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Ser Scot A Ellison

Artificially fixed Nitrogen is likely hugely damaging to the environment... but we need it to feed our massive and growing human population...

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This is terrifying.  Our huge human population boom and the reason Malthusan predictions of a human die off didn't happen are, in large part, because wr discovered an artificial way to fix Nitrogen for the soil in the early 20th century.

Without that extra Nitrogen we cannot (I use that term deliberately) cannot produce enough food to feed the entire human population.  So, artificially fixed Nitrogen was seen as a godsend.  However, if these scientists, and their predicessors in the 20s, 30s, and 40s are right the artificial fixing of
Nitrogen could have given us a short term gain and a long term loss.  The extra Nitrogen could be a huge driver in climate change and other environmental problems.

That means we are left with a terrible conundrum.  Do we allow humans to starve or to change the only ecosystem we can reach that will support human life so much... it will no longer support human life?

Here's the article:

http://grist.org/article/2010-02-23-new-research-synthetic-nitrogen-destroys-soil-carbon-undermines/

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There is a general consensus that the topsoil we use in global farming only has about 60 years or so left before it becomes non-viable. At that point we will either need to exploit areas of the planet where large-scale farming has not taken place (good luck with that) or develop alternate food sources. Or die.

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The whole article is bad.  First of all, nitrogen is not synthetically made.  Nitrogen is an atom, there is no such thing as synthetic nitrogen.  There are synthetically manufactured fertilizers that contain the atom nitrogen, but in the form usually of nitrates or urea.  Well, most fertilizers contain these.   

Over fertilization, and the individual chemicals used in fertilizer is a major problem.  But if you want a real discussion, link to an article that at least pretends to understand the issue.  

Florida, where I live, has attempted to restrict fertilizer in residential usage - but of course commercial growers are not so limited.  For example, see the sugar cane growers and the effect last summer on the Treasure Coast area.  

 

Quote

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I'd like to point out that 1) the research is from 2009 and the linked Grist article is from 2010 and 2) there is a fair bit of debate around this topic, and some scientists (including those whose work Mulvaney et. al. used to make their case) are not buying what Mulvaney et. al. are selling. Of course, that's not gonna stop the hot takes (the very worst of takes) in this thread, because "Internet." 

Edited by Xray the Enforcer
clarity

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8 minutes ago, Xray the Enforcer said:

I'd like to point out that 1) the research is from 2009 and the linked Grist article is from 2010 and 2) there is a fair bit of debate around this topic, and some scientists (including those whose work Mulvaney et. al. used to make their case) are not buying what Mulvaney et. al. are selling. Of course, that's not gonna stop the hot takes (the very worst of takes) in this thread, because "Internet." 

Xray,

I'd love to hear your take.

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Not buying this in particular, although the Indian subcontinent population problem is a big one, and one that I don't think is going to have a pleasant solution.

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Not buying what? The nitrogen angle seems debatable, but the fact we are using up the Earth's soil far more quickly than it can be replenished is pretty much indisputable. We need 6 million hectares of new soil a year to keep up with demand and are losing 12 million hectares, with the worst impact in Asia. That is completely unsustainable.

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Posted (edited)

Another symptom of the fundamental problem faced by the world today - namely overpopulation. As I've said before, the goal of the general environmental movement today is misplaced. They are rightly concerned by the toll that human civilization is taking on the environment. But this toll can be represented by two halves of a simple formula:

Number of people in the world x per capita resource consumption = total resource consumption.

The general focus of environmental advocates is on reducing the second part of that equation - resource consumption per capita, whether that be by convincing people to eat less steak, use more public transport, get rid of their SUV's, or use less energy.

Unfortunately, the average citizen in the developed world today can cut their consumption by a huge amount, and still not compensate for all the poor masses in the developing world who also want a decent standard of living, and will continue consuming more resources in order to achieve that. And if we eventually reach 10 billion humans on earth, well, the planet will still be screwed, even if the average per capita consumption level stabilizes at its current rate once all of Asia, Africa and South America has achieved a decent standard of living..

That's why the answer is to target the other side of the consumption equation - number of people on the planet. We need to get it down to around 3 billion again. And no, before someone inevitably comes out with some strawman argument, I am not implying killing off half the world's population. I am talking about measures (financial, legal, social, whatever) to reduce the average number of births per person in nations with high growth rates.

The economic side effects will need to be addressed of course - and yes, it will likely force us to move away from the consumption and growth based economic model as consumer numbers decrease over the decades of such a program. But that is the only answer, other than shipping excess people to new planets, which seems unlikely to become feasible in high enough numbers to make a difference in the next few centuries at least.

