find ways to minimize its environmental impacts, an estimation of those impacts would require a much finer analysis of the complex interactions between agricultural practices, population, and GDP, as well as an actual quantification of past damages and examination of their trend.

At best, this paper would find its place in a promotional brochure for environmental groups. It clearly does not have enough original and significant scientific contents to warrant publication in a serious and prestigious journal like Science.

Here’s Dano’s re-statement of his position:

This entire show started when I agreed with a RP Sr argument that global change has multiple causes and cited Tilman et al to illustrate future effects (hmmm…perhaps I raised hackles by stating that some sector will have to phase out oil first, I dunno).

FO jumped in and called Tilman et al. “‹Å“alarmist’ and I asked him to back his claim, whereby he wrote a review absent any scholarship, citations or basic knowlege of the discipline showing how Tilman et al were incorrect. That is: despite the 750 words, he didn’t show how they were “‹Å“alarmist’ – he merely didn’t like their methods (but didn’t show how his were better)…

Among the nonalarmist conclusions of Tilman et al. were that:

o 1B ha of land will be needed to feed 3B people.
o (236*10^6 MT) N, (83.7*10^6 MT) P, (530.89*10^9 ha) irrigated/pasture land, (10.1*10^6 MT) pesticide will be required in 2050.
o Should trends [projections for 2050 range from 1.9- to 4.8-fold increases] continue, by 2050, humans and other organisms in natural and managed ecosystems would be exposed to markedly elevated levels of pesticides.
o The combined total represents an average global agricultural land base in 2050 that would be 18% larger than at present.
o Just as demand for energy is the major cause of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases, demand for agricultural products may be the major driver of future nonclimatic global change.
o The projected 50% increase in global population and demand for diets richer in meat by a wealthier world are projected to double global food demand by 2050 (N. Alexandratos, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96, 5908 (1999)).
o [and then concludes that various adaptive governance plans may be needed for mitigation]

Kevin justified a separate thread as follows:

I think the latter half (as well as the first half) of this thread has actually been quite interesting and informative. Although strictly speaking it is not a GW subject, the discussion of the Tilman (and the refuting of its conclusions by Willis) has been quite illuminating with some good links tht are well worth following. Perhaps as I’ve seen you do with other threads it would be a good idea to pull most of it out onto a separate thread…..

OK, here’s a separate thread continuing the discussion from here. I do not vouch for either position.


160 Comments

  1. Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 1:15 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for the thread Steve.

    Dano is clearly a troll

    You can use whatever widdle namie-names you like (I care not), I post here when I ask for evidence to back conclusions derived from comment chatter.

    This entire show started when I agreed with a RP Sr argument that global change has multiple causes and cited Tilman et al to illustrate future effects (hmmm…perhaps I raised hackles by stating that some sector will have to phase out oil first, I dunno).

    FO jumped in and called Tilman et al. ‘alarmist’ and I asked him to back his claim, whereby he wrote a review absent any scholarship, citations or basic knowlege of the discipline showing how Tilman et al were incorrect. That is: despite the 750 words, he didn’t show how they were ‘alarmist’ – he merely didn’t like their methods (but didn’t show how his were better).

    It, sadly, descended down from there, Steve (in reply to your 346 on the other thread). All of this has arisen from me asking folk to back their statements (and my enjoyable discussion with willis on the issue).

    Although strictly speaking it is not a GW subject, the discussion of the Tilman [et al.] (and the refuting of its conclusions by Willis)

    Among the nonalarmist conclusions of Tilman et al. were that:

    o 1B ha of land will be needed to feed 3B people.
    o (236*10^6 MT) N, (83.7*10^6 MT) P, (530.89*10^9 ha) irrigated/pasture land, (10.1*10^6 MT) pesticide will be required in 2050.
    o Should trends [projections for 2050 range from 1.9- to 4.8-fold increases] continue, by 2050, humans and other organisms in natural and managed ecosystems would be exposed to markedly elevated levels of pesticides.
    o The combined total represents an average global agricultural land base in 2050 that would be 18% larger than at present.
    o Just as demand for energy is the major cause of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases, demand for agricultural products may be the major driver of future nonclimatic global change.
    o The projected 50% increase in global population and demand for diets richer in meat by a wealthier world are projected to double global food demand by 2050 (N. Alexandratos, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96, 5908 (1999)).
    o [and then concludes that various adaptive governance plans may be needed for mitigation]

    perhaps I missed willis’ refutation of these conclusions (again, I’m enjoying our discussion of our numbers). What were his numbers again, or how did he show inadequate projections? Or is there a definition of ‘refute conclusions’ I’m not aware of (hint: the argumentation in 201 is contained in the scholarship)?

    That’s all I’m sayin’.

    Best,

    D

  2. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 1:17 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I’ll start it off by slightly disagreeing with one of my allies. This was the remark that a decrease in surplus must result in an increasing price.

    That is generally the case, but it has a static view of economic reality. Thus if crops can be moved more easily now than in the past, the supply of crops needed (the surplus) to be stored can be less with just as much flexability to relieve localized shortages. Likewise, manufacturers of finished foodstuffs from raw materials can rely on “just in time” inventory replacement and the stock of food needed to sit in bins to be processed can be reduced.

    A second cause of reduced surpluses might simply be a declining desire or ability of governments to stockpile vast surpluses which end up going to waste or in hurting farmers in the long-run by depressing current prices.

    A third possibility, though probably relatively small, is the movement away from grains and toward things like vegetables on the table. Most fresh vegetables tend not to store well and therefore have to be replenished in close to real-time. So it’s not possible to stockpile them, leading to a net smaller “surplus” of food.

  3. joshua corning
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 2:23 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Should trends [projections for 2050 range from 1.9- to 4.8-fold increases] continue, by 2050, humans and other organisms in natural and managed ecosystems would be exposed to markedly elevated levels of pesticides.

    Should restate to “…elevated levels of synthetic pesticides.”

    15% of all dry weight vegitation consist of pesticides. When extrapolated and compared to synthetic quantitites the amount projected is little more then a blip.

  4. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 2:35 PM | Permalink | Reply

    DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶬ you repeat Tilman’s ludicrous claim that:

    o 1B ha of land will be needed to feed 3B people.

    Now, I’ve refuted this once, but I’ll be glad to do it again.

    We added 3 billion people to the planet from 1964 to 2003:

    2003 population 6,301,463,000
    1964 population 3,268,221,000
    Population added 3,033,242,000

    To feed these 3 billion people, we increased the total cropland. Here are the figures:

    2003 cropland 1,540,572,000 Ha.
    1964 cropland 1,389,311,000 Ha.
    Cropland added 151,261,000 Ha.

    So using the old technologies, farming methods, and crop varieties, it only took us 15% of their estimated 1 billion hectares of land to feed the 3 billion additional people.

    DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶬ I’d like a comment on that simple fact, that their estimate of how much land it will take to feed another 3 billion people is wildly and hugely overestimated. We know this because WE”VE DONE IT BEFORE!. This is not an estimate, this is not a projection, this is how much additional land it took the last time we added 3 billion people to the population.

    But of course, it won’t take us anywhere near that amount of land to feed the next three billion, because of improvements in all areas of agriculture. How much land is it likely to take? Well, one way to estimate that is to look at the amount of land it has taken to feed each additional person over time. Here’s the figures, expressed in terms of hectares needed to feed each additional person:

    As you can see, the amount of land needed with current technology is lower than the land needed historically. Let’s assume that there are no further improvements in agricultural technology in the next 50 years. Furthermore, let us assume that there is no spread of modern agricultural practices to less-developed regions of the world. Of course, both of these are bozo assumptions, but making these assumptions will give us a maximum value for additional land needed.

    As you can see from the chart above, at present we are adding about .025 Ha. of land for each additional person. To feed an additional 3 billion people at that rate would require about 75 million Ha. of land. This makes sense, because last time we added 3 billion people, it took twice that amount of land, 150 million Ha., to feed them all.

    So we end up with three numbers relating to how much land it will take to feed an additional 3 billion people:

    1,000 million hectares “¢’‚¬? Tilman’s estimate, quoted by DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶍ
    150 million hectares “¢’‚¬? how much land it took last time, REAL WORLD FIGURES, NOT AN ESTIMATE
    75 million hectares “¢’‚¬? maximum expected, estimated using year 2000 technology

    DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶬ I’d like your comment on these figures.

    w.

    PS “¢’‚¬? please note that Tilman’s other figures that DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶠquoted above, for such things as pesticide use and fertilizer use, are all based on their ridiculous assumption that we will need another 1 billion hectares of cropland. This, of course, gives huge percentage increases in pesticides and fertilizer.

    We know, however, that it will only take a maximum of 75 million additional hectares, and almost certainly less than that, to feed the additional population. This is only a 5% increase in cropland, and will require a commensurately small increase in fertilizer and pesticides, rather than the huge increases foretold by Tilman.

    PPS “¢’‚¬? claiming that it will take a billion acres to feed 3 billion more people, when it only took 15% of that last time we did it, is definitely “alarmist” …

  5. Dave B
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 3:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Willis. a clear, relatively simple, and very on-point refutation, and a solid contribution to this thread.

  6. fFreddy
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 3:10 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re #3, joshua corning

    15% of all dry weight vegitation consist of pesticides.

    Extraordinary. Could you cite a source for this ?

  7. joshua corning
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 3:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Extraordinary. Could you cite a source for this ?

    I read it in the Skeptical Environmentalist and my copy is 300 miles away..sorry. If anyone else has a copy and can get the reference that Lomborg uses it would be much appreciated.

  8. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 3:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re#2, in case you’re referring to me, I didn’t say a decrease in surplus MUST increase prices. You can have a relatively flat demand curve (gasoline at many prices), external forces, etc. But in the case being discussed (grains) we had a drop in cereal prices and a drop in demand for use in agricultural research as two of the three reasons presented for a slowing in production growth rate. Dano argued that the drop in cereal prices was due to successive drops in surplus – a surplus he said pressured prices to stay high.

    But just to address your cases in a simplistic way without discussing exceptions:
    case #1 – Greater efficiency in transport, less need for storage, etc, can certainly lower prices and surplus, yes (although lack of storage may raise concerns and make the commodity less resistant to large price fluctuations, and this can drive up prices).
    case #2 – I’m not sure where you’re going with this. You said, “A second cause of reduced surpluses might simply be a declining desire or ability of governments to stockpile vast surpluses which end up going to waste or in hurting farmers in the long-run by depressing current prices.” You seem to agree that the large surplus keeps current prices down, and that reducing it would remove this price suppression (i.e., you agree that the surplus reduction would raise prices).
    case #3 – You said, “A third possibility, though probably relatively small, is the movement away from grains…” This is a decline in demand, and unless production is decreased accordingly, the price of grains will drop. This is not a reduction of surplus of grains. When you start talking about “net surplus” because the switch is made to veggies with a shorter storage/shelf-life…well, adding grains and veggies together for a net surplus is “apples and oranges.” What you’d see is a corresponding increase in veggie production to meet the increased veggie demand, a rise in veggie prices, or both, in conjunction with a drop in grain production because of the decreased grain demand, a drop in grain prices, or both.

  9. Vinceo
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 4:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re: #7. Lomborg suggests that natural pesticides make up 5-10% of a plant’s dry weight. He is citing Ames et al. Ranking possible carcinogenic hazards, Science 236: 271-280, 1987.

  10. ET SidViscous
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 4:11 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Correct me if I’m wrong. But that means the majority of a plants “wet” weight is water?

    Otherwise the numbers seem very odd.

  11. joshua corning
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 4:42 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Correct me if I’m wrong. But that means the majority of a plants “wet” weight is water?

    Otherwise the numbers seem very odd.

    Plants can’t run from preditors…so they have evolved other methods of self pereservation.

    Not odd at all if you think about it.

  12. fFreddy
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 5:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Vinceo, joshua, thank you.
    I’ll never look at a bowl of Alpen the same way again …

  13. Ken Robinson
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 5:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: #4

    Thanks Willis. You demonstrate far more patience than I would. What is the data source, BTW?

    Regards;

  14. Vinceo
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 5:34 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re #10: Yes – the water in plants ranges up to 80% or so. But then, we’re about 60% water anyway.

  15. Pat Frank
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 5:41 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #3 — This is a little off-topic, but figures into the controversy about population and pesticide use. Bruce Ames at the UC Berkeley Dept. of Biochemistry wrote a terrific article called, “Dietary pesticides (99.99% all natural)” PNAS 87, 7777-7781 (1990).

    Here’s the link and here’s the abstract

    “The toxicological significance of exposures to synthetic chemicals is examined in the context of exposures to naturally occurring chemicals. We calculate that 99.99% (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves. Only 52 natural pesticides have been tested in high-dose animal cancer tests, and about half (27) are rodent carcinogens; these 27 are shown to be present in many common foods. We conclude that natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests. We also conclude that at the low doses of most human exposures the comparative hazards of synthetic pesticide residues are insignificant.”

    Ames estimates that our daily average intake of native pesticides amounts to about 1.5 grams per day, which is about 10,000 times more than the residues of synthetic pesticides.

    Ames had three related papers in that issue of PNAS. The next one was on the comparative toxicology of synthetic and natural pesticides in the rodent assay. Theey found no important difference.

  16. Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 5:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve M.

    I think it is utterly unfair to make this “Dano’s thread”. Dano challenged me to write up my criticism of the Tilman paper, which I did. As an introductory post to this new thread, he is now free to distort what I have said. You should know by now that he is a consumate liar. There is no point arguing with him on anything. I will repost here my comments on the Tilman paper. Despite his fallaciously logical rhetorics, he has not responded to any of the criticisms I made. So that readers can get to know what I have really said, i will repost below my review of Tilman’s paper. However, I do not intend to join in any argument with him.

    ***********************************************************************************
    Background: In a recent discussion, one poster (Dano) pointed to a paper published in Science in 2001, that presumably shows how human activities other than GHG emissions have potentially dangerous effects on climate, and the environment in general. Upon a first reading of that paper, I noticed how scientifically weak it was, and in a further exchange with Dano, I offered to post a detailed critique. Here it is.

    I am not a specialist in ecological sciences. However the paper’s weaknesses are immediately obvious to anyone who has written or reviewed scientific papers. I am a scientist by training (Ph.D. in physics), and have pursued an academic career for 10 years after my Ph.D. before moving to industry. I have published 56 peer-reviewed papers, and 65 talks at international conferences, as well as editing 4 conference proceedings. More importantly, I have acted as a reviewer for probably a few hundred papers, and I have sat on conference program committees, and grant committees, where I had to review proposals that were well outside my main line of research. Thus I have learned to read quickly and with a critical eye. My comments below are the ones I would have made, had I been a reviewer for that paper.

    ***************************************************

    The avowed aim of the paper is to “forecast the potential global environmental impacts of agriculture” for the coming 20 to 50 years. The authors warn that “forecasts are not predictions, but rather estimates of environmental impacts should agriculture continue on the trajectories of the past 35 or more years”. To perform their forecasts, the authors have used data on 6 variables over the past 40 years (1960 to 2000), namely: use of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, global irrigation, global pasture and crop land, and global pesticide use. They have used univariate and multivariate trend estimations as a function of time, population, and GDP to extrapolate the values of those six variables in 2020 and 2050. They use those values as a basis for discussing the future environmental impacts.

    While the use of univariate and multivariate trend estimations gives a seemingly rigorous and quantified basis for their forecasting, it nevertheless amounts to a rather simplistic procedure. The authors appear surprised that, despite an expected exponential growth, their variables were well fitted by a linear trend. They seem to ignore that an exponential function is well fitted by a linear function over a short enough interval. A close examination of population data by this reviewer showed that they are indeed exponential. However, and importantly for the paper’s argument, the forecasted population growth is not a simple exponential, as growth is expected to slow over the next 50 years. Developed areas, like Europe, will indeed see a population decline. Other observations point to the possible oversimplistic use of linear trends. For example, while crop and pasture lands appear to follow a linear trend from 1960 to 1988, the trend has very clearly slowed down from 1988 to 2000, and indeed there is very little growth during that period. One wonders if this is indicative of a new trend, or just a temporary phenomenon. At the very least, the authors should have asked themselves that question before blindly extrapolating the trend. On the other hand, in the Nitrogen data, that show an 8-fold increase, the exponential shape should have been more evident. That it doesn’t may be indicative of a sub-linear dependence on other variables, such as crop land. They also show data on pesticide imports expressed in dollars, without saying if the relative price per quantity has changed over that period. Finally, one may question the validity of a multivariate analysis when dealing with non-independent variables, such as time, population, and GDP. Furthermore, there are complex interactions between crop land, fertilizer, irrigation and pesticide use, which may hide more complex trends than the ones assumed by the authors. For example, what is the trend for use of pesticide vs crop land area? What does it mean that irrigated land exceeds crop land area? How is the use of fertilizer related to GDP? Is the damage due to pesticide equally bad, or are some less damaging than others, and what are their respective trends? I believe that the author’s oversimplistic analysis is the main reason why their estimates vary by as much as a factor of two, leaving the reader perplex as to the utility (or futility) of the whole exercise.

