Saturday, September 3, 2011

Human Population Growth is Unsustainable!

Reading the Wall Street Journal article, Can The World Feed Itself? (p. A13, today) showed me that the global corporate elites, in this case Nestle's Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, really don't get it. They don't grasp that the increasing human population is unsustainable even over the short term, far less until 2050 when it's expected to top 9 billion.

Now consider this for a minute. In the era of recent history, 1960 and the election of John F. Kennedy to be exact, the world's population stood at just one half of what it is today. By 2050, the projections (some of them) run to THREE times the global population in 1960. And what is Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe's answer to the question posed by the header?

(with a dismissive wave of the hand..)

"We can feed nine billion people and we can provide them with water and fuel. But only if we let the market do its thing!"

Is this character serious? The Market "do its thing"? And what is that, may I ask? Privatize water supplies as attempted in Bolivia? (Leaving people having to break the law and try to catch rain water). Or privatize pensions as occurred in Chile, with the people then having to go out and beg for food and medicines for their kids? What planet is this guy living on? Not the one I'm on!

When one reads the article in detail one does see legitimate complaints, but these still don't confirm or give confidence for his answer. For example, he notes the converson of a food crop like corn to ethanol instead of to use for food for hungry people, like in Somalia. But he forgets or isn't aware that even if the entire U.S. corn crop had been used for food and not fuel there still wouldn't be adeqaute supplies to feed the hungry. The reason is because the Chinese, newly fueled by their economic advances, are making enormous corn crop purchases to feed their livestock for a (now) meat-loving populace:

As noted in my earlier blog, in July alone, China ordered 21 million bushels of corn from the U.S. in "one hit". This was more than the U.S. expected the Chinese to buy in one year!

Now, let's go to this CEO's other misunderstanding of the "market", though again he does have the correct base argument. He says (ibid.):

"And the demand for meat has a multiplier effect of ten. You need ten times as much land, ten times as much feed, ten times as much water to produce one calorie of meat as you do to produce one calorie of vegetables or grain."

Which, of course, is true, but at contretemps to his market claims. For if one is subscribing to the FREE market, as opposed to a coercive market, the market is doing exactly what it should! It is responding to the FREE choice and purchase options of millions of Chinese, for example - as well as Indians - who, having "arrived", now wish to gorge on meats such as beef and pork, like Americans do!

So, what is Brabeck-Letmathe saying then? That he wants to have a coercive market replace the free one, and then dictate to people what their food choices must be: Little meat, mostly grains and veggies! Granted, this will increase the ability to feed the starving millions, but not to the extent of providing for 9 billion by 2050.

For one thing, climate change will ensure massive droughts continue to limit crop outputs as they have the past two years (with the wheat crop failure in Russia last year, and major parts of the U.S. corn crop this year). If anything, they will get worse. The other aspect is to put a continued drain on water resources, already stretched to the breaking point. The ‘State of the World’ report (Worldwatch Institute, 2000, pp. 46-47), it is noted that the ever increasing water deficits will likely spark “water wars” by 2025.As they note (p. 47):

When a country’s renewable water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic meters per capita (what some analysts call the water stress level) it becomes difficult for the country to mobilize enough water to satisfy all the food, household, and industrial needs of its population.

Market “solutions” are absurd on their face since water is an absolute life necessity – not a commercial commodity, or one that a vast population can simply "move to" in order to access! (Hint: nations with their own water may not appreciate it!) One cannot and nations will not, “bargain for water” or permit privatized solutions, such as recently met with major political crisis in Bolivia!

Thus, Brabeck-Letmanthe's arguments are contradictory: if he genuinely desires free market solutions, he cannot even remotely think of constraining supply or demand for meats by the burgeoning populations of Asia, or still in the U.S. If he truly wishes the free market to work (as a proper capitalist), he must allow those populations to make the food choices on their own, irrespective of any "multiplier" effects.

The real problem then is just that the human population growing in excess of the planet to support it. One of the best indicators for this is provided by the Global Footpoint Network, at:

According to this site, we currently need not one but one and one half EARTHS to sustain our current rate of consumption. This means it requires on average 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the resources humanity uses in one year. Clearly, at its rate of extrapolation, we'd need three Earth's by 2050 - which simply isn't going to occur short of colonizing another two earthlike planets. And since the manned space program has essentially been scuttled, the Pollyannas can kiss that one goodbye. So, the only other option is a population crash and "die off", e.g.

Even now, most people don't comprehend or process that adding 2.5 billion humans by 2050 is the carbon equivalent of adding two United States to the Earth. The total added population mass with its CO2 pollution, incepted loss of habitat and drain on water supplies, will be an unmitigated disaster. But instead of facing reality, people's brains - most - are wired for what I call "technological Pollyannism" - hoping and pining for some techno-fix that will make everything all right at the last moment. Well, don't hold your collective breath, kiddies!

Another claim made by Brabeck-Letmathe is that "the energy market is 20 times as big in calories, as the food market"

In other words, if only those energy supplies were used judiciously then everyone would get his or her fill even in a world of 9 billion! This claim can be quantitatively checked, given 1 cal = 4.18 J. In concrete terms, roughly 500 billion barrels of relatively cheap oil remain, and about 32 billion barrels of year are consumed per year for a global population of 7.5 billion.

