Senate Doom N Gloom Report: - "On the verge of a global food crisis"

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Jabbadabbado, Mar 18, 2010.

  1. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    The US Navy just announced the successful testing of an "algae powered" patrol boat. While the boat itself still needs a diesel mix, (it runs on a 50/50 blend of diesel and algae biofuel) it looks like no performance is lost.

    It's also interesting that the article also mentions the renewed interest in the nuclear powered program.

    EXAMPLE STORY
  2. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Reserving land or ocean real estate for ethanol or biodiesel production will probably be a national security necessity for future national defense. It also implies a national security interest in population control, since population growth can cut into a nation's ability to set aside agricultural production for biofuels.

    Nothing is going to promote energy efficiency like a fuel that costs $424/gallon.
  3. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    To be fair though, that cost includes R&D cost for the single experimental boat that uses it. Once economy of scale/regular production starts up (if the Navy expands the program) the costs would go down rapidly.

    And besides, it's been mentioned once if it's been mentioned a hundred times around here, that's the joys of Soylent Green....


    brought to you by Soylent Co. Soylent-it's good for your tank, it's good for your tummy!
  4. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    Mar 19, 1999
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    Beyond just economic cost for algae-based biodiesel is the question of energy out vs. energy in. How much fossil fuel energy is expended in its production?
  5. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
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    I couldn't say. What's the basic goal of fossil reduction? Is there a formula or overall guiding factor?

    To oversimplfy, if the Navy currently uses 100,000 barrels of fossil fuel to actually run all of its engines, if it reduces that total down to 20,000 barrels to simply process the fuel that is is ultimately going to use, then that still represents a 5x decrease in consumption. I don't know of any current energy source that is completely independent. More importantly for the short term, as you mentioned, it does switch the strategic focus. Artificial algae (or similar) can be grown and defended locally. There's no reliance on a specific region to deliver the resource.
  6. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Peak oilers talk a lot about energy return on energy invested. Corn ethanol has a small amount of competing data about whether it returns net positive energy at all. There's an energy hit at both ends - it takes a tremendous amount of energy to grow the corn and process the fuel, but also gallon for gallon, corn based ethanol is less energy dense than gasoline - you can't drive as far on a full tank of ethanol as you could on a full tank of gasoline.

    But there's evidence that some of the biodiesel crops do a bit better. Algae is a long way from proven.
  7. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
  8. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
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    African Farmers Displaced as Investors Move In

    To me, this looks like the endgame of expanding the world's food supply: find the last remaining agrarian regions in the undeveloped world, kick the last remaining traditional farmers off their land, then convert those regions into large-scale, fossil fuel-intensive monoculture agribusiness in order to export grains and meat to the world's fast-growing urban centers in Asia and the Middle East.

    Turning Africa into a breadbasket for China and India could potentially increase the world's food supply by another 10-20%, not to mention allow China to begin exporting some of its environmental problems the way the U.S. exported its environmental problems to China. But don't for a minute think it will benefit people living in the subcontinent. There, resource colonization will cause the same problems it has always caused over the last 500 years: famine and civil war.
  9. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Tonight on the History Channel:

    Prophets of Doom

    Today's world has troubles unique to its time in history, from the global financial crisis to technological meltdowns to full scale, computerized global war. Observing the convergence of such events, contemporary prophets have begun to emerge from obscurity to suggest that these conditions might be signs of the demise of the modern world. These men are historians as well, using all manner of information and patterns from the past to provide context for where we are going. Their predictions interpret the current state of affairs in our world as evidence that the America we know may come to an end. The men proposing these ideas are not crackpots living on the streets of New York; they are intelligent, learned men who come armed with the evidence to back up their claims.

    Finally, a tv show about the potential decline and fall of the United States. I'm a longtime follower of peak oil enthusiast Nate Hagens, one of the interviewees.

    Tonight's piece is tastefully sandwiched between ancient aliens and Nostradamus's predictions for the coming of the Antichrist, so you know it's going to be a high level documentary.
  10. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
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    Are these guys historians in the same sense that the guys on monster quest are scientists? :p
  11. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
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    More and/or less.

    Nate has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a PhD in I think some kind of economic/ecology field from somewhere in Vermont, he's sort of a classic high level functioning Aussteiger, or was. He's smart. Michael Ruppert seems to be a genuine paranoid, Kunstler is an entertaining writer, a doomsday sensationalist with a captivating, high energy style, the one who probably makes the best living from the apocalypse. The other guys I don't know.