    But that might be forgiven if not for the rest of the paper. Having forecasted increases in all six variables that anyone could have expected simply because the global population is expected to increase from 6 to 9.5 billions in 50 years, the authors then set out to forecasts the impacts on the environment. However, the entire discussion, which indeed constitutes the bulk of the paper, entirely fails to make the point expressed in the conclusion that: “agriculture has the potential to have massive, irreversible environmental impacts”. That is because, after having made a quantified forecast of use of fertilizers, irrigation, pesticides, crop and pasture land, the authors merely assume that because these activities have been shown to cause potential damage, they necessarily will in the future. But to prove their point, the authors needed three more elements. First, they needed to quantify past damage due to those activities. For this, they would need to use objective and quantifiable indicators of environmental damage. Secondly, they should have shown that the amount of damage has indeed followed the same trends as the activities themselves. In other words have the use of mitigation techniques increased over the given period or not? Thirdly, they need to make a convincing case that this same trend will continue in the future. But the authors have done nothing like that. Indeed, they recognize that “methods to forecast quantitatively the impact on ecosystem functioning of loss of habitat, loss of biodiversity, changes in species composition, and increased nutrient inputs need development”. But one can only wonder (and here I show my ignorance of recent progress in the field), what have ecologists done over the past 50 years?! Certainly, developing tools to quantify environmental damage would be much more useful than making hand-waving arguments about “massive impacts”. If there are such tools and the authors have not used them in their analysis, then they are even more guilty of ignoring relevant work, that would have made their analysis much more substantial and credible.

    The rest of the paper is really just a general discussion of well known methods to mitigate the environmental impacts of human agricultural activities. For anyone even remotely following those issues, there is nothing fundamentally new there. In fact, an assertion such as “land use and habitat conversion are, in essence, a zero-sum game” makes this reviewer wonder if the authors have ever been to an oasis! One also wonders why the authors fail to address how social and economic factors are likely to affect the trends they discuss.

    In the end, the authors arrive at the revealing conclusion that “these solutions will not be achieved unless far more resources are dedicated to their discovery and implementation”. The entire exercise turns out to be a plea for more funding!

    A final word about the abstract. After failing to prove their point about massive damage, the authors nevertheless assert in the abstract that: “This eutrophication and habitat destruction would cause unprecedented ecosystem simplification, loss of ecosystem services, and species extinctions.” True or not, there is no way that this alarmist assertion is demonstrated by the bulk of the paper.

    In conclusion, this paper, under the veneer of a quantitative and scientific analysis, completely fails to demonstrate the conclusion it asserts. While it is obvious to everyone that the growth of the world population will pose a great challenge to agriculture, and that we must find ways to minimize its environmental impacts, an estimation of those impacts would require a much finer analysis of the complex interactions between agricultural practices, population, and GDP, as well as an actual quantification of past damages and examination of their trend.

    At best, this paper would find its place in a promotional brochure for environmental groups. It clearly does not have enough original and significant scientific contents to warrant publication in a serious and prestigious journal like Science.

  17. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 5:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Francois, fair enough. Sorry about that. I’ll remedy the situation in the post heading.

  18. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 6:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 13, Ken Robinson, thanks for posting. You say:

    Thanks Willis. You demonstrate far more patience than I would. What is the data source, BTW?

    There is really only one data source in this field, which is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, at

    http://faostat.fao.org/default.aspx?alias=faostat

    w.

  19. Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 6:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    6:

    We apply a particular amount of pesticide a year to repel pests, most of it synthetic. So joshua’s restatement is correct.

    4:

    Thank you willis. This is indeed an enjoyable discussion. Nice chart. BTW, I’ve stated more than once that I have no problem with the Tilman et al being found wrong and the reason for inclusion was an example in the intro to this post. If we can revise our numbers downward to get an idea of the amount of ecosystem damage, great!

    So,

    We are talking, of course, of whether there is enough capacity in the future.

    I’d like to look at the amount needed for one capita person.

    What is the stock currently [year 2000, to coincide with my b-quote figgers in the other thread]?

    Let’s use our own numbers:

    The current amount of land used for grain is currently ~.11 ha/person [666.032 M ha grainland 2000]. So, just for grain we would need ~330M ha for 3B ppl.

    The total stock, today, of arable land is .25 ha/person. So, today, adding 3B people would require 750M ha arable land. If we eyeball rates of change wrt rates of change of human pop, that per capita number is going down (we all know how that last rate change went, so we’ll just be vague ;o) ) so the total ha may be less than the paper, but still big (& less cal/person as a result unless we add fert, which will increase environmental impacts).

    Not so far off from 1B. So, ~750M ha is still a lot of land, and I wonder whether the difference warrants any of the adjectives used to describe the paper so far.

    This chart may also be of interest, willis.

    Best,

    D

  20. Ken Robinson
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 7:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: 19

    Dano says “The total stock, today, of arable land is .25 ha/person. So, today, adding 3B people would require 750M ha arable land.”

    Using the same logic: the total stock of arable land in 1964 was 0.42 ha / person. Adding 3 billion people should, according to this reasoning, have required adding 1.27 billion ha of arable land. Instead, as Willis points out (and I’ve verified that these are the correct FAO numbers), only 150 million ha were necessary.

  21. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 7:30 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks, Ken, for pointing out Danàƒ⶧s error. The numbers are bozo simple. We’re not talking advanced statistics here. Danàƒⶠis flailing hard to prove what can’t be proven.

    Danàƒⶬ let me reiterate, since you don’t seem to get it. LAST TIME WE ADDED 3 BILLION PEOPLE, WE ONLY NEEDED TO ADD 150 MILLION HA. OF ADDITIONAL LAND TO FEED THEM.

    Now, you can provide all kinds of Danàƒⷥsque theories and calculations about why it should be much, much more than that, but bro’ … we’ve done it before.

    w.

  22. Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 7:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

    16:

    Specifically:

    1. Again, I care not whether this particular Tilman et al.’s forecast is correct; that is: my identity does not rely on their numbers coming true in 2050. If there is less degradation in the future than these projections state, I cannot help but find that good. Adaptive management/adaptive governance decisions are typically made using a suite of projections or forecasts anyway.

    2. Merely stating you don’t like the method is great, but most reviews in the EnvScis refer to scholarship that says x or y method (obtaining z results), while others calculate their own values [IIRC, the peer review that analyzed Lindzen's adaptive iris did this, but it's late and I want to comment now].

    At minimum, usu. one expects reviews to…review the scholarship or some background to contextualize the paper wrt current knowledge and to frame or establish robustness of a paper’s argumentation (that is: do the authors understand the issue).

    That absolutely wasn’t done here – rather, it was boilerplated without studying the topic (we called it in grad school ‘mailing it in’.)

    I’m sure a review in optics would expect some sort of evidence or scholarship as well. Had there been even a nominal…review…of the scholarship there’d be no problem here (plus the review would have been 50% shorter).

    3. The three premises that underlie the argumentation in the But that might be forgiven… para are my main issue that JMS picked up on.

    Tilman et al. have already done the scholarship and shown the work that FO wants them to include in this paper. The link on my name is to DT’s selected refs. The man is a rather large name in my field (that is: he’s contributed a lot to the understanding), and these coauths are well-versed in the scholarship.

    4. The conclusion there is no way that this alarmist assertion is demonstrated by the bulk of the paper reveals the lack of scholarship in this area. The current amount of N and P in terrestrial systems is causing multifold manifestations of ecosystem stress. Increasing N and P by even 25% less than the forecasts (my land conversion # above [what the heck, let's say 50%]) will cause any land manager or ecosystems person alarm. The amount of money lost from shellfish impacts sure is causing shellfishermen alarm.

    5. Lastly, statements such as One also wonders why the authors fail to address how social and economic factors are likely to affect the trends they discuss, again, serve to show the lack of homework.

    The paper outlines the fact that these are projections based on linear trends, and as explained in the text on pg. 282, shifts in socioeconomic trends change outcomes.

    In short, this is a framework for a scenario analysis for adaptive governance. As the measurement and analysis of indicators is a regular exercise, trajectories are altered as new information is gained (hence the adaptive part). That is: if the projections turn out to be less (as in, say, if someone did an econometric analysis and got better outputs), that’s good news for all of us. There’s no underlying need to create the dreaded nanny-state implicit anywhere in this paper. Calm down, everyone.

    ———-

    So, to reiterate (and restate for brevity) my argument lost in the other thread’s S/N, I’d find a lot less to have issue over with the ‘review’ if there was any sort of citation or reference or even a hint of scholarship bounding the scope of the Tilman et al’s ‘alarmism’.

    Best,

    D

  23. Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 8:16 PM | Permalink | Reply

    21:

    Thanks, Ken, for pointing out Danàƒ⶧s error. The numbers are bozo simple.

    I’m sorry willis, but unless someone figures out an astronomically revolutionary way to grow animals like plants (for the required caloric density) and to overcome N diminishing returns laws, calculating the amount of land the way you trend your number won’t work.

    The physical principles that underlie biotic reactions on this earth don’t grow plants to that caloric density, and the amount of water required to grow meat to that caloric density would break the planet’s water budget.

    That is: you’ve forgotten that plants and animals aren’t just a number to trend.

    They have requirements that need to be met by the land, a land that has limits.

    It is, really, bozo simple, but I doubt a farmer would appreciate being called bozo [*, *,*,*,*].

    Best,

    D

  24. Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 8:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I tell you what (you meaning everyone).

    o Write up a paper, somebody, that argues that for the next 3B people we need only between 75M – 150M ha new arable land (crop + pasture). You must explain where energy inputs come from and do simple econometric for input vs return. Water inputs must be accounted for in cropping and econometric.

    o Submit it to an agronomy journal (or related, choose one that publishes such).

    o If it gets accepted, I’ll pay you $100.00. Naming in the paper where this will happen and how/where this new food gets distributed in market economies (this is in your econometric) gets you $50.00 more. Steve and I will work out the payment method. If it gets rejected, someone make an offer for what I get. You’ll have massive props and bragging rights and I won’t mention anything about the braggadocio, ever.

    o If it gets majority favorable reviews after acceptance, I’ll pay another $100.00. favorable reviews do not include ingenuity alone, but acceptance of feasibility of ha number. If it gets majority unfavorable reviews, someone make an offer for what I get. Steve and I will work out the payment method.

    o The additional benefit of my payout will be that I will help spread the news far and wide (in my real-world channels, not e-world) that the novel techiques employed here in The CA Comment Board have the potential to overturn the scientific method – esp. discovery in a vacuum and how it can be applied to real-world situations.

    There’s money on the table for someone to pick up and demonstrate that the CA comment board methodology of conclusioning is valid. Who’ll take it from me?

    Best,

    D

  25. JMS
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 8:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Here is a question: didn’t the last time period we added 3B people encompass something called “The Green Revolution”? If so, how are we going to reproduce those gains?

  26. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 8:54 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 25 … JMS, surely you’re kidding when you say:

    Here is a question: didn’t the last time period we added 3B people encompass something called “The Green Revolution”? If so, how are we going to reproduce those gains?

    1) We’ve been adding people up to and including today, and with each person we add, it has taken less land, up to and including today. We’re 20 years or so past the “Green Revolution”, and numbers have continued to improve, so it can’t be due to the Green Revolution.

    2) Look up “GM”.

    w.

  27. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 9:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Danàƒⶬ once again you manage to miss the point. I wrote:

    Thanks, Ken, for pointing out Danàƒ⶧s error. The numbers are bozo simple.

    You replied:

    I’m sorry willis, but unless someone figures out an astronomically revolutionary way to grow animals like plants (for the required caloric density) and to overcome N diminishing returns laws, calculating the amount of land the way you trend your number won’t work.

    Let me say it once again, Danàƒⶮ It’s not a trend, it doesn’t require any changes, because my numbers are not projections or estimates. No need to check diminishing returns, because WE DID IT BEFORE AND IT REQUIRED 150 MILLION HA, NOT A BILLION.

    Now, I claim we can do it on less land this time around. You might dispute that, but we’re doing it on less land today, and have done so for the last decade. So once again, we don’t need new technologies, we don’t need to grow animals like plants, WE’RE DOING IT TODAY.

    I see that either:

    a) you are preternaturally incapable of seeing the difference between theory and experience, or

    b) you are pretending that you don’t see the difference.

    I haven’t followed your linkies because they make no difference … we’ve done it before, we don’t need your linkies and theories and revolutionary ways, we’ve already done it, we know how much land it will take.

    w.

  28. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 9:25 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dano, we try to apply scientific method here. Our concern is with non-replicable studies that do not meet scientific standards. It is we that are applying scientific methodology, while Mann and so on are proposing "novel" and unscientific methodologies, which I anticipate will have less and less traction over time.

    Your taunts are in poor taste and I would appreciate it if you stuck to factual matters, as I have no interest in spending time responding to such spitballs.

    This site http://www.heinzctr.org/ecosystems/farm/tot_crop.shtml says that US cropland declined substantially over the past 50 years. What are the corresponding numbers for food production and yield? How do these compare with statistics for India, Brazil, Russia and China?

  29. charles
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 9:57 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Willis,

    I think you are correct and I can’t understand Dano’s inability to see the error in his thinking and unwillingness to conceed the point.

    However, it is possible is it not that the new land that needs to be brought into cultivation for 3B new mouths might not be of sufficient quality to maintain the average quality of the last 150M ha? Do we know what the total inventory is of sufficient quality to support the current or recent average productivity?

  30. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 10:34 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dano’s POV actually becomes a curio now that we are in the 21st century.

    Namely, the POV is that of the Malthusians.

    Based on the 19th century world view, Malthusianism made sense. How could it not? Back then the Earth was being raped, filth belched into the skies of numerous valleys with that special combination of water, workers and nearby coal, and, us humans were right brutish.

    So, it can be understood that someone extrapolating back then would have ended up in Malthusian conclusions.

    Thank God we’re past all that.

  31. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 10:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    One of the worst assumptions of the Malthusians was that crops would grow in places similar to the UK, France, Germany, etc.

    They had no concept of anything like Northern Mexico, California, Chile or Australia. They had no concept of pulling off agriculture on a massive scale at the edges of subtropical deserts, where the sunshine, soil and water from nearby lands provide a wonderful combination of all the things that make for yield beyond belief.

  32. Nathan Kurz
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 11:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Willis, I think you are presuming that the additional new cropland more efficient than the old cropland and accounts for the productivity increase, while Dano is presuming that the efficiency of all the cropland increases over time such that the new area added is no more efficient than the average.

    75 million hectares “¢’‚¬? maximum expected, estimated using year 2000 technology

    It’s not a trend, it doesn’t require any changes, because my numbers are not projections or estimates.

    Trusting the figures in these posts, we currently using 1,500 million hectares to feed 6,000 million people. Thus our current efficiency is 4 people per hectare. For those additional 75 million hectares to feed 3,000 million people without changes to the existing cropland, each of those added hectares needs to feed 40 people.

    Willis: do you have good reason to believe that the cropland added will be on average 10 times as efficient as average of the existing cropland? Or are you assuming that the existing cropland will continue to increase in efficiency a la “Moore’s Law”? While I much prefer your rhetorical style to Dano’s (which is why I’m addressing your rather than him) I think he is right that there are some underlying assumptions to your argument that have not yet been presented.

