Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bipolar: I swing between depression and snark

We've spent the last thirty years mocking the Club of Rome and The Limits to Growth. Some data points, all from today's blog-cull:

1) The Colorado River is losing so much water every year that the Hoover Dam could stop generating electricity by 2017. So long, Las Vegas.

2) Phosphate (key fertilizer ingredient) prices have tripled in a year. According to this paper, the world passed the peak of conventional phosphate production in 1989. There is no substitute for phosphorus (it's a key ingredient in DNA, fer chrissakes) and feeding 6 billion people -- never mind 9 billion! -- requires megatonnes of the stuff. And, because our primary source of phosphate is mined rock, a non-renewable resource, we're running out quickly. As a bonus, most of the stuff is located in Morocco and China. Maybe we can go back to the days of Guano Imperialism.

3) If you haven't heard yet, biofuels are worse than fossil fuels.

4) Oh, and there aren't enough skilled people to build new nuclear plants. Maybe that's why the people of Ontario are getting hosed again.

5) Arctic sea ice loss will be even worse in 2008 than it was in 2007.

This phosphate thing is a new one to me. There is literally zero possibility of substitution -- the likely impact of ever-higher prices is going to be the use of less phosphate. Liebig's Law of the Minimum says that soil productivity declines with the most-scarce resource, meaning that less phospate will be a bottleneck that drags down global food production. Yikes.

But I'm sure glad right-wing economists got to spend decades chortling to themselves about how naive those people worrying about "carrying capacity" were. I'm sure it was worth it.

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