There was a major report in Nature magazine, May 2, 2013 on new genetic developments for getting more food out of plants. The report was, “New discoveries of the way plants transport important substances across their biological membranes to resist toxic metals and pests, increase salt and drought tolerance, control water loss and store sugar can have profound implications for increasing the supply of food and energy for our rapidly growing global population.”
These scientific enhancements of human ability to create food are wonderful, and the scientists acknowledge the need for more food, but they don’t face the real problem. Being scientists their job isn’t to face the political problems, but to solve the technical ones, and we must congratulate them for their success. The real problem was stated over 200 years ago by Malthus. Population growth has no limit, and can grow exponentially, but land supply is limited and so is the supply of water. Technology has been fabulously successful, and because of these achievements the population has been able to grow from 1 billion people in 1825 to 7 billion now. Of course our greater production of food required more demand from poorer land, more water from building dams, more fertilizers from one-time resources, and machinery powered from one-time energy sources like oil. Each of these have physical limits which can not be exceeded, and some of them are one-time use and then they are gone, except for the pollution they leave. When these resources are exceeded the population must collapse back toward the population of 1 billion where it existed before these one-time improvements were implemented.
The real problem is to find a way to voluntarily, on a humanity-wide basis, to control the population to a number the Earth can support. If we fail natural processes will come into play and the population will be forced way below the sustainable population for a long time. Instead of a billion people voluntarily controlling their population there will be less than a tenth that number controlled by nature.
Nature reports, “their findings could help the world meet its increasing demand for food and fuel as the global population grows from seven billion people to an estimated nine billion by 2050.” Those numbers are not impossible, but they are unlikely, and anything beyond that moves even further into the realm of impossibility and into an even more catastrophic collapse.
The new discoveries will permit food to be grown on increasingly poor soil. Soil becomes increasingly fouled by evaporation from irrigation water of natural salts carried in the water. “These membrane transporters are a class of specialized proteins that plants use to take up nutrients from the soil, transport sugar and resist toxic substances like salt and aluminum.” This is a temporary patch, because the soil pollution just keeps coming and there is no way to prevent it.
Already there are estimated to be a billion people of our seven billion who are undernourished. If the population goes to nine billion that doesn’t mean there will be three billion more hungry people, because everyone must be fed, so all the food must be stretched further. Therefore, everyone would be hungry, except for the very rich. The scientists want the policy makers to implement their discoveries as soon as possible, but that is futile, even in the short run. It seems impossible that a child born today will live to old age in a society where there hasn’t been a painful population collapse, and the creation of laws limiting population to a sustainable level. “During the next four decades, an expected additional two billion humans will require nutritious food. Along with growing urbanization, increased demand for protein in developing countries coupled with impending climate change and population growth will impose further pressures on agricultural production.” … “Increasing food production on limited land resources will rely on innovative agronomic practices coupled to the genetic improvement of crops.”
I don’t like the imposition of population control, but the alternative is far worse, and the alternative will be imposed in the lifetime of people now living.
Elected politicians refuse to consider population control.