Rather have fewer people, living a higher life style, than more people, all having to share public transport, become vegetarians and flush their toilets only once a day to save water.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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Posted (edited)

31 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

That's why the answer is to target the other side of the consumption equation - number of people on the planet. We need to get it down to around 3 billion again. And no, before someone inevitably comes out with some strawman argument, I am not implying killing off half the world's population. I am talking about measures (financial, legal, social, whatever) to reduce the average number of births per person in nations with high growth rates.

It's heartwarming (truly, no sarcasm) to see an extreme religious conservative come around on things like improved reproductive choice and family planning, higher standards of education, and other issues supported by highly progressive groups.  

Is this a workable angle that can bring those types to the correct side?  That there is way too much shit, literal shit, in the world and it's going to destroy us soon? 

Edited by Dr. Pepper

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1 hour ago, Werthead said:

Not buying what? The nitrogen angle seems debatable, but the fact we are using up the Earth's soil far more quickly than it can be replenished is pretty much indisputable. We need 6 million hectares of new soil a year to keep up with demand and are losing 12 million hectares, with the worst impact in Asia. That is completely unsustainable.

 

Hydroponic techonology is already far along, and will continue to advance rapidly. The underlying issue is out of control population growth in the Indian subcontinent and SE asia. Affects on soil are a symptom, not the problem.

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6 minutes ago, Dr. Pepper said:

It's heartwarming (truly, no sarcasm) to see an extreme religious conservative come around on things like improved reproductive choice and family planning, higher standards of education, and other issues supported by highly progressive groups.  

Is this a workable angle that can bring those types to the correct side?  That there is way too much shit, literal shit, in the world and it's going to destroy us soon? 

Look, I just want to state that musings on an internet forum while I am procrastinating from getting back to working on a business proposal with a looming deadline, does not equate to me having the answers all figured out. They are thoughts on a broad theme, rather than detailed analysis of a fully fledged solution.

Probably similar to most posts on the forum, I would think. Yet the fact that an overpopulated planet is something quite unpleasant is something we can agree on, I think.

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Dr.P,

The irrational stubbornness of religious conservatives to recognize the importance of family planning frustrates me to no end.  We have a number of "quiverfull" families at church.  It is the willfull ignorance that drives me nuts.

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2 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Another symptom of the fundamental problem faced by the world today - namely overpopulation. As I've said before, the goal of the general environmental movement today is misplaced. They are rightly concerned by the toll that human civilization is taking on the environment. But this toll can be represented by two halves of a simple formula:

Number of people in the world x per capita resource consumption = total resource consumption.

The general focus of environmental advocates is on reducing the second part of that equation - resource consumption per capita, whether that be by convincing people to eat less steak, use more public transport, get rid of their SUV's, or use less energy.

Unfortunately, the average citizen in the developed world today can cut their consumption by a huge amount, and still not compensate for all the poor masses in the developing world who also want a decent standard of living, and will continue consuming more resources in order to achieve that. And if we eventually reach 10 billion humans on earth, well, the planet will still be screwed, even if the average per capita consumption level stabilizes at its current rate once all of Asia, Africa and South America has achieved a decent standard of living..

That's why the answer is to target the other side of the consumption equation - number of people on the planet. We need to get it down to around 3 billion again. And no, before someone inevitably comes out with some strawman argument, I am not implying killing off half the world's population. I am talking about measures (financial, legal, social, whatever) to reduce the average number of births per person in nations with high growth rates.

The economic side effects will need to be addressed of course - and yes, it will likely force us to move away from the consumption and growth based economic model as consumer numbers decrease over the decades of such a program. But that is the only answer, other than shipping excess people to new planets, which seems unlikely to become feasible in high enough numbers to make a difference in the next few centuries at least.

Rather have fewer people, living a higher life style, than more people, all having to share public transport, become vegetarians and flush their toilets only once a day to save water.

In all likelihood in a century or so the growth rate of the planet will be flat or declining. The real problem of the next few decades is how do we get enough people of working age to cover the cost of all the old people: answer equals immigration. 

I'd suggest that the next few decades will also see a bigger push to reduce abortions and more focus on having children, as western culture struggles to replace itself.

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5 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Dr.P,

The irrational stubbornness of religious conservatives to recognize the importance of family planning frustrates me to no end.  We have a number of "quiverfull" families at church.  It is the willfull ignorance that drives me nuts.