Let us assume each of those ought to get at least 2,000 calories of food per day, and there are 4.18 J per calorie, then we are talking about a global caloric load of 6.27 x 10^13 J. This is also a condition in which nearly 3 billion are under-nourished or get much less than 2,000 calories per day.

Now, each barrel of oil has and energy equivalent of 6.117 × 10^9 J. Then for 32 billion barrels actually produced, we obtain an energy total of: 1.9 x 10^20 J. However, how much of this is used for transportation and other machinery-production processes? Well, nearly 90% or 1.7 x 10^20 J, leaving only: 2 x 10^19 J, but 95% of that is used for energy production to generate heat, air conditioning or other energy input uses. Still, there should be enough to provide food calories if the processes for production were energy-efficient. The problem is they aren't - especially with annual food wastage, loss of crops to pests, etc.

More pertinent, as Albert Bartlett notes (‘Physics Today’, November 2004, p. 18 – letter rebuttal to naysayers on effects of population), the average rate of personal oil consumption is 4 liters per person per day. Of this, roughly, 0.6 liters goes to the direct or indirect production, transport or manufacture of food – including pumping the water needed for agriculture.

Note this consumption rate is nearly TWICE the peak oil production of 2.2 liters per person per day from 1971, and more than twice the current oil production rate of 1.7 liters per person per day. And this is with “more than 3 billion malnourished” (cf. p. 18, and cited World Watch Report, Sept.-Oct. 2004, p. 22)

Projecting ahead to 2050, the key problem is that the quality of the oil itself will decline in relation to its energy value today. By 2020 the food allocation will be less than 0.3 liters per person per day. Thus it will be halved when the population is an estimated 1.5 billion greater. Someone must starve, billions will starve! That is, unless a true coercive market is enforced, of the type Brabeck -Letmanthe fantasizes: prohibiting the global population from consuming any more than maybe 5 oz. of meat a week.

This gets even more precarious when one figures in the degradation in quality of oil sources, especially now that the world's light sweet crude supply is bottoming out. Jon Thompson, company president for Exxon-Mobil in a 2003 paper posted on the Exxon-Mobil Exploration website (ibid.) noted realistically:

“By 2015 we will need to find, develop and produce a volume of new oil equal to EIGHT out of every TEN barrels produced today. In addition, the cost of this new oil is expected to be CONSIDERABLY more than is now spent.”

In other words, we will have to produce an additional oil barrel equivalent (vis-a-vis today) of 58 billion barrels per year by 2015! (Making for a total production of 87bbl + 58 bbl= 145bbl a year!)Yet the demand for more oil is increasing by 1.5% per year even as easily accessible oil supply fields are drying up, leaving only the most difficult (and costly) deep ocean or Arctic fields. This means even if the energy is available, which I doubt, the cost will be much too high for people to afford - likely more than $150 a bl.

How many will be able to eat in that environment? Well, just look back to 2008 when the per barrel of oil costs hit $120, food prices quadrupled and people were rioting in the streets from Kingston to Mumbai to Nairobi.

The sad fact is that unless we pare our numbers down, we face a merciless population crash in the near future. This is as certain as the Sun rising tomorrow.

Lastly, the dirty little truth of population increase is one the politicos are keeping well hidden, though they must know what's up. For example, how many of our ordinary citizens realize or know that if our population had been stable since 2000 we likely wouldn't have 14 million unemployed today? Consider, each month population increase adds 140,000 to the employment seeking rolls. That is 140,000 new job competitors added per month. That is 1, 680,000 added per year.

Over the last ten years then, the total number added to the employment- seeking rolls via population increase in the U.S. alone has been 16.8 million, or equal to all the unemployed and likely 2.8 million of the "discouraged" or those who've stopped to search for work altogether.
The conclusion is that had we zero population growth in the past decade, there plausibly wouldn't be 14 million out of work now, or at least no where near that many. We might be looking at 4-6% unemployment, as opposed to 9.1%!

But what are our illustrious political parties doing about it? Playing the ass! The Goopers and their knuckle-dragging ilk have continued to wage war on contraceptive services for women everywhere - and particularly wish to deny it for women here in the U.S. Meanwhile, the wimpy Dems aren't much better: while they mostly do support family planning they find it "politically incorrect" to talk about population itself.

Which bring us back to physicist Albert Bartlett's admission of the "silent lie" (regarding human population increase) among he and his own peers which keeps this toxin brewing. (Physics Today, July, 2004, p. 53) Bartlett avers that “scientists’ general reticence stems from the fact that it is politically incorrect or unpopular to argue for stabilization of population – at least in the U.S. Or perhaps scientists are uncomfortable stepping outside their specialized areas of expertise”.

Whatever the reason, Bartlett argues it is equivalent to perpetuating a “silent lie”, a term derived from a Mark Twain quote:

“Almost all lies are acts, and speech has no part in them…I am speaking of the lie of silent assertion: we can tell it without saying a word.”

The problem is that this "silent lie" - a manifestaton of extreme cowardice by our leaders and scientists, may be the ruin of us all.

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