  33. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Aug 30, 2006 at 11:46 PM | Permalink | Reply

    A terminology question: I had always thought that the term “arable land” included both land currently under cultivation and land (currently not cultivated) that could easily be brought under cultivation. If so, talk of “arable land” is pretty much meaningless for this discussion, “cultivated land” being the quantity of interest.
    Have I misunderstood the terminology?

  34. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 12:32 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re:#32, #4
    Nathan’s got a good point. In your argument in #4, Willis, we didn’t just add 150 million Ha to feed the extra 3 billion people, we ALSO improved the yield on the 1.39 billion Ha that were previously under cultivation.

    The key question is, how much further can we improve the yield on the current cultivated land during the time period that we add the next 3 billion people? I don’t know, but there surely isn’t a simple answer, as yields/ha vary widely around the world and are affected by how a farm economy is organized as well as by inputs, land, and growing conditions. One might expect to see significant changes in China and the former Soviet Union, given the economic and societal changes underway there. There is certainly underused food production capacity in Europe and America, as evidenced by government payments intended to restrict food production. And of course, it’s pretty clear that most Americans (and Canadians?) eat too many calories for their level of exercise.

  35. Michael Hansen
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 4:48 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Arcording to this source: “Per-acre yields of the major crops grown in the United States have increased dramatically over the past 50 years. Yields for three of the five major crops (corn, wheat, and cotton) more than doubled over this period, with corn yields increasing almost fourfold. Of these five major crops, soybean yields increased the least, but even they nearly doubled over the period.”

    On the next page we are told that: “The output of U.S. agriculture has been increasing steadily since 1950, with total output growing by more than 60% since 1975. At the same time, farmers have used fewer inputs of energy, labor, durable goods (tractors, etc.), fertilizer, and land; since 1975, these amounts have declined by between 40 and 60%. The amount of pesticides used has increased since the 1950s, but it has remained at about the same level”¢’‚¬?about 40% over 1975 levels”¢’‚¬?since 1978″

    So if one of the most all-time efficient farming industries in the world, has been able to steadily increase the output (with no levelling off in sight), using fewer resources, I see no reason why there should not be tremendous unused capacity when looking at the full 1.3 billion ha.

    The lack of faith in western technology is depressing.

  36. McCall
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 4:52 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: 34 (32) — not so sure I agree with “good point?” How many assumed it’s only incremental ag-land that provides for additional population (ignoring advances in yield of the base acreage, including little/no-soil techniques) over time? I didn’t.

    My apologies, but it takes what could be characterized as pretty “static thinking” to presume similarly with everything from power consumption to silicon wafer density — a presumption most (physical) scientists would not make.

  37. welikerocks
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 6:06 AM | Permalink | Reply

    #35-36

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned greenhouses.! (as if there is a shortage of warehouses, plastic, sunlight, compost or worms- and nobody dreams of space travel or living on the Moon or Mars some day either) There are many sites dedicated to greenhouse cultivation R&D around the world if you google.

  38. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 6:07 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re#29,

    I can’t understand Dano’s inability to see the error in his thinking and unwillingness to conceed the point.

    You’ll just have to get used to it.

  39. TAC
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 7:02 AM | Permalink | Reply

    In the 1970′s — before the green revolution really began to take off, back when a large fraction of the planet’s population was hungry — there was a lot of interest in “Diet for a Small Planet”. The main idea was that eating low on the food chain (vegetarian) would not only allow more people to eat, but it would be good for the individual as well. Recent studies (this isn’t my field; I’m relying on what has been reported in the press (a hazardous policy, I realize)) mostly confirm this: Obesity is the problem now, not hunger. Apparently, recent research suggests that even extremely low-calorie diets (above starvation, but not by much) actually extend longevity.

    I wonder what implications these findings might have. Perhaps the developed world will gradually lose its appetite for excess calories, just as it has for large families (although some economists attribute the decline in family size to a simple economic motive: Children lost their value when we decided to treat them as a luxury good rather than a capital good).

    How many calories does the world really “need” (whatever that means)?

  40. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 7:36 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re #39,

    There is a huge offset between low-level (vegetarian) calories and what in most Western diets is eaten, thus not only for the total amount. The net yield in calories from grains to meat is some 25%, thus much can be gained if we should all be vegetarian. But as the opposite is true, more and more low-meat diets in developing countries will change to higher meat content, this may ask for more land and/or more yield beyond the population growth.

    At the other side, GMO crops already increase the yield of most food and commodity (like cotton) crops (mainly due to less damage), including reduced use of pesticides and fertilisers. The end of this evolution is not even in sight, as crops may be introduced that can survive extreme climate conditions like higher temperatures, prolonged droughts, floods and salt levels. This can reduce losses with such conditions for current cultivated land and even may open areas wich are now expected to be “non-arable”.

  41. Ken Robinson
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 7:46 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: 33

    Armand, this is the FAO’s definition of “arable”.

    “Arable land refers to land under temporary crops (double-cropped areas are counted only once), temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens and land temporarily fallow (less than five years). The abandoned land resulting from shifting cultivation is not included. Data for arable land is not meant to indicate the amount of land that is potentially cultivable.”

    IOW, the FAO’s definition of arable essentially means only that land which is actively in use. Willis used the total area of arable land plus permanent crops (ie crops not requiring annual replanting) to arrive at the total cropland number.

    Regards;

  42. ET SidViscous
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 8:11 AM | Permalink | Reply

    and let us assume global warming for a moment.

    Of course we are all innundated with how bad it will be, no one dres mention a benefit. But there will be benefits. Incluiding longer growing seasons. Longer growing season = more food.

  43. kim
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 8:12 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Peerless review is what exposed Mann’s hockey stick. OK, I can crawl back under the bridge, now; I’ve bellowed a good one, there.
    =======================================================

  44. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 8:29 AM | Permalink | Reply

    re: #42,

    Not to mention the Idso’s favorite point, that extra CO2 in the atmosphere is free fertilizer and also reduces water stress on plants (since they don’t need to keep their stomata open as much for the same amount of CO2 and thus lose less water.

  45. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 8:54 AM | Permalink | Reply

    and let us assume global warming for a moment.

    Of course we are all innundated with how bad it will be, no one dres mention a benefit. But there will be benefits. Incluiding longer growing seasons. Longer growing season = more food.

    Ah, but the “more extreme” weather and climate events will produce droughts and flooding that will harm agriculture. I am sure warmer weather will also harm future produce via disease and insect vectors that will wipe-out crops and livestock. There are apparently absolutely no net positives from global warming.

    Then again, with all of the catastrophic deaths due to the increases in heat waves, droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornados, rising sea levels, etc, will we really be adding anywhere close to 3B people?

  46. ET SidViscous
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 9:17 AM | Permalink | Reply

    #45

    Is there supposed to be a sarcasam tag in that or not?

  47. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 9:50 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re#46
    [sarcasm on]NO[/sarcasm off]…better :)

  48. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Reply

    27 et al (+ 38):

    If you are correct in your methodolgy in projecting land area required in 2050, then you have struck upon a new bozo simple method of agronomy forecasting.

    Share this new method with the field. People deserve to know. I have offered enticement as impetus.

    But perhaps I made the bet too narrow. Let me widen it’s scope (amended portion follows):

    o Submit it to any journal that is in the ISI database.

    That is probably 2-3 orders of magnitude greater choice.

    Best,

    D

  49. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Er, Dano,

    Simple obvious stuff such as has been presented here is not what journals are looking for (nor should they be). The question is why someone as obviously intelligent as you appear to be, should waste everyone’s time, including your own, trying to reject obvious truth? It’s not like you’re converting anyone to your scaremonger views. It’s actually the direct opposite, as people see how silly your remarks are and say, “What is wrong with this picture?” If I were a conspiracy believer, I’d think you were a AGW skeptic in disguise trying to discredit the positions you ostensibly support.

  50. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Reply

    30:

    Dano’s POV actually becomes a curio now that we are in the 21st century…[n]Namely, the POV is that of the Malthusians.

    _Exactly_! this is part of the impetus for my bet!

    See, the NewScience being created here can refute that ol’ Malthusian paradigm and put the warmers to pasture (smaller pasture, sure, but still). This 21st C paradigm has _got_ to get off the ground, Steve.

    If no journal accepts the papers that people will write to steal my money from me (I didn’t limit my bet to one paper – ten folks here can collect on the wager), Steve, then look at all the papers you’ll have for the premiere edition of Galileo: The journal of CA NewScience.

    Imagine the landslide that will sweep those curios away! Seize this opportunity.

    Best,

    D

  51. Ken Robinson
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: 35

    Michael, you’re exactly correct. I’ve been looking through the FAO database since Willis pointed me to it. The increase in US agriculture productivity is very impressive, and starting as it did from a relatively efficient base this makes the achievement even more impressive. This in turn means that simply applying existing technology and practices to the existing stock of land around the world would raise yields tremendously. China, Russia and Ukraine, for example, haven’t come anywhere near matching the improvements in US productivity over the last 15 years, and they were starting from a much less productive point to begin with (Ukraine has actually declined significantly; Russia and China have barely improved at all). The productivity gap between these nations and the US has actually widened, meaning the “additional” available capacity in these three countries alone is staggering. India managed to match the US in productivity growth during that period, but since they didn’t actually reduce the huge initial difference there is, quite obviously, room for huge increases in India as well.

    Add to these factors the future productivity improvements possible from advanced biotech, and the feeding of an additional 3 B people is certainly achievable. The primary obstacles aren’t technological; they’re social and economic. Witness, for example, African nations refusing to import GM seed because of pressure from environmentalists. This despite the fact that there is no evidence of harm from GM whatsoever.

    Just for giggles, here are a few data points to illustrate these examples:

    Productivity – Calorie / Cropland Ratio; 1990 = 1.0 (Russia, Ukraine; 1992 = 1.0)
    1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
    USA 1.00 1.02 1.05 1.08 1.12 1.11 1.14 1.18 1.21 1.24 1.29 1.31 1.32 1.33
    Russia 0.00 0.00 1.00 1.04 1.02 1.02 1.01 1.00 1.01 1.03 1.04 1.07 1.10 1.11
    China 1.00 1.01 1.03 1.05 1.07 1.09 1.11 1.14 1.14 1.09 1.07 1.03 1.03 1.04
    Ghana 1.00 1.22 1.25 1.35 1.37 1.38 1.36 1.29 1.24 1.26 1.25 1.28 1.31 1.33
    S.Afr. 1.00 1.00 0.96 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.99 1.02 1.05 1.06 1.10 1.11 1.14 1.15
    India 1.00 1.04 1.08 1.03 1.09 1.15 1.17 1.20 1.16 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.31 1.33
    Namibia 1.00 1.04 1.06 1.01 0.98 0.93 0.94 1.01 1.04 1.09 1.15 1.19 1.22 1.24
    Nigeria 1.00 1.08 1.14 1.21 1.22 1.28 1.37 1.45 1.51 1.55 1.55 1.56 1.53 1.56
    Uganda 1.00 1.00 1.01 1.05 1.08 1.12 1.11 1.13 1.21 1.25 1.30 1.35 1.43 1.41
    Congo 1.00 1.02 1.05 1.05 1.04 0.97 0.97 0.97 0.98 0.97 0.98 0.99 1.00 1.04
    Ukraine 0.00 0.00 1.00 0.96 0.88 0.85 0.83 0.84 0.83 0.81 0.84 0.87 0.87 0.87

    By way of explanation, since each country’s calorie / ha ratio is unique due to its own particular circumstance, each year is expressed as the change in cal / ha ratio from the prior year. There are some systemtic errors built in to the numbers. The FAO database itself contains a few obvious mistakes (some nations show identical production values for completely different foodstuffs, for example). Also, total production includes fish and other aquatic sources that can’t be attributed to “cropland”. Finally, the data acquisition from some nations must be very questionable. Still, it’s probably a good approximation.

    And no, Dano, I don’t intend to write anything up and submit it as a paper to anybody. You wanted numbers from people in support of their arguments; you’ve got ‘em. Since you don’t like them, you say, in essence, “get it published or it’s worthless.” Well, I think most people here have their own opinion of who and what is worthless, and I doubt your opinion agrees with the majority. Not that I’m appealing to consensus…

  52. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Reply

    49:

    Simple obvious stuff such as has been presented here is not what journals are looking for (nor should they be)

    No sir.

    This is a revolutionary new way of forecasting – 21st century stuff to sweep away agronomic curios. It completely rejects the need to consider land capacity, N diminishing returns, water limits, yield limits, NPK utilization by crops, animal waste absorption, siting of land wrt aquifers or surface water, acreage to grow fodder for the required animal growth to deliver caloric density on such small parcels.

    We do a simple statistical analysis and that’s it – no need to consider anything else.

    Who knew? Agronomists before today concerned themselves with all that non-statistical stuff.

    Now, in the 21st C, we have no need for that – we can simply plot a trendline and move on to other things.

    This new technique must be shared.

    Remember, I didn’t limit the bet to one person. Think about it, Dave.

    Best,

    D

  53. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Reply

    51:

    (Last explanation on this folks. I look forward to seeing what terms folk offer me)

    Since you don’t like them, you say, in essence, “get it published or it’s worthless.”

    I did not.

    I said, in essence: share this revolutionary discovery that we need far less land than agronomists have been forecasting.

    I offered enticement to get folk to spread this discovery far and wide (I didn’t limit the bet to how many papers were accepted – in fact, I widened the scope of the bet after I realized the import of this discovery).

    Best,

    D

  54. Ken Robinson
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 11:03 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: 53

    Ponder the meaning of the phrase “in essence”.

    And thank god this is your last “explanation”.

  55. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 29, Charles, thanks for your contirbution. You ask:

    However, it is possible is it not that the new land that needs to be brought into cultivation for 3B new mouths might not be of sufficient quality to maintain the average quality of the last 150M ha? Do we know what the total inventory is of sufficient quality to support the current or recent average productivity?

    The answer to this question is contained in the GAEZ study, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this subject. It is available here . The short answer to your question is that there is plenty land available, of sufficient quality, to feed the world.

    w.

  56. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 11:41 AM | Permalink | Reply

    55:

    Your number, willis, is far less land than agronomists have been forecasting.

    Have I missed your terms above somewhere, sir?

    Note I didn’t limit the number of papers.

    Will the curio-smashing results dip deep into Dano’s beer money?!?

    Best,

    D

  57. Barney Frank
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 11:54 AM | Permalink | Reply

    See, the NewScience being created here can refute that ol’ Malthusian paradigm

    Earth to Dano, its already been refuted, but like socialism and other faiths masquerading as incontrovertible truths it will probably never die. Proof will always be promised as just over the horizon if only we will give it enough time.

  58. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 12:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 30, Steve Sadlov, you say:

    Dano’s POV actually becomes a curio now that we are in the 21st century.

    Namely, the POV is that of the Malthusians.

    Based on the 19th century world view, Malthusianism made sense. How could it not? Back then the Earth was being raped, filth belched into the skies of numerous valleys with that special combination of water, workers and nearby coal, and, us humans were right brutish.

    So, it can be understood that someone extrapolating back then would have ended up in Malthusian conclusions.

    Thank God we’re past all that.

  59. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re: #52

    Well, let’s list some of the likely changes in land productivity:

    1. Application of existing technology on existing farmland.
    2. New improvements in farm technology (not counting crops)
    3. Improved crop varieties including GM.
    4. CO2 fertilization from fossil fuel burning
    5. Increased water efficiency from CO2 and presumed increases in rainfall because of AGW.

    Now these are essentially independent factors. Since we’re assuming needing to produce more crops to feed an additional 3B people from existing farmland and whatever is added, let’s see what it requires us to have in improvement per year….

    Let’s assume a present pop of 6.5B and a total improvement of 1% per year. Then in 2050 the supportable population, assuming no increased land would be 10.02B

    So let’s look at the 5 areas above. It’s been a while since I lived on a farm and read various farmers journals, but I know that the difference between the top and bottom yields of identical cropland is much more than 50%, even in the US. And in other countries it can run several times. I suppose the increase might decline, but it would be likely slow. I find it hard to believe that farm efficiency increase from just presently existing technology would be lower than .2% per year.