I haven't checked out any numbers but I suspect the quiverfull movement is only growing larger at the moment considering tv and other forms have media have made those types of families mainstream and popular.  I've lost count of the number of mega huge families currently staring in reality shows right now.  I was searching out mommy blogs the other day and a rather large amount in the most popular lists are mega families (though not all explicitly state they are quiverfull).  Just some anecdata, I know of at least a handful of millennials who are now creating their own mega families due in large part to being inspired by tv shows like the Duggars.  

5 minutes ago, Channel4s-JonSnow said:

I'd suggest that the next few decades will also see a bigger push to reduce abortions and more focus on having children, as western culture struggles to replace itself.

That's the other side of things.  Population will need to decrease if you care about the future of humanity in general or population will need to increase if the focus remains on things like capitalism.  Unfortunately, most western cultures have religions which celebrate an apocalyptic future so...  I imagine those who struggle with an altering world view based on new data and science (such as a poster above who is now aware of the literal shit show and how a growing population will devastate humanity) might too easily fall back on their religious texts as an excuse for not making changes or making the more devastating choice (in this case, push having more babies rather than increase immigration so as to pay for old people).  

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Yeah, regarding the population issue I'm not thinking quite as apocalyptic as I do in regards to global warming. Highly urbanized areas in Europe, Japan and civilized North America are a good indicator how a high living standard, access to methods of planned parenthood and economic situations which make not having children more favourable than having them leads straight towards a negative population growth. I'm also thinking that the statistics are somewhat skewered that it is less that not only more children are born and survive infancy (they do since the early 19th century anyway, it's just that the same medical standards are now spreading across the globe), but that old people simply stubbornly refuse to die. But since we have already reached pretty much the tip of what is doable with modern medicine, the age of death will start to stagnate soon enough, giving us time to adjust to the demographic change.

Sure, it's just speculation, but I am fairly confident that when the standard of living raises globally, urban centres become population drains in every country. China for example, after having propped up its economy over the last decades with cheap manufacturing under insane working conditions, already shows the first signs of that actually changing and with the bettering of wages and living standards, they'll get less problems with their insane population growth (which was mostly due to the usual rural mentality anyway). If India does the same change, even though it means higher prices for all of us, we are fairly safe.

That is, if we haven't already crossed the point of no return in regards to global warming, with the sun-deflecting arctic ice melting and with the retreating permafrost releasing more and more greenhouse gases which accelerate the whole process until we are thrown into a real life Mad Max movie. When we are starving en masse, population growth will be the least of our troubles.

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Don't worry, I'm sure respecting the right of nazis to speak freely will solve it

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11 minutes ago, Kalbear said:

Don't worry, I'm sure respecting the right of nazis to speak freely will solve it

Ouch. I did NAZI that one coming. Quite the sucker punch.<_<

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Calling anyone that doesn't vote Democrat a nazi is the much better solution

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Toth said:

Yeah, regarding the population issue I'm not thinking quite as apocalyptic as I do in regards to global warming. Highly urbanized areas in Europe, Japan and civilized North America are a good indicator how a high living standard, access to methods of planned parenthood and economic situations which make not having children more favourable than having them leads straight towards a negative population growth. I'm also thinking that the statistics are somewhat skewered that it is less that not only more children are born and survive infancy (they do since the early 19th century anyway, it's just that the same medical standards are now spreading across the globe), but that old people simply stubbornly refuse to die. But since we have already reached pretty much the tip of what is doable with modern medicine, the age of death will start to stagnate soon enough, giving us time to adjust to the demographic change.

Sure, it's just speculation, but I am fairly confident that when the standard of living raises globally, urban centres become population drains in every country. China for example, after having propped up its economy over the last decades with cheap manufacturing under insane working conditions, already shows the first signs of that actually changing and with the bettering of wages and living standards, they'll get less problems with their insane population growth (which was mostly due to the usual rural mentality anyway). If India does the same change, even though it means higher prices for all of us, we are fairly safe.

That is, if we haven't already crossed the point of no return in regards to global warming, with the sun-deflecting arctic ice melting and with the retreating permafrost releasing more and more greenhouse gases which accelerate the whole process until we are thrown into a real life Mad Max movie. When we are starving en masse, population growth will be the least of our troubles.

Just on the global warming issue, which is tangental to this discussion, being about the carrying capacity of the world and all, I found this interview with the legendary Freeman Dyson to be quite illuminating on the topic:

Basically, the impact of man made global warming is not nearly as significant as it is made out to be, nor is this impact necessarily a bad thing.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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2 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

According to Dyson, who readily admits that he is not a climate expert, the impact of man made global warming is not nearly as significant as it is made out to be, nor is this impact necessarily a bad thing.

Fixed it for you.

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