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Population growth and green revolutions

(article, Culinate staff)

In a recent New Yorker piece about the planet's population growth, Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out the obvious: a planet with 16 billion people in the year 2100 will need to figure out a way to feed all those mouths. 

"As many, including Bill Gates, have pointed out, just to keep per-capita food production constant in the coming decades will require a second 'green revolution,'" notes Kolbert. 

The first green revolution, in the second half of the 20th century, increased global grain yields by about 2 percent a year. But that revolution relied on fertilizers derived from phosphorus, a natural resource that's now dwindling. "Other essential commodities that could similarly run short include oil, water, and arable land," writes Kolbert. And that's not factoring in the many stresses on farming caused by global warming. Kolbert is dubious about our prospects:

bq. Obviously, many of the predictions that \[Thomas Malthus\] made in his '"Essay in 1798, proved to be wrong. But the premise of the work — that there must be some limit to population growth — is hard to argue with. The question of where that limit lies — of how many people the earth can support over the long or even medium term — remains, at this point, open. As we sail past the seven-billion mark toward eight, nine, or ten billion, we should, sooner or later, arrive at an answer.

Over on Grist, however, Tom Laskawy is more optimistic, citing a recent study in Nature_ that claims feeding everyone is indeed possible. Suggested changes include greater environmental sensitivity, less waste, and reduced meat consumption.