    Future improvements might include things like using robotic weeding and insect plucking and thus greatly reduce pesticide/herbicide usage. Nanoparticle fertilizers might be designed to assure that essentially no fertilizer is wasted / polluted streams, lakes and oceans. The robots, when they get done with the weeding might pick fruits and vegetables when they’re at their peak, eliminating the present wastage. I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s every reason to expect, especially as we near 2050 that there will be major improvements in non-crop farm efficiency.

    There has already been major improvement in crops themselves from GM and this is only going to increase, especially if the radical environmentalists get weeded out and only the potential problem spots (mostly totally new sorts of gene products) in GM crops are regulated. In fact the potential here by itself will likely exceed 1% per year, but it will certainly be more than .2%

    CO2 fertilization is a bit dicey. Personally I think the Idsos are correct that it will sufficient for a 25%+ increase for a doubling of CO2, but even if their naysayers are correct and it levels off at say 15%, this would be sufficient to give us a .2% increase a year [side note: .2% from 2006 to 2050 is only a final increase of 9.1%. And 1.09^5 (all five factors above) gives us a 53% increase total.]

    It’s difficult to say how much of the increases in CO2 growth increases in, for instance, the FACE plantations occurred from better water usage, so this might not apply in some areas. OTOH, there is a lot of presently low-production land which could be greatly improved by a combination of drought resistant crops (see #3) and higher CO2 levels making less water needed. Also the very essence of AGW is that higher temps will make higher evaporation rates, but this implies also higher precipitation, since water vapor has a low retention time in the atmosphere. Capturing some percentage of this increased rain will result in more water available for crops. Lot’s of farmland could make good use of more water; certainly enough to result in an overall increase in production of .2% or more.

    So there’s a greater breakdown of how things might change before 2050. If you want to actually discuss reality vs Malthusian pipe-dreams (or nightmares), feel free to comment.

  60. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 30, Steve Sadlov, you say:

    Dano’s POV actually becomes a curio now that we are in the 21st century.

    Namely, the POV is that of the Malthusians.

    Based on the 19th century world view, Malthusianism made sense. How could it not? Back then the Earth was being raped, filth belched into the skies of numerous valleys with that special combination of water, workers and nearby coal, and, us humans were right brutish.

    So, it can be understood that someone extrapolating back then would have ended up in Malthusian conclusions.

    Thank God we’re past all that.

    I assume you’re being sarcastic, but you don’t understand why Malthus made his claims. It had nothing to do with coal or how humans treat the earth. It was simple mathematics.

    Malthus concluded that, since populations increased geometrically, while food production only increased arithmetically, that population would always outstrip food production. To quote him directly:

    … population increases in a geometric ratio, while the means of subsistence increases in an arithmetic ratio.

    He failed to note two things:

    1) Due to disease, famine, war, and disaster, population does increases less than geometrically.

    2) As every poor farmer knows, if you have a bunch of kids to help you in the fields, you can grow more food … in other words, food production is in some sense a function of population, and thus increases more than arithmetically.

    In the event, Malthus has been proven dramatically wrong. Since 1960, we’ve doubled the population … and we’ve also increased food per capita by 25% … go figure.

    w.

  61. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 12:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Danàƒⶬ we won’t know for at least 4-6 months (journal lead time) if anyone has taken you up on your challenge … so while we’re waiting, perhaps you’d be willing to:

    1) stop harping about your challenge, yes, we did notice it, it was just as fascinating the fourth time you issued it as it was the first time, and

    2) actually discuss the issues? Such as …

    Last time we added 3 billion people, we added 150 million Ha of land to feed them.

    Do you truly think the next 3 billion will take more land?

    Now, I know I’m asking a difficult thing here, which is that you not make any appeals to authority (journals or agronomists), that you not send us any “linkies”, that you not get all defensive, but that you actually think about the question and answer it …

    Given that agricultural technology has advanced greatly, given that many parts of the world are still using wooden plows instead of current technology, given that agricultural technology will continue to advance, given that GM plants give increased yields on marginal lands, given all of that … do you, Danàƒⶬ really think it will take more land next time than it did last time?

    w.

  62. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Reply

    RE: #60 – Certainly, the math played a prominent role in Malthusianism. But I also must accord something to the sort of relationship therewas between Man and Nature at the time. The rising din of the Industrial Revolution made it much easier for futurists of the day to imagine a future Hell on Earth. They had no idea that we’d learn to manage both ourselves and resources. They also, as you have duly noted, prophecied a sort of “burn out sprint” of capitalism, which we now know to have been, as you also noted, a gross oversimplication of the system behavior in question.

  63. Jeff Weffer
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Just wanted to note that the peak of world population has progressively been lowered in recent years since birth rates/fertility rates are declining.

    The most recent estimate is 8.9 billion people in 2050.

    The fertility rate (the number of children that each woman has: 2.1 is the number required to keep the population constant) has been falling everywhere around the world. In the West, this trend started in the 1950s. It most of the rest of the world, the trend only became evident in the last 5 to 10 years.

    As women enter the work-force, gain access to birth control, gain rights, begin to think of family standard of living rather than having children, the fertility rate begins falling.

    Out of 190 countries on Earth, 70 countries are now below 2.0 in fertility (declining population without immigration), a further 60 are below 3.0 and the remainder are now falling as well.

    The world population explosion is not going to happen.

    And agricultural productivity has been increasing throughout history (10,000 years of history that is) as technology, techniques, new plant varieties and new animal varieties enter the industry. At one time, 95% of the population worked in agriculture whereas in the US today it is only 2%.

    I have seen some studies that show agricultural productivity increases in a linear trend. The number of people working in agriculture has also followed a lnear trend downward. I don’t know the particular figures.

  64. ET SidViscous
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    “especially if the radical environmentalists get weeded out ”

    Can we get a robot for that too?

    “I’lll be back.”

  65. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:15 PM | Permalink | Reply

    RE: #63 – Also, the countries which today greatly weight the overall statistics (PRC, India, US, Indonesia, Russia, Japan, etc) are all, with the exception of India and Indonesia, lower than replacement. India is unquestionably heading there fast as is Indonesia. Japan and Russia are actively trying to increase birth rates since they are already in a crisis due to the inverted growth and death curves.

  66. Barney Frank
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #58, Willis you said,

    Based on the 19th century world view, Malthusianism made sense. How could it not? Back then the Earth was being raped, filth belched into the skies of numerous valleys with that special combination of water, workers and nearby coal, and, us humans were right brutish.

    So, it can be understood that someone extrapolating back then would have ended up in Malthusian conclusions.

    I suppose to some it may have seemed that way, but David Ricardo, Adam Smith and Jean Baptiste Say(among others) were able to see through the coal dust and not follow those short sighted extrapolations.
    There’s nothing new under the sun. In all ages there are the prophets of doom and the idea that each succeeding generation thinks it is unique and wiser and more enlightened than all that has passed before never seems to die.

  67. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:20 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Jeff Weffer (# 63) says:

    Just wanted to note that the peak of world population has progressively been lowered in recent years since birth rates/fertility rates are declining.

    The most recent estimate is 8.9 billion people in 2050.

    Yes, and in addition we are already at 6.6 billion people …

    w.

  68. Barney Frank
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Sorry Willis, that was Steve S’s quote.

  69. joshua corning
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    there has been a sort of pile on dano thread and i am not the one to say he doesn’t deserve it….

    But i would like to say this is perhaps the best defense dano has put up in terms of substance.

    Anyway, thank you dano; for explaining your possision better then i have read it elsewhere…it is apreacheted and i think I have come away from this with a greater understanding of Tilman’s work and your position.

  70. Jim Edwards
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:42 PM | Permalink | Reply

    50 Nuclear Power Plants + a few Hundred Hydroponic Factories with attendant Desalinization Plants = Virtually Unlimited Food

  71. Harold Kumar
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:54 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Did someone mention Aquaculture yet. Fish farms and other ocean innovations could add a lot of food. I say “Let them eat shrimp.”

  72. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 1:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    61:

    (For clarification on: 1) there are terms that acceptor must set, hence my questioning – that is: what happens if there is no acceptance of submittal. This is a bet, not payment.)

    Do you truly think the next 3 billion will take more land [than 150 M ha]? [Don't] make any appeals to authority ([that is: rely on the previous findings of] journals or agronomists), that you not send us any “linkies”,… do you, DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶬ really think it will take more land next time than it did last time?

    Yes. The Green Revolution gains peaked and [despite attempts to show otherwise], productivity gains are slowing** (sorry). N cannot continue to be added without externalities to other sectors (and the Haber process is energy-intensive, so continued high application of N with increasing cost is going to be an issue – links on this pvs thread), the surface water budget is already strained and current aquifers will have serious problems delivering the water required; land productivity is not this high without energy and water inputs and delivering them will need to get done {e.g.: you don’t just go somewhere and plant a seed and get 118 bu/ac). Where the greatest pop growth will occur also happens to have the poorest yields, soil, processes and infrastructure [not to mention nonindustrial ag so inherently lo yields], so more land will need to be added there due to inefficiencies unless hi-value land is added away from pop growth, then you have to ship it at high cost, and who’s going to pay for that?

    But feeding 3B can be done if we increase R&D into new varieties [I'm not getting into the GMO thing here, BTW, per willis req.] and deliver water far more efficiently than we do now (infrastructure investment). We can also do this if we allow cattle to graze between plantings and fertilize that way – but this will require scaling back from current industrial processes that unitize production functions and instead to reintegrate, say, dairy and grain production. We should, in my view, also stop these dang subsidies and allow competition to push innovation, and also stop subsidizing water in the US and this will drive efficiencies – bad thing is higher food prices, but high-value crops (with more vitamins) will become more prevalent, and also small farms may become a viable sector again, giving greater employment options.

    Best,

    D

    ** compromise wording, hence the inconsistency. I’m open to alternate standard wording.

  73. bender
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 2:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    In all ages there are the prophets of doom

    Maybe. But the problem is that you can’t afford to dismiss them all as false prophets, because one of them may actually be right.

  74. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 2:53 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The Green Revolution gains peaked and [despite attempts to show otherwise], productivity gains are slowing** (sorry).

    Dost thou not have a more up-to-date linky than August ’97, maybe from a peer-reviewed journal article which provides actual references? There is a claim made in one of the first few paragraphs of an annual population growth rate of 2%, which according to the US Census Bureau (as of this month – maybe there will be some dramatic updates and revisionist history in the future!) hasn’t been seen since the early 1970s and is much higher than any figure I can find – including those of your own linkies.

    But feeding 3B can be done

    Still caught up in that “3B by 2050″ figure? We’ve moved on. We’re talking less than 2.5B in growth from back in 2005 up to 2050 (see table down page). 17% of your envisioned worries have been washed away. Sing along with me – “So long! Farewell! Auf wiedersehen! Goodbye!”

  75. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 3:17 PM | Permalink | Reply

    74:

    Dost thou not have a more up-to-date linky

    1. Willis asked for no linkies in my reply, I was bad and chose one anyway that broke into sectors for more information to the discussion. See also below for date contextualization.
    2. See the b-quote in IIRC 244 pvs thread, then I gave equations for slope of trendlines further down.

    Still caught up in that “3B by 2050″‚Ⱡfigure? We’ve moved on.

    The Tilman et al. 2050 # is 9B, based on figgers ~2000, hence using same growth numbers for comparative purposes. You’ll recall that’s what the topic is about: whether Tilman et al.’s numbers (from ~2000) are ‘alarmist’.

    HTH,

    D

  76. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 3:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The Tilman et al. 2050 # is 9B, based on figgers ~2000, hence using same growth numbers for comparative purposes. You’ll recall that’s what the topic is about: whether Tilman et al.’s numbers (from ~2000) are “alarmist’.

    If we were discussing whether or not Ehrlich’s “the Population Bomb” were “alarmist,” would we use his original figures and convince ourselves that such gloom-and-doom happened/was happening without our notice, or would we discuss it using updated info?

    Francois says: To perform their forecasts, the authors have used data on 6 variables over the past 40 years (1960 to 2000), namely: use of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, global irrigation, global pasture and crop land, and global pesticide use. They have used univariate and multivariate trend estimations as a function of time, population, and GDP to extrapolate the values of those six variables in 2020 and 2050. They use those values as a basis for discussing the future environmental impacts.

    Tilman et al. used data up to 2000. For 2020 forecasts, we’ve got data for 25% of the way there. For 2050 forecasts, we’ve got data for 10% of the way there. So have the variables/trends possibly changed with the inclusion of the last 5 years of data to lessen the severity of their “forecasts?” Are they still in-line? Or are things looking worse than the original forecasts? Wouldn’t that go a long ways in determining whether or not Tilman et al. were “alarmist” vs reasonable?

  77. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 4:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

    76:

    Ah. I understand your question. The figgers I used to calculate trendlines are from FAOSTAT and linked in my pvs comments.

    Best,

    D

  78. Barney Frank
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 4:30 PM | Permalink | Reply

    We should, in my view, also stop these dang subsidies and allow competition to push innovation, and also stop subsidizing water in the US and this will drive efficiencies

    Careful Dano, you’re starting to make sense.:)

  79. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 5:50 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 72, Danàƒⶬ thank you for your reply. You say that it will take more land this time than it did last time to add 3B people, because yields are no longer increasing as fast as they were.

    Now, you know me, Danàƒⶬ I live to look this sh*t up, so I did … here’s the yields for all of the major divisions of the vegetable kingdom, plus population growth.

    Note that in general, after wandering all over the map, the yields have converged lately to an increase of about a percent per year, which is also the current rate of population growth. Next, consider that if we just stay the same, we won’t need any more land, since yield is increasing as fast as population. And since population growth is dropping, coincidententally about as fast as say wheat yield growth is dropping, it looks like we might not need a single hectare more land …

    Now, can we increase the yields? Yes, and we can even do it using current technology, because as you point out in a (mostly) correct statement,

    Where the greatest pop growth will occur also happens to have the poorest yields, soil, processes and infrastructure [not to mention nonindustrial ag so inherently lo yields] …

    These are the areas that do not need some future technologies or things that haven’t been invented. These are areas that can benefit from today’s technology. Where the need is the greatest, the chance for yield increase is also the greatest.

    w.

    PS – Why did I say your statement is only “mostly” correct? Because many of the poor countries have excellent land. I have mentioned before that there is enough cropland in Sudan to feed all of Africa, rich, rain-fed land … yet Sudan is desperately poor.

    Care to guess which country has the richest land on the planet?

    Bangladesh, it’s almost entirely made up of rich river delta bottomland, solid topsoil … and also very poor …

    w.

    PS — STOP THE US AND EU AND JAPANESE FARM SUBSIDIES! You’re 100% right on that one, Danàƒⶠ…

  80. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 7:37 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Willis,

    Yields for citrus fruits are declining. The world will definitely run out of oranges soon. This will have massive health impacts: scurvy will rise as a cause of death, and will affect billions of people. Furthermore, it makes me grumpy if I don’t have orange juice in the morning ; )

    Franàƒ⦯is

  81. Gareth
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 8:38 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Care to guess which country has the richest land on the planet? … Bangladesh, it’s almost entirely made up of rich river delta bottomland, solid topsoil … and also very poor …

    Most of which will disappear as sea levels rise.

    Perhaps the increased agricultural output from Greenland’s farms will help the Bangladeshis.

    Or perhaps not.

    Gareth

  82. ET SidViscous
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 8:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Citrus fruits are probably decinign because Autumn seems to be coming in August now.

  83. Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 8:51 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Here are a couple of papers with references that might help illuminate this discussion:

    1. Goklany, IM. 1999. “Meeting Global Food Needs: The Environmental Trade-offs Between Increasing Land Conversion and Land Productivity.” Technology 6: 107-130.

    2. Goklany, IM. 1998. “Saving Habitat and Conserving Biodiversity on a Crowded Planet.” BioScience 48: 941-953.

    Both work out how much additional cropland would be needed by 2050 to feed a global population of 9.6 billion. It will probably come as no surprise that the answer depends in large part on the rate at which annual productivity will grow (or is allowed to grow), that is, on technological change. To cut a long story short, they indicate that:

    “‚⠉Even if annual productivity gains are much lower than what they were during the Green Revolution days, there is enough potential cropland to meet demand (as estimated by assuming that global food supplies per capita increases at the same rate as it did between 1969-71 and 1989-91). From 1969-1971 through 1991-93, the annual rate of global agricultural productivity gains were slightly more than 2%. If this is reduced to 1.0%/yr between 1993 and 2050, then an additional 368 million hectares (Mha) of cropland would be needed. On the other hand, if productivity were increased to 1.5%/yr, then 77 Mha of current cropland could be returned to the rest of nature.
    “‚⠉There are at least 3,335 Mha of potential cropland around the world (excluding China). By contrast current cropland (i.e., land in crops = FAO’s area in “arable + permanent crops”) is of the order of 1,500 Mha.