    The History Channel tried to borrow the tone of "Collapse," the documentary about how crazy yet eerily rational Ruppert seems when he talks.
  12. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Since the beginning of the year, food price riots helped topple a government in Tunisia, injured hundreds in Algeria and have added to an already chaotic situation in the Sudan.

    Now the doom and gloomers at Forbes have weighed in with an article:

    On The Verge Of A Global Food Crisis

    Some basic food prices have now exceeded their 2008 record levels, and the situation does not look good for much short term market-based price relief. Factors favoring continued food price increases include:

    1. flooding in Australia

    2. hot weather in South America

    3. increasing oil prices

    4. regional protectionism kicking in for anxious grain exporters

    5. economic growth in China and India spurring demand.

    6. a global population growth rate of 1.2%.

    7. quantitative easing in the U.S. causing currency inflation in the developing world.

    So far, Northern Africa has been the canary in the coalmine for food insecurity, but the contagion will spread quickly as food prices continue to rise heading into the northern hemisphere growing season.

  13. darthdrago Force Ghost

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    Dec 31, 2003
    star 4
  14. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Phosphorus is a big deal, but we could recapture a lot of it through a national composting program.
  15. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    The following video has enough implications to almost declare war on this thread:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo
  16. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I saw that a few months ago - it's an elegant presentation, and a perfect demonstration of White's Law:
    Civilization evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting the energy to work is increased.

    After 1810, coal-fired steam energy led to mechanization of industry and transportation, vastly multiplying the per capita energy available to humans. There's the first dramatic upswing. Then after 1890, coal-fired steam power begins to be used to generate electricity, and oil and natural gas begin to be used for heating, producing fertilizer. That's when per capita wealth and lifespans really take off.

    Fossil fuels vastly bid up the amount of energy available to humans in the form of food calories, energy for mechanization and transportation, allowing for exponential growth in wealth and the number of humans.

    Of interest to doom 'n' gloomers is the curve from 2010 onwards if available per capita energy peaks and begins to decline. Try to envision that multimedia show reversing itself over the course of a single century.

    What happens at the end of the process, when fossil fuel availability declines below 1900 levels of consumption is anybody's guess, but at some point we will have to give up fossil fuels entirely for mechanization and transportation and preserve dwindling petrochemical supplies to try to shore up the food supply.

    The U.S. is already on the downward side of the slope. Average family income peaked in 1973 and has been stagnant ever since, even declining in the Bush years. Our oil consumption peaked in 2008 and we will probably never return to those levels because we will never again be able to outbid our competitors to source that much oil. To the extent we try to substitute coal as a transportation energy we will bring on the depletion of our coal resources that much sooner.

    This is the one book every American needs to be reading today: The Great Stagnation
  17. New_York_Jedi Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 16, 2002
    star 6
    Jabba, did you read The Economist's special report on food from a couple weeks ago?

    Also, I refuse to read TGS, despite being inundated hearing about it, because I hate reading books on my computer and I don't have a kindle/nook/ipad.
  18. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    The Economist report was good. They identified most of the problems underlying the slowdown in yield growth, including water availability and climate change. They recognized the catastrophe that has resulted from the U.S. using nearly 40% of its corn supply for unsustainable and uneconomic ethanol production. They discussed some of the likely solutions, including widespread adoption of drip irrigation on top of no till agriculture.

    The Catch 22 of achieving 1.5% annual yield growth rates in perpetuity is that chasing the population growth by adding food to the supply also causes population growth. If on the other hand we consciously and conscientiously limit the food supply, we can also limit population growth. If we don't want a human population of 9 billion people, then all we have to do is refuse to supply enough food to feed 9 billion people.
  19. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    I guess of key importance is the ability for us to adequately replace fossil fuels as an energy resource. Is this possible and if so, what will it require?

    Unfortunately I think if it IS possible, there has been a significant attempt to stop research and development from taking place. Theoretically these sorts of alternatives should have been heavily looked into since at least 1975, but even today too many seem content to let the situation languish. That or it's been decided it is just impossible to do.
  20. yankee8255 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 31, 2005
    star 6
    Could someone post a link to the Economist report? Thanks.

