Re: "Tell Buzz to buy more corn beef hash."

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From: Dave Long (
Date: Tue Oct 17 2000 - 11:24:26 PDT

> The only reason we can sustain 6.xB is our infrastructure? (.... conjecture)

I recall an article in Nature either this year or last which
pointed out that while there is enough arable in America, were
it developed, to feed the current population even without extra
(oil->N) fertilizer inputs, China has already intensified its
agriculture to the point where lack of fertilizer would mean a
shortfall, even after developing the remaining unused arable.

From Evans' _Feeding the Ten Billion_:
> In 1977 Buringh and van Heemst [0] estimated the human
> carrying capacity of the world if only traditional
> subsistence, labour-oriented agriculture was used on
> *all* the land suitable for such farming. They found it
> would be impossible to feed even the four billion people
> then alive, in spite of the huge increase in land to be
> cleared for agriculture.
> As Vasey [1] put it: 'Food futures hinge on population
> and energy futures'. Agriculture currently consumes
> only about 5% of the world's energy use, nearly all of
> it based on non-renewable fossile fuel. In that respect
> modern agriculture is not as sustainable as it was until
> there were only two billion of us.
> [0] Buringh, P., van Heemst, H.D.J. (1977) An estimation
> of world food production based on labour-oriented
> agriculture. Centre for World Food Market Research,
> Amsterdam. p. 46.
> [1] Vasey, D.E. (1992) An Ecological History of
> Agriculture: 10,000 BC - AD 10,000. Iowa State
> University Press, Ames.

Huxley sets the stable population of the Community in the year
AF 600 at the lower of those figures:
> Fanny worked in the Bottling Room, and her surname was
> also Crowne. But as the two thousand million inhabitants
> of the planet had only ten thousand names between them,
> the coincidence was not particularly surprising.

Now, there's some math behind that bit about the names (which
is an interesting topic for another FoRKing, and related to
Galton, whom I saw mentioned here recently), so I believe Mr.
Huxley had some justification for his population, even with
a nod to the intensification already underway in 1932:

> [Xianity,] The ethics and philosophy of under-consumption
> ... So essential when there was under-production; but in an
> age of machines and the fixation of nitrogen--positively a
> crime against society.

On the bright side, there doesn't seem to be much in the way
of a theoretical limit on intensifying agriculture. Put more
energy in, and yield increases. Of course, that requires a
decent amount of innovation in intensification, and presently
the energy inputs require oil imports, so the yeoman farmer
won't commonly exist again until someone figures out how to
intensify with purely local means.


(I am told one should not listen to Thoreau on this subject.
He held his Walden plot as a favor from Emerson, and had he
attempted to farm it a few seasons more would have discovered
the difference between living on interest and capital.)

Another alternative is extensification: some Mongols proposed
clearing china after they overran it, and using it as pasture
for the horde's horses. The Scots discovered to their chagrin
that their lords had more loyalty to the "four-footed clansmen"
than the two-legged during the clearances. Four legs good,
two legs bad, baaaaaa.

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