    The papers address the issue such as those raised by Dano — can new cropland be as productive as existing cropland? The short answer: not without effort and not if we don’t press new or improved technologies into service.

    Regarding pesticides, fertilizers etc., how much will be consumed in the future depends on technologies that are employed “¢’‚¬? or, should I say, allowed to be employed. Take for instance, cotton cultivation, which conventionally has required a lot of pesticides — about 50% of India’s pesticide use was on cotton crops. But with genetically modified insect resistant cotton (also known as Bt cotton), pesticide use has dropped. For example, in 2004, Bt cotton was planted on 7.1 million acres (or 51 percent) of U.S. cotton area. This reduced pesticide use by 1.76 million pounds, increased yields by 587 million pounds (or 82 pounds per acre) and netted farmers $297 million (or $42 per acre). [Source: Sujatha Sankula, Gregory Marmon, and Edward Blumenthal, Biotechnology-Derived Crops Planted in 2004 "¢'‚¬? Impacts on US agriculture: Executive Summary (Washington, DC: National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy 2005)]. This suggests that it is not inevitable that pesticide use will increase, but if we — as a society — reject new technologies such as GM crops, then it is more likely that it will. The same is probably true for N and P usage. Future GM crops may be able to fix their own nitrogen or better utilize phosphorus [see, e.g., Goklany, IM. 2000. Applying the Precautionary Principle to Genetically Modified Crops. Center for the Study of American Business, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., USA. Policy Study 157. For those interested in climate change, this paper also touches on GM crops that would reduce vulnerability to climate change].

    Of course, we also have precision agriculture in the wings, which would also help reduce chemical inputs without necessarily resorting to GM crops, although in combination with GM crops, the reductions in use could be spectacular.

    BTW, these technologies would also help reduce water demand for agriculture which, incidentally, accounts for 85% of world’s freshwater consumption. The possibility of water shortages is often raised as one of the major concerns regarding climate change, although some studies suggest greater water availability under climate change — but that’s another story.

    [For all these reasons it is surprising that many are opposed to GM crops, even as they decry the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and too much water for agriculture. Of course, this is not much different from proclaiming the importance of climate change even as one objects to using nuclear to displace fossil fuels. Life's a bitch and, unfortunately, all solutions to the truly interesting problems are second-best, or they would have been solved by now.]

    Finally, for what it’s worth, note that some recent studies on the impacts of climate change on land use under a warming climate indicate that climate change could actually reduce the amount of cropland due to a combination of factors including CO2 fertilization, more favorable growing conditions in some areas (but not others). Following is a portion of a table from a piece I did titled, “Is a Richer-but-warmer World Better than Poorer-but-cooler Worlds?” The data are for the most part constructed from: (1) Levy, P.E., et al. (2004). “Modelling the impact of future changes in climate, CO2 concentration and land use on natural ecosystems and the terrestrial carbon sink,” Global Environmental Change 14 (1): 21-30, and (2) Arnell, N.W. et al. (2004). “Climate change and global water resources: SRES emissions and socio-economic scenarios,” Global Environmental Change 14 (1): 31-52. Of course, these studies use GCM outputs, and come with a lot of other baggage.

    TABLE: Ecological indicators under different scenarios, 2085-2100

    1990 A1FI
    A2
    B2
    B1

    Global temperature increase (àƒÅ½”‚¬?T) (in 2085) o C 0 4.0 3.3 2.4 2.1
    Global population (in 2085) billions 5.3 7.9 14.2 10.2 7.9
    GDP/capita, global average (in 2085) 1,000$/cap 3.8 52.6 13.0 20.0 36.6
    CO2 concentration (in 2100) ppm 353 970 856 621 549
    Net Biome Productivity with climate change (in 2100) Pg C/yr 0.7 5.8 5.9 3.1 2.4
    Area of cropland with climate change (in 2100) % of global land area 11.6% 5.0% NA 13.7% 7.8%

    [I have to apologize if this table comes out as gibberish. I seem to be unable to make it come out as intended. It can, however, be viewed here It is part of Table 8.]

  84. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:30 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Hey Danàƒⶬ looks like Dr. Goklany has an article in a professional journal that puts the future land need between a high end value of 386Mha and a low end value of -77Mha. The average of these two values is 155 MHa, which is the same as the figure I quoted.

    Since he provides a quite credible projection of -77MHa, that is, we can revert 77Mha of cropland, and since his average projection is 150Mha, I’d say he’s already won your Danàƒⶠchallenge.

    I guess we get to see if you were just blowing smoke at this point … and since you’re into challenges and predictions, I might as well be too …

    I predict that you’ll find something in the fine print of the Danàƒⶠchallenge that means that despite Dr. Goklany having predicted in a professional journal that we might be able to feed the 2050 population on no more land than we’re using now, and that 150 MHa is a very reasonable projection of land needs, you’ll find some way to get out of paying him the $100 …

    w.

  85. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Aug 31, 2006 at 10:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

    RE: #80 and #82 – Land suitable for citrus is still in abundance in California. The problem is, price erosion due to masses of low quality citrus being grown in Florida and Brazil prevents it from being utilized. If the prices of citrus ever go up enough, you can bet California will rise to the challenge.

  86. welikerocks
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 7:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Welcome and thank Dr. Goklany for speaking up and commenting.

    Dano’s constant claim that “no scientists read Climate Audit”, is also wrong I see.

    #82 ET
    yes that “heat wave” we had here in California for a couple of weeks was Summer.

  87. Dano
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Reply

    83:

    Thank you Dr Golkany for helping out the CA commenters (I hope they spare you their umbrage at your citing Ehrlich).

    I have not previously read your enjoyable BioSci paper & thank you for providing it; your last two paragraphs are almost exactly my views as well.

    With respect to your statement can new cropland be as productive as existing cropland? The short answer: not without effort and not if we don’t press new or improved technologies into service, I believe this strategy of deploying technologies will expand agricultural employment, which may empower more people and drive down the need for industrial practices in agriculture, increasing the likelihood of fostering sustainable agriculture to help preserve ecosystems. Most important for this, in my view, is lowering the dependence on N inputs – natural fertilizers improve tilth and lower demand for water, in addition to being cheaper and not dependent upon fossil fuels for production. Now if we can just find leaders with some will!

    84:

    I’d say he’s already won your Danàƒⶠchallenge.

    It’s a bet, not a challenge.

    The offer can be found here (modified to bound for journals w/i ISI – as in BioSci). It should be less challenging now that someone has provided some scholarship.

    Best,

    D

  88. Indur Goklany
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I would like to correct a couple of misconceptions.

    Re # 86 {welikerocks, BTW welikeyourname]: I consider myself a policy analyst rather than a pure scientist. I work on policy issues which are normally –or ought to be — heavily informed by science, e.g., climate change, biodiversity, air quality, etc.

    Re #84 (willis): The info I provided are best labeled as “contingent projections”. That is, the method was essentially as follows: if the average productivity improves by 1% per year, then we would need an additional 386 Mha; or if the productivity increases by 1.5% per year then we could use 77 million fewer hectares, etc. The problem arises in that we don’t know the probability for either of these productivity increases. It’s also plausible that productivity might increase by 2.0% per yr, which would mean a far greater return of land to the rest of nature, and so forth. It’s less plausible that the productivity increase will be zero percent per yr, although given the cachet of “organic” foods, that can’t be ruled out — at least in the richer areas of the world, where one can be both fashionable and well-fed (although increasingly, in many areas, fashionable and well-fed don’t go together). On the other hand, the rush to make ethanol and other biofuels from anything organic may push a massive increase in food and agricultural productivity (for both land and water). So one can’t say we would need an additional 155 Mha to feed 9.6 billion in 2050 or 100 MHa less… Or if any reduction in land needed to feed people would not be exceeded by land used to grow fuel for their cars.

    The point of these analyses in my papers was to illustrate the importance of technological change. [Not allowing for technological change was the basic reason why Malthus'original analysis failed its real world test. But I can't really blame him too much because before and during his lifetime such changes came about relatively slowly. I, however, think that the Malthusians of the 20th and 21st century --e.g., the Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, etc. -- don't have the same excuse.]

    The other point is that the realized rate of increases in productivity depends on society’s attitudes toward technological change. But since I am unable to predict society’s future attitudes toward new technologies, I can’t assign probabilities to these contingent predictions with any great confidence. We can have access to — and be able to afford — all the technology in the (future) world, but it won’t do any good if it’s not implemented. Consider, for example, the fate of the Norse settlements in Greenland in the 14th/15th centuries. They might have been able to survive had they adopted (and adapted) the technologies used by the Inuits. But for whatever reason — social norms, a “not invented here” philosophy, a rudimentary version of the precautionary principle, or whatever — they did not do so, and they paid the price. So today their absence serves as a reminder of the dictum: adapt or perish.

    Finally, my analyses are very simple and are essentially back-of-the-envelope, but they are no less plausible than more elaborate number-crunching exercises done using GCMs, elaborate agricultural models incorporating umpteen crops, temperature and precipitation changes at each grid cell, etc. For one thing, both the simple and elaborate analyses share common flaws: major uncertainties about the future rate of technological change and people’s future tastes, neither of which any one has a clue about. For another, no one has any idea how good forecasts of temp, precip, etc at the subregional level are likely to be. Hence the added utility of elaborate analyses are debatable. There should be a corollary to Occam’s razor for modeling: Eschew the elaborate if one can get equally plausible results doing something simple.

  89. Dano
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 10:59 AM | Permalink | Reply

    88:

    The moniker NeoMalthusian as applied to Ehrlich isn’t 100% correct, as AIUI Paul’s view on this issue (correct or incorrect, it’s a view) is that society likely can’t solve its intractable problems to focus on redirecting to address the issues you outline in your BioSci paper. That is: it’s not an inability to envision/quantify technological change that led to the conclusion in the book (hence Nineveh).

    In contrast, I note you cited Vashek C. in your two provided papers; if you ask him about this issue, he’ll likely tell you the difficulties in production expansion from a different aspect. Namely: farming is hard (he was a farmer) and if our economy continues to produce high-paying jobs that don’t require labor, it will be difficlut to expand the labor force to produce the additional food, as folks will likely go to lower labor-intensive jobs.

    Just a thought.

    Best,

    D

  90. ET SidViscous
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Dr. Goklany

    Does any of this take into account agriculture used for non-foodstuff purposes. i.e. corn used for Methanol, soy for bio-diesel and the like.

    And the calculation of farmland. Is this farmland used for agriculture, or farmland reserved for agriculutre. In other words are subsidized farms that aren’t used to grow included.

    I apologize if you’ve alread answered this in your posts and I didn’t see it.

  91. Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Reply

    #88 Dr. Goklany,

    Yours is a wise and sound methodology. You admit uncertainties, and acknowledge the potential role of technological development, as well as regulatory trends and social trends. You say : “my analyses are very simple and are essentially back-of-the-envelope”, but they are nevertheless more sophisticated than Tilman’s, who just extended a linear trend, and used it as a basis, not of a quantitative forecast of damage, but of a purely qualitative one (“massive damage”), which has little useful meaning. I also object to their use of “unprecedented”. If the population has grown from 3B to 6B, and is projected to grow from 6B to 9B, then the damage caused by going from 6B to 9B should essentially be of the same magnitude as that caused by going from 3B to 6B, unless it is somehow nonlinear (but the point Tilman makes is that it’s a linear trend…). So at worst there will be similar damage than has occured over the past 40 years. On the other hand, it is undeniable that we are now much more aware of environmental damage, and much more knowledgeable about how to avoid or mitigate it. Developed countries have more and more environmental regulations, and developing countries may be forced, or at least encouraged, to adopt them if they want to trade with the more developed ones.

  92. Dano
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Reply

    91:

    I also object to their use of “unprecedented”. If the population has grown from 3B to 6B, and is projected to grow from 6B to 9B, then the damage caused by going from 6B to 9B should essentially be of the same magnitude as that caused by going from 3B to 6

    psssssst: Pg 947.

    Best,

    D

  93. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 12:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 92, Dano, if you have something to say, please stand up and say it. Your habit of pointing at a page containing a whole host of statements and saying “the answer’s in there somewhere” is neither scientific nor adult behavior. You have been called on this childish behavior before by a number of people.

    Among other things, it gives you the easy out. Since you don’t have the guacalotes to come out and say what you mean, you can always go “no, no, I meant this other statement on the page, you should have known” …

    Clearly, you think something on that page has something to do with Francois’s statement … but what?

    w.

  94. Dano
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Reply

    92:

    willis, the exact location to look is in the mouseover for the link.

    And the information pointed to on the page is counter to the position of FO and others here, which will then point out that the caveats in IG’s paper is counter to FO’s position…so I doubt you really want me to…’scientifically’…expound upon what it’s pointing to, because we’ve had such a nice collegial discussion going here.

    Best,

    D

  95. ET SidViscous
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 1:56 PM | Permalink | Reply

    His point is what on that page.

    Since your being vauge we’ll have to figure it out for ourselves, since you are asking us to put words in your mouth.

    I assume your refereing to the statement.

    “Irrigation increases yields by 200% on average.”

    Yeaaaa irrigation, I assume you want us to irrigate more land.

  96. welikerocks
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 2:14 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #88 I stand corrected. :) Although I suspect Dano’s claim “no scientists read this blog” translates to probably “nobody important, smart or of any validity reads this blog” so I still thank you for commenting. “We like rocks” stands for my husband the environmental geologist and our family.

    #95 When I click the link it takes me to page 941, and you have to then find 947.

  97. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 2:46 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dear Dr. Goklany;

    Thank you for your contribution. You say:

    Re #84 (willis): The info I provided are best labeled as “contingent projections”.

    Indeed they are, as any projection fifty years into the future must be. However, they are in the range that I had projected ( I said from ~0 – 150MHa of addition land needed). I have taken much heat from DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶠfor this projection, so I was glad to see that yours and mine were in the same range, and we much lower than the Tilman paper which DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶠis defending.

    I greatly appreciate your presence here, and I hope you will continue to contribute.

    w.

  98. Jeff Weffer
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 6:52 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Irrigation increases yields by 200% but it also increases costs by 500%. Without government subsidies, irrigation is a net loser for agriculture.

  99. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 8:30 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 98, Jeff, do you have a source for your figures? I ask because irrigation has been used for millennia, long before government subsidy. I grew up on a cattle ranch in the western US, and we dammed a small stream on our land and diverted the water to irrigate our hay fields.

    Also, there are a number of farms in the US that are irrigated from wells. Again, this has been done for a hundred years at least, and so was free of government subsidy.

    While your numbers may be true for massive government supported irrigation schemes, there are many places in the world where irrigation is used on a much smaller scale.

    Finally, your numbers are too even (200%, 500%) to be believed.

    w.

  100. bender
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 10:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

    If the population has grown from 3B to 6B, and is projected to grow from 6B to 9B, then the damage caused by going from 6B to 9B should essentially be of the same magnitude as that caused by going from 3B to 6

    I don’t have time to follow Dano’s link, but the assumption that density-dependent feedback in population systems is linear is not generally tenable. Nonlinearity is the order of the day. Granted, technology can stave off the ugly nonlinearities of competition, disease, etc. for awhile … but for how long, and over what range of population densities, no one knows. Not sure if this is Dano’s point, but if so, it’s logical.

  101. Barney Frank
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 10:17 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re #100,

    Technology and markets are not linear either.

  102. Lee
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 10:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    98,99:
    These numbers are about 15-20 years out of date; that’s the last time I looked at this seriously.

    At that time, most rice farmers in the California central valley paid $15 – $25 an acre foot of water delivered to the local water district by either the state or federal water projects. Some paid less, to as low as about $5 /acre foot, a few paid a bit more, depending on the source and date of their water contracts.