    EDIT: Never mind, found them. Now if only they didn't have the darned 5 article per week limit. :mad:
  21. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    The key moments of advance in human history have been energy revolutions.

    -The use of fire for cooking supplied the human body with more and better calories
    -Farming advancements and food storage in the neolithic revolution created food surpluses
    -harnessing wind energy for ocean sailing created a trade revolution
    -harnessing water energy to grind wheat and drive bellows for furnaces and trip hammers for metalworking led to a pre-industrial artisan revolution.
    -burning coal, oil and natural gas for mechanization and pouring petrochemicals onto fields created 200 years of unprecedented energy growth and expansion and bid up the human population from less than 1 billion to 7 billion.

    Alternative energy cannot supply the energy needed to run current levels of industrialized civilization. It is a mitigation strategy for fossil fuel depletion that will allow for survival of small pockets of industrialized civilization - a steady-state economy for a much smaller number of humans than are alive now.

    We're awaiting a different energy revolution for additional growth. If it's not fusion, then it will have to be something completely unexpected, something as the saying goes, that is at present indistinguishable from magic.

    Historians will look back and say the fossil fuel revolution ended in 2006 or so. The tail end of Chinese growth is not an absolute expansion of human economic activity but a zero sum game in which the Chinese are grabbing a larger share of a stagnant pie. Their remaining growth is being carved directly out of the U.S., western European and Japanese economies. We will survive in the short term by serving our Chinese overlords through exporting our grain and coal to them, following the Australian example. In the longer term we're all in trouble unless and until someone discovers magic.

    Nothing wrong with holding out hope, but humans should plan as though we will not learn how to use magic before 2050.
  22. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    So what do you think will happen?

    I see scenarios where economies like the US and Japan collapse into much smaller entities of what they were, supporting many fewer people... or where war erupts among nations to take what few resources remain. I'm unsure whether it'll be a long and painful process, or whether they'll be a breaking point where all economic stability just caves in at once.

    When energy becomes a problem for the US (more so than ever in history) they'll resort increasingly to coal. But as even coal prices skyrocket and pollution becomes more of an issue, we'll just get ever more desperate to extract and burn what we have. Are we really looking at the end of industrialization, or is there some glimmer of hope that we could transition into a post peak-oil world without a global revolution?
  23. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    The U.S. is one of the largest oil/coal producers in the world. We could so easily be energy independent if only we could cut our per capita GDP in half.

    And that is where the U.S. is heading. And western Europe too. The U.S. will be forced into energy independence within 15 years, with median family incomes declining to half what they are now. The nation may not survive the shock. Jedismuggler's right/left revolution is one potential manifestation of a big-enough economic shock. I expect to see the EU and NATO fall apart within a decade or two.

    Civil war across the MENA countries is just a taste of the global commodity shock. Africa will become one vast Somalia. China will either have to assert itself as a superpower, or back down and embrace a low energy future too.

    To the extent the U.S. resists its own decline and fall, we will accelerate the decline. We will get into unfunded wars to try to prevent further decline, the dollar will be the "petrodollar" no more and will lose its status as the world's reserve currency. This is slowly happening now.

    Remember, the U.S. peaked in 1973 in terms of median per capita income and also around the same time in terms of our share of the global economic pie. The Apollo program was the symbolic high water mark of the American century, and we have been in relative decline ever since. Like Rome, America is strong enough to have survived four post-peak decades, but we all see the symptoms of decline: the kleptocratic rich looting our dwindling national wealth, military overreach, the hollowing out of equal opportunity.

    If the industrialized west falls, then the global agricultural system will fall with it, and billions will starve.
  24. Blithe Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 24, 2003
    star 4

    If you don't mind, could you give me your source on that, Jabba?
  25. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I was referring from memory to a chart from "The Great Stagnation" - Median Family Income, 1947-2007. Upon looking at it again, median family income was basically stagnant between 1970 and 1995. It bumped up a bit in the Clinton era, and was stagnant again throughout the Bush years. But fundamentally - rapid growth from 1947-1970 and very slow growth to stagnation (including periods of decrease) ever since. Cowen points to 1973 as the inflection point where we moved from rapid growth to slow growth/stagnation. I got it wrong.

    Other relevant stats from wikipedia:

    -US share of world GDP (nominal) peaked in 1985 with 32.74% of global GDP (nominal).

    -US share of world GDP (PPP) peaked in 1999 with 23.78% of global GDP (PPP).