    However, the average COST of water delivered by the government projects was a bit over $100 acre foot, for an average water price subsidy of about $75 /acre foot. Much of this subsidy cost was often hidden in government bookkeeping, because income from hydroelectric sales at the storage reservoirs was applied to the entire project, artificially lowering the cost of delivery, but this simply shifted the cost of the subsidy to the electric part of the financial equation.

    Rice farming in the central valley at that time consumed about 10 feet of water, so an acre of rice consumed an effective government water subsidy of $750. A one-section (640 acre) rice farm therefore received, on average, a government water subsidy of about a half million dollars.

    This analysis was for farms receiving water deliveries billed from the projects – many of the farms received water from Corp of Engineers projects, which were by law managed as ‘flood control’ only, with water released for ‘reservoir drawdown’ in the summer into the river beds, conveneintly enough timed to match rice farming water demands, and then available for riprian water right holders at no cost. So in these areas, the riparian water right holders received managed, stored, summer-delivered water, delivered in the riverbed, for no water cost, adn ahd to bear only the direct cost of pumping or cutting delivery ditches from the river bed. Obviously, this constituted an even greater subsidy than the cheap subsidized water deliveries from the water projects.

    Rice in the central valley is an extreme example of irrigation subsidies, given that it is grown in the dry season, with average rainfall during the growing season of less than one inch, very low humidity, very high temperatures, and an aquatic crop requiring massive amounts of water. But it is illustrative of what government subsidies can make possible – rice farming was economically impossible without those subsidies, ad yet rice farming was (still is) a huge part of California’s ag economy.

  103. Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 11:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #87 Dano: Thanks, your post (#87) and mine (#88) crossed.

    #87 Dano: “I believe this strategy of deploying technologies will expand agricultural employment, which may empower more people and drive down the need for industrial practices in agriculture, increasing the likelihood of fostering sustainable agriculture to help preserve ecosystems. Most important for this, in my view, is lowering the dependence on N inputs – natural fertilizers improve tilth and lower demand for water, in addition to being cheaper and not dependent upon fossil fuels for production. Now if we can just find leaders with some will!”

    Response: (1) Clearly we see eye to eye on many of the solutions, however, I’m not convinced that greater productivity (in order to reduce the amount of land and water used to produce food) will necessarily increase employment. In fact, the historical experience in ag has generally been the opposite. Ag employment in countries which produce more food per acre is relatively low compared to countries where less food is produced per acre. In fact, given Vashtek’s experience as a farmer, which you cited in post #89 (excerpt below), a reduction in ag employment would be, IMHO, doing almost everyone a favor. I get exhausted just thinking about how hard farmers have to work, and for what return? They are constantly at the mercy of the weather not only where they farm but worldwide, supply-and-demand, capital markets, pests, and so forth. No wonder, most farmers fled to big cities and other jobs when they had the opportunity. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a farmer. [If I were, I wouldn't even have the leisure time to make an occasional post on a blog here or there. I wonder how many American farmers are bloggers, despite the fact that most of them are probably very computer savvy.] Also consider that if use of pesticides and fertilizers is reduced, that means fewer workers (and fewer workers exposed to these nasty chemicals).

    (2) I think what is more likely is a trade-off between one set of industrial practices (e.g., greater chemical use) versus another [e.g., systems for precision agriculture and "industrial" production of GM seeds, although "industrial" seed production is not new). The latter should, however, be environmentally more friendly, all things considered.

    #89 Dano: "The moniker NeoMalthusian as applied to Ehrlich isn't 100% correct, as AIUI Paul's view on this issue (correct or incorrect, it's a view) is that society likely can't solve its intractable problems to focus on redirecting to address the issues you outline in your BioSci paper. That is: it's not an inability to envision/quantify technological change that led to the conclusion in the book (hence Nineveh)."

    Response: I do think some of Ehrlich's views have softened and today he seems to better appreciate the role of technological change in reducing environmental impact but originally he (along with now-AAAS president John Holdren) had held that new technology would bring diminishing returns because as the best resources are used up (e.g. minerals, fossil fuels and farm land), society would increasingly have to turn to marginal or less desirable resources to satisfy demand which, then, would increase energy use and pollution. [See Ehrlich and Holdren, "Impact of Population Growth," Science 171: 1212-1217 (1971)]. [BTW, what's AIUI?]

    #89 Dano: “In contrast, I note you cited Vashek C. in your two provided papers; if you ask him about this issue, he’ll likely tell you the difficulties in production expansion from a different aspect. Namely: farming is hard (he was a farmer) and if our economy continues to produce high-paying jobs that don’t require labor, it will be difficlut to expand the labor force to produce the additional food, as folks will likely go to lower labor-intensive jobs.”

    Response: Do you mean Vitousek? I don’t cite any Vashek. Regardless, see response to #87 above. Note that it is energy use that allows us to reduce manual and physical labor and focus our efforts on mental and intellectual work. I am very much in favor of this particular trade-off.

    #89 ET SidViscous: “Does any of this take into account agriculture used for non-foodstuff purposes. i.e. corn used for Methanol, soy for bio-diesel and the like.”

    Response: No it doesn’t. The analysis was done in the 1990s before the biofuel frenzy (and most of the subsidies).

    #89 ET SidViscous: “And the calculation of farmland. Is this farmland used for agriculture, or farmland reserved for agriculutre. In other words are subsidized farms that aren’t used to grow included.”

    Response: Very good question. I used FAO data that was available free and online. It should only include farmland that is planted in temporary or permanent crops, rather than all land in farms. The current definition in FAOSTAT, which I don’t think has changed since the studies were undertaken (but I can’t swear to that just now), includes land that has lain fallow for less than 5 years. So it should include some of the lands farmers are paid not to cultivate. While this could be important for a US- or EU-specific analysis, I don’t think it matters that much for global estimates.

    #90 Francis Oullette. Thanks for all the good words, but I am not sure that there’s all that much difference between Tilman et al’s and my reliance on extrapolating past linear trends into the future. The major differences, as I see it, is that I linearly extrapolated the food supplies per capita into the future (based on what occurred in the past) which is much more economical than their approach with extrapolations based individually on population or GDP. The real difference is that I refused to get trapped into the assumption that there would be no technological change. [And actually this is the source of much of the non-linearity in land use.] On the other hand, while their analysis assumed no tech change, their discussion recognizes that tech change is needed to increase food production while lowering its impact. So in the end, we come out in a similar location. Which does not mean that I would endorse all they propose.

    #90 Francis Oullette: “On the other hand, it is undeniable that we are now much more aware of environmental damage, and much more knowledgeable about how to avoid or mitigate it. Developed countries have more and more environmental regulations, and developing countries may be forced, or at least encouraged, to adopt them if they want to trade with the more developed ones.”

    Response: This is true, but it can also lead to paralysis — and counterproductive outcomes — if developing countries focuses only on the “bads” and overlook the “goods” of a particular technology. Perhaps the best example is that of DDT, which when used judiciously indoors, is the most cost-effective method of preventing malaria in many malaria-prone areas. On the other hand, its excessive use mainly for agricultural purposes outdoors, also caused environmental problems. As a result it acquired a very bad reputation and is banned in most developed countries now (many of which, ironically, became malaria-free partly because of DDT use in the past). Many African and other developed nations, aware of DDT’s detrimental environmental effects also banned its use, which contributed to a resurgence of malaria. Since that time some countries have reintroduced indoor spraying of DDT, which has once again helped suppress that disease. See slide 7 of this presentation by Richard Tren at the Am. Soc. of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene’s 2005 conference. However, the reintroduction has been delayed, for example, in Kenya, because of concerns that its agricultural exports to the EU might be turned away if DDT residues are found on them. See here.

    #98 Jeff and #99 willis: There is little doubt that there are significant subsidies associated with government irrigation projects. This is an argument to keep government away from such projects. Privately funded irrigation projects (whether funded individually or collectively, which is what it seems willis is referring to) would be OK in my book. IMO one reason why the efficiency of agricultural land use grew more rapidly worldwide compared to the efficiency of ag water use is because of the subsidies given out for the latter. My argument is summarized in “Comparing 20th Century Trends in U.S. and Global Agricultural Land and Water Use.” Water International 27 (3, 2002): 321-329.

    #99 willis: First, the 200% figure is used in my BioScience paper (“approximately 200%”, p. 947). If I remember correctly, I derived it from a summary put out by FAO during (or for) its 1996 World Food Summit. [Source: FAO. 1996. Water and Food Security, World Food Summit, Rome, 13-17 November 1996.] Specifically, that report stated: “Today, only 16 percent of the world’s croplands are irrigated, but those lands yield some 36 percent of the global harvest. In the developing countries, irrigation increases yields for most crops by 100 to 400 percent.” So if you divide the average yield for irrigated lands by the average yield for non-irrigated lands one gets 2.95 (or approximately a 200% increase). This, of course, assumes that in every other respect the average irrigated acre is similar to the average non-irrigated acre. I am sure better estimates can and have been worked out since. Regarding, the 500% figure, I am afraid I don’t know.

  104. ET SidViscous
    Posted Sep 1, 2006 at 11:43 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #103 Dr. Goklany

    I know bio-fuels are a big thing now, but this isn’t the first time. I recall people purchasing gasahol before 1990. Though I don’t know how much land usage was at the time.

  105. Jeff Weffer
    Posted Sep 2, 2006 at 7:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Willis, I was just quoting figures from my own experience with irrigation. Not going to go into details.

    A farmer damming his own small stream and putting in his own irrgation equipment isn’t going to get government subsidies but this situation isn’t likely to lead to a big increase in agricultural production. (In fact, in today’s water regulated world, you might see the water cops show up at your door if you dammed the same small stream.)

    Lee quoted some figures for water subsidies in California – half million dollars per year per 640 acres. For larger-scale irrigation developments, the infrastructure required to bring the water to the land under pressure might cost as half million dollars as well for the same 640 acres. So while production might double, the incremental operating costs and incremental capital costs are, most often, more than double.

  106. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 2, 2006 at 2:15 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 105, Jeff, thanks. I was not doubting your figures, just asking about their provenance …

    w.

  107. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 2, 2006 at 7:50 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dr. Goklany, I wonder if you could comment on the following discussion points regarding your excellent paper, “Saving Habitat and Conserving Biodiversity”.

    On page 947, you say that it may not be possible to feed the ~9 billion people in 2050 without “irretrievably damaging the environment”. You say some of the issues are:

    … given other human activities that compete for land, there may be insufficient unused land suitable for cultivation.

    However, this is in disagreement with the FAO GAEZ study, which showed that there is much more land available than even your most pessimistic projection.

    “… easy gains in productivity have already been captured, fertilizer use may be at the point of diminishing returns …”

    While easy gains in productivity have been captured by the industrialized nations, they definitely have not been captured by the developing world. It is simple to demonstrate that if all of the world used best 2006 agricultural practices, there would be no need to add a single hectare of land to feed the additional 3B people. Since there is no new technology required, this seems like “easy gains in productivity” to me.

    “Dimishing returns” means that as we increase the fertilizer use per hectare, we get less and less incremental return. However, this falls afoul of two considerations. First, fertilizer use per hectare has been decreasing for the last 20 years or so. Second, there are many parts of the world where almost no fertilizer is used, areas which are far below any point of “diminishing returns”.

    … there may be insufficient water to meet the competing needs of an expanding population …

    This is only true as long as we continue our wasteful ways of using water. While there are water shortages, the underlying reason is our profligate, spendthrift way of using water rather than a real shortage of water. The technology to fix this wasteful use already exists.

    I would be most appreciative of your comments on all of these issues,

    w.

    PS – we are already about 20% of the way from the 6B population to the 9B population. If there were to be “irretrievable damage” to the environment, wouldn’t we have seen some of it already?

  108. Posted Sep 2, 2006 at 11:15 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #104 ET SidViscous: Sorry I haven’t looked explicitly at land used for ethanol, gasohol, etc., although they ought to be folded into the FAO’s data as a matter of course.

    #107 Willis:
    Your comments are right on the mark. I raised all these issues on p. 947 as strawmen which I then addressed on the subsequent pages.

    Regarding whether or not there is sufficient land, yes, there is indeed enough land to produce the amount of food that would be needed for a population of approximately 10 billion. As discussed in the last column of p. 947, there is enough potential cropland to double the cropland under cultivation, and still have some left over. This could be perhaps be done with existing technologies, but the environmental cost would be lower if we have technological change.

    However, the point of my article wasn’t that there was insufficient cropland but, rather, how do we limit land used by humans so that there is more of it left for the rest of nature (without heavy-handed command-and-control). And I point out on p. 948 that with relatively modest productivity increases (~1.5% per year) we could reduce our demand for land in 2050 despite greater food demand from a larger and richer population.

    Regarding gains in productivity (especially in the developing world), on p. 948, I estimate how much production could be enhanced if developing countries were to close the “yield gaps” between their average yields and average yield of the country with highest yield for each crop. This essentially does what you suggest, i.e., raise yields in developing countries and in the so-called “economies in transition” countries to the best practice levels. [There's a much more detailed discussion of this in the paper in "Technology".] In the BioScience paper I also note the same point that you make, that a reason for these yield gaps is not that technology doesn’t exist but that many developing countries haven’t implemented them (largely because they lack the financial resources to obtain fertilizers and other existing technologies; see p. 948; 3rd column, p. 942). This is one reason why pursuing economic growth will in and of itself bring with numerous benefits, including higher yields. In fact, richer countries have higher yields partly because they can afford more productive technologies as well as the necessary resources — both fiscal and human — for researching and developing even more productive technologies.

    And I agree with you, if there are diminishing returns for fertilizer (or pesticide) use (and there are), it was in developed countries, but in many developing countries they weren’t even close to that point (page 942, last column).

    With respect to water, I too am not convinced that the shortage of water is a real constraint provided we use and manage it properly and quit subsidizing its inefficient use (see pp. 948-49). Because we do not treat water as an economic commodity, water conservation technologies are underused and under-researched. [BTW, there was a pretty interesting section on water in a recent Nature issue, including an article on the progress in desalination technologies. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it -- even though it's in Nature!]

    Regarding your PS, I think there has been environmental damage from agriculture but, as experience in the richer nations shows, much of it is reversible although at some cost (p. 943, middle column). On the other hand, agriculture has indeed diverted land and water away from the rest of nature, which does increase stresses on a variety of species. In any case, the point of this article was to show that we are more likely to avoid “irretrievably damaging the environment”, if we encourage economic growth, technological change and trade because they help create the conditions and resources needed to devise, afford and implement new and improved technologies to enhance land and water productivity (and to generally clean up the environment). [The argument with respect to trade is a little more complex. First it contributes to economic growth and to technological development -- imagine if each country had to develop its own innovations and technologies, then each country would be constantly reinventing the wheel (some perhaps would literally be still doing that). And some countries might still be working on inventing basic technologies such as fertilizers, calculus, calculators, PCs, spreadsheets, electricity, tractors, etc. Trade allows other countries to benefit from technologies developed elsewhere. It also allows countries to meet their basic needs without overexploiting their own resources. In other words, it has globalized sustainability. I don't quite remember whether I explicitly made all these points in either the Technology or BioScience articles or elsewhere.]

    Another point of the article was that if you think economic growth, technological development and trade are bad for the environment (as some environmentalists believe), imagine what the environment would have been like absent these three bàƒÆ’à‚⩴e noires.

  109. Posted Sep 2, 2006 at 11:25 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Regarding #108, I said:

    …the point of my article wasn’t that there was insufficient cropland but, rather, how do we limit land used by humans so that there is more of it left for the rest of nature (without heavy-handed command-and-control).

    I should have said:

    the point of my article wasn’t that there was insufficient cropland but, rather, how do we limit land used by humans so that there is more of it left for the rest of nature (without heavy-handed command-and-control which, in any case, would most likely be counterproductive based on real world experiments conducted during the 20th century in many centrally planned economies.

  110. ET SidViscous
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 12:39 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I’m not berating the point. I don’t know how relevant or how it effects any of the numbers for food production. But I got a bee in my bonnet so I poked around a little. Got an envelope out and did some calculations.

    U.S. Ethanol production was 900 million gallons in 1990.

    A bushel of Corn yields 2.5 gallons

    An Acre of Corn yields ~148 bushels

    so that yields ~12.3 million acres

    For comparison , assuming my above #s are correct in 04 it would have been ~44 million acres.

  111. Jim Erlandson
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 7:49 AM | Permalink | Reply

    re 110: In 2005, Iowa farmers planted 12.8 million acres of corn.

    To get close to 44 million acres (43.1 million) would take the 2005 corn acres of Iowa (12.8 million), Nebraska (8.5 million), Illinois (12.1 million), Indiana (5.9 million) and Wisconsin (3.8 million). From National Corn Growers Association.

    With respect to the role of technology, the same source says ” … one bushel of corn now yields 2.8 gallons of ethanol”¢’‚¬?up from 2.5 gallons just a few years ago.”

  112. Jim Erlandson
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 8:54 AM | Permalink | Reply

    re 110, 111: Ethanol yield in gallons per acre from the USDA (page 29)
    Sugar Beets, France — 750
    Sugarcane, Brazil — 590
    Corn, US — 370 to 430 depending on corn yield

  113. Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Reply

    #110 ET SidViscous: Clearly, increases in ethanol and other biofuel production means more competition for food crops for land, water, capital, labor, etc. So this puts even greater pressure on improving the productivity of the food and ag sector in terms of producing more consumable food per acre of land and gallon of water.

    BTW, note that ethanol/biofuel prodcution has and should continue to become more efficient not only in terms of converting biomass into fuel but also in terms of corn/sugarcane/sugar beet yields. The link provided by Jim Erlander — thanks very much — in fact shows that there was quite a considerable increase in corn yields in the brief 2000-2005 period.

    Also note that biofuels aren’t the only ag activity that competes with food production. There are also fiber crops — cotton, jute, etc. Cotton, in particular, is a big competitor for water and traditionally have been hogs for pesticides. The FAOSTAT data folds all this in. So essentially when you use that data without separating out land devoted to non-food-related crops — e.g., fibers; corn, cane and beet for fuel; “carbon sequestration” products if they are different from food crops or not-accounted-for-elsewhere; tobacco [what about chocolate -- surely that is food] — one is essentially assuming that production for these crops will keep pace with food production. Increasingly, it looks like such an assumption is no longer tenable. [Thanks ET SidViscous for refusing to let go of this point.]

    Future approaches to developing estimates of cropland needed to meet human demands should probably explicitly separate out the non-food components and look at supply and demand for these “separately” from food crops (because their supply/demand is unlikely to track that of food crops). [I have "separately" in quotes because they are not really separate since they compete for the same resources -- land, water, human capital, and other inputs. So there should be interactions/feedback-and-forth between the food and non-food sectors, unless one argues that there are enough of these resources -- or productivity would increase sufficiently -- so that the competition is minimal.]

  114. ET SidViscous
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Jim

    2004 Ethanol production was 3.25 Billion gallons. I’m just back calculating. Maybe it was from stored corn or some such, but that just increases usage in previous years. I’ll grant 2.8 but it doesn’t make a large difference.

    Thank you Dr. Goklany

  115. Jim Erlandson
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    114 ET: I was just adding some numbers to the discussion. It is easy for people to say that all our energy (or CO2) problems can be solved by turning corn into ethanol but they don’t bother to do even back-of-the-envelope calculations let alone grasp the enormity of what they’re proposing.

    A few other figures I’ve uncovered:
    o While corn production in Iowa has averaged around 150 bushels per acre, over the past 15 years it has varied between 80 and 181 bushels per acre. Are we replacing politically controlled supply interruptions with weather related uncertainty?
    o Yields over 300 bushels per acre (non-irrigated) were demonstrated in the 2005 NCGA corn yield contest so there’s still some hope for continued improvement.
    o Brazil is trumpeted as a success in converting from petroleum based auto fuel to ethanol based. However “Brazil consumes only 10 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel annually, compared with America’s 170 billion. There are almost 4 million miles of paved roads in America — Brazil has 60,000. And Brazil is the leading producer of sugar cane — more than 300 million tons annually — so it has lots of agricultural waste to make ethanol.” Washington Post

  116. Robert
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 2:53 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Ok, bizarre as it may seem, it is hard to get too worked up over food production problems, when the western world is suffering from obesity. Perhaps the problem is more to do with distribution, rather than production.


    Obesity

    cheers, Robert.

  117. Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 5:24 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dr. Goklany,

    I’m curious: can you quantify the “environmental damages”? When are they considered “irretrievable” (O.K. apart from extinct species…)? How can you do this without introducing some sort of (arbitrary) value judgment? It seems to me that humans are always “irretrievably” damaging the environment. What is a big city if not irretrievably damaged environment? And yet we need them. Is the “ideal” condition only a pristine, human-less, environment? I’d appreciate getting your views on this. There is a deep philosophical stance here that is not always explicitly stated when we have those debates.

    Franàƒ⦯is

  118. Dan Hughes
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 5:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #114.

    John McCarthy of Stanford University has the following in his .signature file:

    “Those who refuse to do arithmetic are doomed to speak nonsense.”

    It has been my observation that many posts over at RC, especially those wanting to shut down all use of fossil fuels, need to be frequently reminded of this.

  119. Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 9:42 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re. # 117, we can measure some environmental impacts, e.g., degradation of air or water quality, pesticides residues in waterways, etc., and we can estimate how much it might cost to reduce or eliminate the impact, but to put a value on the damage itself is a lot more difficult because that requires, as you note, value judgments. There are, nevertheless, text books on environmental economics that discuss some of the valuation techniques and their problems. Some of these, e.g. estimates based on surveys designed to elicit “willingness to pay” to repair or eliminate a specific type of environmental damage and/or “willingness to accept” a certain type of damage are, in my opinion, extremely dodgy to say the least.

    Regarding what constitutes irretrievable damage, as already noted in #108, experience in the richer nations shows, much of the environmental damage is reversible over time, although at some cost. This is true for air and water pollution, soil contamination, even deforestation — most of the eastern US forests are second growth (or later). Extinctions would qualify as irretrievable damage, as you note. However, it’s not clear to me that urbanization always leads to irretrievable damage, because nature can substantially reclaim even urban areas — in some climates faster than others. Isn’t this what’s happened to parts of the Maya civilization, for example? Wouldn’t more of Angkor Wat, for example, have been reclaimed by the resurgent forest if only the latter was allowed to prevail [see here]. Similarly for New Orleans!

    Moreover, just because something is irretrievably lost doesn’t mean that whatever caused that loss isn’t worth it. Consider, for example, that regrettably my childhood is irretrievably lost, but I am happy to be grown up. As you note, every big city has irretrievably damaged the local environment that it supplanted, but I wouldn’t trade the human environment that is Manhattan, or Paris or London or Calcutta for the pristine wilderness that no doubt existed there once upon a time. [I might trade in New Orleans though.]

    None of this is to say that we shouldn’t try to conserve the environment but, as always, there are trade-offs. One could also make the argument — and many have — that compact, vertical cities are to be preferred because such cities have environmental pluses over lower density sprawl.

  120. McCall
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 9:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Fine posts and great thread. Pardon the interruption, but I feel like we’ve stepped into the cinematic pop culture twilight zone of “Woody Allen’s, Annie Hall,” — the Marshall McLuhan in the theatre line (cinema queue) scene.

    With Dr Golkany playing the Marshall McLuhan part, who in this thread is playing Alvy Singer (Allen), and who is the Man-In-Line?

    ===== from http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/a/annie-hall-script-screenplay-woody.html =====

    MAN IN LINE (Even louder now)
    “It’s the influence of television. Yeah, now Marshall McLuhan deals with it in terms of it being a-a high, uh, high intensity, you understand? A hot medium … as opposed to a …”

    ALVY (More and more aggravated)
    “What I wouldn’t give for a large sock o’ horse manure.”

    MAN IN LINE
    “… as opposed to a print …”

    Alvy steps forward, waving his hands in frustration, and stands facing the camera.

    ALVY (Sighing and addressing the audience)
    “What do you do when you get stuck in a movie line with a guy like this behind you? I mean, it’s just maddening!”

    The man in line moves toward Alvy. Both address the audience now.

    MAN IN LINE
    “Wait a minute, why can’t I give my opinion? It’s a free country!”

    ALVY
    “I mean, d- He can give you- Do you hafta give it so loud? I mean, aren’t you ashamed to pontificate like that? And-and the funny part of it is, M-Marshall McLuhan, you don’t know anything about Marshall McLuhan’s…work!”

    MAN IN LINE (Overlapping)
    “Wait a minute! Really? Really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called “TV Media and Culture”! So I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan-well, have a great deal of validity.”

    ALVY
    “Oh, do yuh?”

    MAN IN LINE
    “Yes.”

    ALVY
    “Well, that’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. So … so, here, just let me-I mean, all right. Come over here … a second.”

    Alvy gestures to the camera which follows him and the man in line to the back of the crowded lobby. He moves over to a large stand-up movie poster and pulls Marshall McLuban from behind the poster.

    MAN IN LINE
    “Oh.”

    ALVY (To McLuban)
    “Tell him.”

    MCLUHAN (To the man in line)
    “I hear-I heard what you were saying. You-you know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.”

    ALVY (To the camera)
    “Boy, if life were only like this!”

  121. McCall
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 9:51 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Correction: With Dr Goklany playing the Marshall McLuhan part…

  122. kim
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 10:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    OT, sorry, but draft IPCC has 2-4.5 degree rise. Any comment?
    ===============================

  123. kim
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 10:12 PM | Permalink | Reply

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/0,20867,20332352-601,00.html

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

  124. kim
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 10:17 PM | Permalink | Reply

    It’s the editorial under ‘opinion’. Scroll down. They claim an exclusive on the draft.

    I think the 3 degrees centigrade is still too high, and is that high because most of the science was collated before the recent damning revelations about the hockey stick. But what do I know? Nothing, until I check climateaudit.org.
    =================================================

  125. James Lane
    Posted Sep 3, 2006 at 11:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    That’s hilarious. I also thought about the Woody Allen sequence in relation to this thread.

  126. Paul Gosling
    Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 8:21 AM | Permalink | Reply

    They won’t be growing any corn in the US Mid west in 20 years if they keep using their groundwater resources at the rate they are. Or so I was told by a geologist I met in Alask recently, who has been modelling groundwater in Kansas (I think).

  127. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 8:26 AM | Permalink | Reply

    CNN had a show on with Bill Clinton which mentioned that yields in Rwanda could be increased 10-fold.

  128. Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 9:54 AM | Permalink | Reply

    #116: If you can’t get excited about hunger, despite the fact that at least 3-4 million people die each year from “underweight” according to the WHO’s 2002 report, I presume you would be even less excited about climate change which doesn’t kill nearly as many people. One very shaky estimate for the current death toll from climate change published in Nature is of the order of 150,000 per year. See here.

    #127: If not 10-fold, definitely 5-to-7 fold should be possible with current technologies. See data below from FAOSTAT with respect to cereal yields (in hectograms per ha):

    Year,2001,2002,2003,2004,2005
    Netherlands,72804,76907,83244,84382,83955
    Rwanda,9131,10284,9443,9593,11835
    Sub-Sahara & SouthAfrica,10695,10618,10873,10706,11030
    World,31148,30627,31095,33477,32659
    China,48022,48896,48776,51766,51564

    Surprisingly, Rwanda’s performance relative to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa seems to have improved. There is hope yet.

  129. Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Reply

    #128 But the problem IS mainly a problem of distribution rather than production. Where hunger is prevalent is where people are too poor to afford anything else than locally produced food, and if a drought occurs, they starve. There are droughts in the developed world, yet they dont provoke famine. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is enough food produced each year to feed everyone on the planet.

    Regarding the quantification of damage: you see that it’s not an easy problem. To quantify is to give an economic value, and that in itself is very subjective, and subject to the laws of economics, rather than ecology (i.e. supply and demand). We pollute rivers when it’s cheaper to do so, and so we trade off the water quality for a simple and economical sewage system. But if water quality becomes a problem downstream, then there is economic value in treating water. If you damage a land so much that cultivation becomes impossible, then the land loses its value. So there is a relation between environmental damage and economic value but it’s far from straightforward. It would be helpful in debates about the environment to state explicitly what we want in terms of an acceptable environment, trade offs included. Only then can you determine its cost.

  130. Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 1:49 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #129: Francois Oullette: “But the problem IS mainly a problem of distribution rather than production.”

    Response: That’s today, what about the future? The calculations that we discussed earlier confirms that unless we really screw up, that should continue to be the case. But one knows that only after the calculations are done. So prior to the calculations one couldn’t say that it wasn’t a production problem.

    You also said: “Where hunger is prevalent is where people are too poor to afford anything else than locally produced food, and if a drought occurs, they starve. There are droughts in the developed world, yet they dont provoke famine. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is enough food produced each year to feed everyone on the planet.”

    Response: You are only partly correct. In fact, even in the developing world, although chronic undernourishment continues to be a killer, droughts nowadays don’t kill unless the affected society is dysfunctional and involved in wars (civil and external) which prevent distribution of food. In fact, if you go to the EM-DAT database for deaths due to extreme weather events you’ll see that during the past 100 years or so, there’s been a dramatic drop in worldwide deaths due to droughts. See Death and Death Rates Due to Extreme Weather Events: Global and U.S. Trends, 1900-2004 . Equally important, chronic hunger has declined worldwide. A good part of these successes can be attributed to increased production and more efficient distribution everywhere through worldwide trade and, to a lesser extent, aid — and the institutions and infrastructure that support such activities (that is, production, trade and aid). In my opinion, the single most important factor in better distribution is the drop in prices (due to “overproduction”, especially of staples in the developed world mainly) which has made food more affordable around the world not only to individuals but governments as well (to stock their food distribution programs). So production is an integral part of the distribution equation.

    Regarding the quantification of damage, I don’t think our differences are fundamental. I agree with almost all that you say, although I would distinguish price from value. Specifically, you note “If you damage a land so much that cultivation becomes impossible, then the land loses its value. So there is a relation between environmental damage and economic value but it’s far from straightforward.” In the first sentence you probably meant to say that if cultivation is impossible then it loses SOME of the price the land could command, because alternative uses for the land may still be possible. In addition, I think some/many people value land other than for goods that it might produce, which is why it’s a good idea to keep price and value separate, IMO. That said, I agree with the remainder of your post.

  131. Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 1:57 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Addendum to #130: In terms of sheer magnitude, the numbers indicate that mortality and disease due to chronic undernourishment is a bigger problem than mortality and disease due to drought and famine. Part of the problem is that it is less visible and dramatic.

  132. Ken Fritsch
    Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 3:38 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re: #89

    Namely: farming is hard (he was a farmer) and if our economy continues to produce high-paying jobs that don’t require labor, it will be difficlut to expand the labor force to produce the additional food, as folks will likely go to lower labor-intensive jobs.

    I was born and raised on a farm and continue to have some relatives who have remained in farming to the present time and with this background I can, at least, anecdotally testify that farming has become much less labor intensive or “hard” as the case may be. When my family left the farm (acreage was not sufficiently large to make for an economically viable business and no family members have ever had, or at least, expressed any regrets for leaving which runs a bit counter to the often heard mystic of the family farm) I was exposed to labor situations that where every bit and often times harder than farm work. I do not see a present labor shortage in agriculture nor would I foresee one given that the labor markets are allowed to work without political influences and interferences.

    I must commend the civil tone of this thread and the ideas and information that it has brought forth. I do judge that how one views situations such as use of land and other limited resources with population increases has much to do with how one sees the functioning of relatively free markets versus politicians (listening to interest groups) doing the rationing. It is apparent to me that one can make an argument for just about any scenario one wants to imagine (and supported with data that can be cherry picked and mathematically manipulated) and get it published in journal that is supported by those in the field with similar points of view. In a market situation there are feedback mechanisms that adjust systems that are tending towards disequilibrium and those adjustments are not readily discernible by those who are attempting to make predictions using static and contemporary conditions.

    If one has a view of man as basically a being who will react reasonably in these situations then I would think that our greatest problem is not in anticipating these reactions but in determining what impediments there might be to such reactions from past experiences and from man’s basic nature. We have heard much on this thread about the diverted use of land for producing ethanol from corn. We currently subsidize this operation in the US while it is a well known fact that ethanol from sugar plants in Brazil is a much more efficient and practical operation. We are held back by the myth of US agriculture needing subsidies to survive (along with the myth of the family farm) and the hesitancy to engage in truly free trade.

    The current view in some quarters (irrational in my mind) of genetically modified agriculture products is probably going to be a major hindrance, or at least delay, in increasing yields and reducing fertilizer, water and pesticide usage. There seems to be a ho-hum attitude in the academic community about this issue and a willingness to let it go as one of politics. One would at least think that those who know the risks, or lack thereof, should be given the opportunity to make individual choices about consuming GM foodstuff and at presumably lower prices. What better way to obtain more data points.

  133. James Erlandson
    Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 8:58 PM | Permalink | Reply

    From the Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal: Commenting on a visit to Ben and Jerry’s where they ” … are dedicated to saving the family farm.”

    Many Americans seem to be under the illusion that the small family farmer has lived a carefree idyllic lifestyle. In truth, this livelihood has traditionally involved backbreaking toil, work-days that last from sun-up to sundown, and monotony–which is why sons and daughters have been fleeing the farm for five generations. The only people who actually want to save small farms are people who’ve never worked on a farm.

  134. cytochrome_sea
    Posted Sep 4, 2006 at 9:44 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Regarding increasing yields in developing countries, Borlaug is still around and is currently focusing on Africa. You can see some of the progress here.

  135. James Erlandson
    Posted Sep 5, 2006 at 6:55 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Today’s Wall Street Journal has a piece about Norman Borlaug
    The Man Who Fed the World
    How a poor Iowa farm boy came to be one of humanity’s greatest benefactors.

  136. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 9:15 AM | Permalink | Reply

    RE: “The only people who actually want to save small farms are people who’ve never worked on a farm.”

    Or people who are dedicated micro entrepreneurs, who also want to have the shortest possible supply chain between the land and their customers.

  137. Dano
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 12:36 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Wager update:

    Accepted: 0
    Clarified: 0
    Negotiated: 0

    ———-

    103 (re: response to 89):

    Dr G, I’ve been away and have been unable to respond.

    Just for clarification, you cited Vashek Cervinka in your two papers – him and I worked together some years ago on a number of restoration projects. I agree that industrialized ag decreases the need for jobs (inefficient manual labor), but the investment necessary to scale up to that is not available (without government intervention) in developing countries, thus the opportunity for jobs – especially for women [this likely will decrease the fertility rate, BTW]. The issue in LDCs in sub-Saharan Africa, however, is the decreased work force due to AIDS, so this is as yet unmentioned for the issues surrounding increasing yields there.

    132:

    Ken, this is an excellent comment in my view.

    In LDCs (less developed countries), majority of productivity gains (lower labor requirement) don’t come from fossil-fueled labor, but usu from technology implementation such as irrigation, rotation, storage improvements, transport, etc. The investment required for anything beyond this must come from government, IMHO, as we don’t see, today, much private investment of this type, so why would we expect such in the future (risk issues)? Just a thought. And I agree with your penultimate para.

    Best,

    D

  138. bender
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re #132:

    One would at least think that those who know the risks, or lack thereof, should be given the opportunity to make individual choices about consuming GM foodstuff

    The problem is “pollution” by the free flow of transgenes. Your “free consumer choice” is my costly pollution problem if your transgene-laden crops inadvertently cross-pollinate my transgene-free plants. An organic producer could be harmed materially if his access to markets were inhibited by a GMO-grower’s actions.

  139. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 1:36 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re: #138.

    The trouble is that the real pollution is of the facts via those who want to stop GM crops. The genes which are actually used in crops aren’t dangerous. There could be dangerous genes used, but the existing regulatory bodies are well positioned to make scientific calls. The alarmist groups out there, however, aren’t interested in the scientific findings but want to decide for everyone via their own criteria.

  140. ET SidViscous
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 2:05 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Penn and Teller have a great show on that that I’ve mentioned recently.

    My favorite parts were the raw food vegan who said.

    “Man before people Animals had no disease, it was people that gave animals their diseases.”

    And the “Frankenfood” protesters, who admited it wasn’t the facts about GM foods, it was whether you want to trust the government and the Corporations that it is safe.

  141. Dano
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 2:09 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Wager update:

    Accepted: 0
    Clarified: 0
    Negotiated: 0

    =========

    1. At risk of tarnishing bender, he’s had two posts in a row here with which I agree.

    2. willis asked to forego the GMO crop debate thingy on this thread (don’t have the time to link to it).

    Best,

    D

  142. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 2:38 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dano,

    Nobody is going to write a journal article for $100.00. (for that matter, I believe the cost of getting such an article published would be more than you offer not counting your labor.) And nobody is going to get accepted unless either the writing is “knock your socks off” or published by a “name” from a well known institution. I suppose I could tack MS Biochemistry Purdue ’75 after my name and pass the smell test, but with no academic or industry position, what would it matter? It wouldn’t get accepted.

  143. bender
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 2:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    You’d be hard-pressed to get any nibbles even at $5000.

  144. Dano
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 3:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

    142, 143:

    My implicit points are:

    1. that if the entry is new or groundbreaking (the methodology to reach the conclusion sure is in the natural sciences, hence the novelty of it), folk will do it fo’ free, no inducement needed (and it’s a wager, not an offer. Bet Dano on who’s right & take his money, as the numbers are bozo simple.).
    2. doing the research for the paper will reveal what is already coming out in the discussion, lately aided by Indur; that is: these kinds of forecasts are not done in a vacuum. Simply presuming something per comments in 27 isn’t “science”, as the excellent comments in, say, 32 and 34, the ‘new cropland production’ comment in 83 and the clarification in 88 indicate.

    So my bet was merely a focusing mechanism regarding robustness.

    But, back OT, we can see that conversion of land on this scale can, as RP Sr sez, be a driver in climate change (as farmland has a higher albedo than, say, forests, and continued eutrophication will be problematic wrt fisheries and protein acquisition & will be a confounding factor in fish farming, as you want to locate farms close to shore, but if the water is high in BOD, what then?). Indur discusses the general issues in his BioSci paper that he linked to above.

    Best,

    D

  145. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 3:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dano, ever had an aquarium? How do you get your tropical fish enough oxygen? And we already showed that farmers are using less fertilizer per unit of production which results in less eutrophication.

  146. Dano
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 4:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

    145:

    we already showed that farmers are using less fertilizer per unit of production which results in less eutrophication.

    Not in Developing countries [e.g. tbls 4.13-.14].

    Nevertheless, the total amount of fert applied continues to rise, negating this argument.

    Best,

    D

  147. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 6:09 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re: #146

    Just as in the population case, you’re ignoring that some trends eventually overcome others. Eventually there won’t be “developing countries” in the present sense and the efficiency trend will overwhelm the greater development trend. And as efficiency trends continue to improve in developed countries, they will be able to “trickle down” to developing countries more quickly so that the movement from undeveloped to developed is telescoped. You’ll note many countries now move from not many telephones directly to cell phones without having everyone to first have phones. Same with computers. No country now has to start with 8 bit computers. They’re not even available on the second-hand market in any numbers.

    The point is, that we have to use the existing technology as the starting point for developing countries instead as some sort of distant goal.

  148. Ken Fritsch
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 6:54 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Avoiding cross pollination of GM crops with traditional hybrids or their wild cousins is something that I would judge can be accomplished through genetics and/or other precautions. It can certainly be a problem for those producers that want to avoid GM crops contamination for whatever reason, but primarily this would be the case in the organic market where the producer wants to be able to brand his product to sell at a premium. An interesting property rights point in protecting the organic purity would be where a farmer decides to go organic in an area where GM crops have been grown for some time. I am not sure what the case would be for the conventional crops “contaminating’ the GM ones through pollination.

    Although I do not see it as a show stopper, my issue was not with producer of GM food stuff and how the property rights of all producers is upheld, but with giving the consumer, and particularly those consumers that cannot afford the organic premium, an opportunity to purchase less expensive food after consideration of the risk of consumption.

    Genetically controlled.

    Other precautions.

  149. Dano
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 7:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

    147:

    you’re ignoring that some trends eventually overcome others

    I’m ignoring nothing. BTW, the ‘developing countries’ link disagrees with your efficiency assertion.

    Anyway, I responded to your incorrect premise** (fert use going down, I presume) and incorrect assertion about less eutrophication. That is: if your implicit assertion was true, we’d have smaller (or fewer) dead zones today than x years ago.

    Best,

    D

    ** I couldn’t find where this was shown, BTW, it was just asserted.

  150. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 7:20 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Dano,

    incorrect assertion about less eutrophication.

    Less compared to otherwise. You can play dumb if you want to and pretend you didn’t know what I meant, but I’m not wasting a bunch of time crossing every T and dotting every i when you’re in a semi-troll mode.

  151. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 6, 2006 at 8:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re # 146, Danàƒⶬ far too often tracking down your “linkies” leads to nothing but junk. You say that:

    Nevertheless, the total amount of fert applied continues to rise, negating this argument.

    The FAO doesn’t agree with your claim, however. Here’s the “Total Fertilizer” FAO category for the world …

    Note that consumption has been basically flat for twenty years, and the peak use in 1988 has never been exceeded …

    FAOSTAT is your friend … use it. “EarthPolicy.org” and the BBC are not even secondary sources, they’re more like tertiary sources, on the order of “my buddy’s girlfriend’s younger brother said that fertilizer use is rising” …

    w.

  152. Dano
    Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 11:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

    150:

    Apologies for misinterpreting your comment. Happens to me a lot. Comments, IMO, are often an inadequate mode of communication.

    151:

    Thank you for another purty graph willis. One uses the best graphics one can get when one doesn’t have a web page to post up stuff.

    Anyway, non-graphically, this page from the Int’l Fert Assn seems to show a discrepancy from your consumption has been basically flat for twenty years, and the peak use in 1988 has never been exceeded statement, as we can see the last 3 years are greater than 1988.

    Like I wuz sayin’, comments are hard to communicate and I try to make my linkies easy to folla. Sometimes that makes precision hard to come by.

    Best,

    D

  153. fFreddy
    Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re #152, Dano

    Sometimes that makes precision hard to come by.

    Your constant reversion to baby-talk doesn’t help …

  154. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re: #152 Dano,

    Actually your linked table rather proves my main point. Notice how the total fertilizer usage in the developed countries have dropped almost in half since the late 1980s. True, the continuing increases in the developing countries has temporarily caused the total fertilizeer usage to increase, but how long will this last, assuming continued development? Remember that both China and India, the largest countries in the world, populationwise, are in this group and once they’re up-to-speed, there will almost surely be a major drop in usage. Perhaps Willis can produce a graph extrapolating the results from the already developed world to the undeveloped world. If you’d like we could discuss the parameters to be considered.

  155. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 1:37 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re 151, DanàƒÆ’à‚ⶬ thanks for your approval of my graph.

    But dang, bro’, you’re in danger of ruining your reputation here, you’ve actually linked to a site that makes some sense … You’ve linked to a site from someone called the IFA, and an examination of their data shows that they’ve used the FAO data, but it appears that they have gotten more recent figures from the FAO than are available online … assuming this is the case, here’s the data:

    Now, what we can see here is that, as you say, fertilizer use has risen slightly since 1988. It’s up by six percent in 17 years, or about a third of a percent per year over that time. We can also see where the increase is “¢’‚¬? the developing world.

    Of course the point of this exercise is to find out what future fertilizer use is going to be like. While it is tempting to think that there will be huge increases in the developing world, this is not likely to be the case. I was surprised to find out that fertilizer use per capita in the developing world is already about 60% of that in the developed world, and looks likely to catch up with the developed world in the next decade. Here’s the figures:

    All the best,

    w.

  156. Dano
    Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 2:05 PM | Permalink | Reply

    154:

    Actually your linked table rather proves my main point.

    Yes, the issue is where is the stabilization point vs yield needs – see this arty (java graphics, hit ‘next’ for chart) for current use.

    I think the concern is that if the application rates/yield of the LDCs approach the MDCs (China close already), then the total numbers will swamp terrestrial absorptive capacity. So, it’s great that we can trend it, but as Dr G outlined, mitigation will be necessary.

    Perhaps, due to the likely increased cost of fert (Haber process uses natural gas to achieve temps and pressures, e.g. here, here and here [note price increase date and compare with willis' graph above and output here], we can extrapolate LDC fert application to, say, even 50% of MDC to willis’ additional 75M ha number and see what we get (LDCs use animals for part of their fertilizer).

    Any other thoughts on parameters besides cost and area? Vs yield maybe? What about transport distance vs cost (fuel prices)? BTW, just found this interesting arty from ERS (figs 4.4.1 & 4.4.5), 4.4.1 showing nutrients applied vs crop acres in US, which is an interesting confounding factor. Also this ERS chapter entitled Productivity and Output Growth in U.S. Agriculture.

    Best,

    D

  157. Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 4:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re #151 and #155: I think it’s probably better to use kg/hectare for fertilizer intensity rather than kg/capita.

    Global (total) fertilizer consumption dropped in the late 1980s and early 1990s mainly because with the demise of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the USSR all kinds of subsidies were withdrawn. Ag production in these areas dropped to match. There were also some drops in Western Europe. US fertilizer use has been more or less constant since 1980.

    If I were to hazard a guess, in the longer term fertilizer intensity would probably rebound somewhat in Eastern Europe and the former USSR because their economic situation is improving and farmers will presumably be able to afford more fertilizers (despite higher costs). [It actually alraedy has in Poland, Hungary, etc.] Also fertilizer intensity should rise in Sub-Saharan Africa over the long haul, as well as in other developing countries (except China). Therefore, one should expect fertilizer consumption to increase worldwide — unless GM crops and precision agriculture help us out. This is why technological change is so important.

    Fertilizer intensity in China is enormous (257 kg/ha in 2002), vs 110 for the USA, 102 for all developed nations, 79 for developing nations (which includes China), 92 for the world average, and 12 for Sub-Saharan Africa. [BTW, for Russia it is also 12, down from over 40 in 1992, and the >110 the USSR had in 1986]. These data are from here, and are actually taken from FAOSTAT. One can, no doubt, update these numbers for more recent years (also using FAOSTAT) but unfortunately, the current version of FAOSTAT shows no fertilizer consumption for China but it seems to me that its figures for developing nations does include China’s consumption (go figure!), and I have other matters to attend to.

  158. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 4:43 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re #157, Dr. Goklany, thanks for your information. Unfortunately, you have reversed the figures for developed and developing nations. Here’s the data, per FAOSTAT

    Note that the developing world actually has greater fertilizer use intensity than the developed world … go figure. Can’t go up forever, tho’, so we should see leveling off soon.

    All the best,

    w.

  159. Posted Sep 7, 2006 at 6:31 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Willis: Thanks, I stand corrected.

    The developing world’s fertilizer intensity looks as high as it does because of China. In 2002, China consumed 39.6 million metric tonnes (MMT) out of 91.3 MMT for all developing nations, but it had only 154 Mha of cropland out of the 902 Mha for developing countries. If you separate out China, the intensity drops to 69, which is quite a drop I’d say. This also means that there is the possibility of increased use in the rest of the developing countries.

    Another reason why the fertilizer intensity of developed countries seems relatively lower than one might expect is because it includes many ex-Soviet Union countries (e.g., Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, etc.) that have quite a lot of cropland but very low fertilizer intensities. But. as I noted in my previous post, this will probably rebound.

    On the other hand, Dano had a good point about the price of fertilizer being higher now (#, so that should dampen the rate of increase and provide farmers the incentive to use it more efficiently.

    In any case, one might be able to play what-if games such as “what would be global fertilizer consumption if every country in the world had the same avg fertilizer intensity as that of , say, the Netherlands, or China, or the EU, while cropland expanded by xx%” It would be great if the increase in fertilizer use can be related to increased yields although such relationships are probably shaky since there are other variables, e.g., pesticide, water, type of seeds, etc. all of which would affect production.

  160. Dano
    Posted Sep 8, 2006 at 11:03 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Just to reinforce Dr G’s ‘China’ assertion, I had links above that separated out China and shows graphically the difference.

    Best,

    D

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