Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Peak Phosphorus.. peak production.. over population

  Food for thought..
 While more are aware of the impending peak of oil and coal resources, another "peak" is also on the very near horizon. Peak Phosphorus. It is in a lot of products from soft drinks,  thermoplastics, metal cleaners, fertilizers, detergents, a food additive, leavening agent.. in short it is very prevalent if not typically noticed. 

 Phosphorus is a key component in plant development of roots, flowers, disease resistance, and proper cellular functions to give a cliff note to what role it plays in agriculture. While it is not volatile like nitrogen, it does move in the form of run off and soil erosion. It is one of our major mismanaged resources.

 One of the perks from the Industrial era is the creation of superphosphates, especially inregards to fertilizers. A more readily available to plant form, heck we even made it possible to sprinkle it over our crops by way of misting from planes. Huge increases in yields. Wheat for example showed a 14% increase in yields in the early days. (As with all things, balance is crucial especially with development.)  Without this element, yields in wheat per acreage could drop by more than half (as they are predicting by 2100.)

 This resource is essentially mined. It is found in ancient bone (and teeth) beds, upwelling from the depths of the oceans, guano deposits. Important enough that securing lands by means of the Guano Islands Act in our nation's more formative years. The rock powder that is dusted over gardens and fields is in limited supply. The "peak" of production is expected roughly around 2030.. or sooner. 

 Mining this element is not the only source, it is also a component in manures. Here is the dilemma.. while there is the suggestion (and indeed already in practice in some areas) of reclaiming this from CAFO's (concentrated animal feeding operations)  and our sewage.. there is a bit of byproduct problems. Namely endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, medications, antibiotics, hormones.. and some rather pesky chemicals that are illegally poured down the pipes.. that can't be filtered out. 

 Conventional farming already uses reclaimed municipal resources to fertilize. (Heck.. municipal biosolids are marketed in big box stores with a bold faced ORGANIC compost label. Irony is this is not allowed in organic farming. This manipulation in marketing is exploiting a loophole as it is not a product directly consumed.. and by "organic" they are describing it to mean carbon based materials and nothing more.)

 Now for those that think vegan will save the planet, while it would help the environment, it would help our health (as well what gets shelled out for medical), it would possibly even extend current food resources.. but it won't save us from ourselves. Literally. You can't support exponential population growth on limited resources. That simple. That applies to all animals, including people. The irony in sustainable agriculture is that it is in essence a nearly closed loop.  If we had a couple more planets like Earth, sure, we could solve this problem.. or delay it a few more generations.

 There are summits regarding global climate change, forecasts on the impact/ yield/ needs of crops, genetic technologies in the race to provide the status quo..  but it pops up like a rare blip on our social radar. Rare. Ask around, and while peak oil, peak coal, even peak gallium or uranium may be mentioned, most are unaware of phosphorus. I find that rather odd.

I know this isn't exactly a happy happy post.. but I thought it very relevant to mention. There is no quick fix.. and there sure isn't a socially accepted means to control population... or even suggest it.  Although the levels of pollution from our disposable lifestyle may actually be effecting that aspect. 

 Is anyone else mulling over these impending "milestones"? I really wish I could just wipe my mind clean and not be aware of them. 

 In a discussion, someone responded with:

"It is not the responsibility of the government to keep everyone fed. Sustainability in farming does not mean organic it simply means by methods that are sustainable. The current large scale food systems are not. They are destroying our land, water ways, and health. They alone will solve the population problem by killing us all." 

 The first problem that I have with this is that... WE are THEY. Stop passing the buck. We need to own up to this. We create the demand, we bought the product, we are the source of the problem.

 There is no sustainable conventional farming method that I am aware of. Organic and permaculture like methods are as close to a closed loop as you can get, but still we have already passed the population level that allows for sustainable existence. Beyond a certain point, the amount of resources consumed is unable to be replenished adequately resulting in another aspect(s) diminishing. As in.. pollution build up, loss of "wild" habitats, loss of other species, you get the idea. We moved beyond the balance a long time ago. 

 The government has a huge vested interest in keeping their people fed, hence welfare, food stamps, subsidies, etc. basically to avoid civil unrest. One of you preppers help me out here.. isn't the civil discord measured by a 4 day food supply? While most people right now can't fathom the concept of running out of food, I suppose I realize how close we are to the edge as my Mom lived through that type of situation.

 Like a large overfilled aquarium.. we can't escape our pollution and it is too much for nature to process fast enough. Resources for our conveniences are rapidly reaching their peak. Population isn't leveling off. We've set ourselves up for interesting times.. and while we will probably see the start of it, our kids will feel the brunt of it.

 What I need.. is a good thump to the head so I forget all of this. Turn the soil, collect the rainwater, save the seeds, compost and harvest. I do this mainly because it brings me joy. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but we do know what we need to change right now. With some luck, some inspiration, some enlightenment and a lot of love.. we still have time to hope for solutions and a better future. 



  1. Everything you say is very true, Unfortunately those of us that do live responsible lives are in the minority. I fear that, as is so often the case, it will not be until dire times befall us all that the masses will be forced to take action...will it be to late?

    So yes, turn the soil, collect the rainwater, save the seeds, compost and harvest...and be content in the fact that you are doing your part and are not in any way responsible for the actions of everyone else.

    I understand your frustrations with all of this and have many of the same we do what we can and hope that others follow suite.

    "Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.”

    - Robert Louis Stevenson

  2. Love the quote. So very true. I am always amazed how insulated so many think they are, and can't be bothered to care... unless it is trendy to.

  3. To true Anne

    The problem with population and worldwide sustainability is also a PC one. Any attempt to confront it will be met with accusations of racism and most with the common sense to see the problem don't have the guts or perhaps they have enough common sense to understand that pointing it out is an instant loss.

    Ultimately it is my opinion that it was oil that really caused these issues. After the peak we may perhaps get back to a more natural system if we retain the knowledge needed that is. So keep collecting, planting and researching that will be the future.

  4. I think the sleeping giant may finally be waking up somewhat though. With the alternative media taking rise and many people having their eyes opened to what our government/mansanto/big oil/etc is really doing, I think we have a chance at putting the brakes on these things.

    But like you, I'm just hoping its not too late.

  5. I second what Mr. H said!

    When there was a tsunami warning in Hawaii recently, the grocery stores and Costco on Oahu were stripped bare from people hoarding. My sister lives on Oahu, and thankfully nothing serious happened there. She found it amusing, but didn't feel like she was threatened by this fact.

    I would feel even more threatened just because it IS and island, if I were her!

    I bury spent chicken bones from the stock I make so that I get some Phosphorous without paying more. I don't mention things like that on the blog as I think it's illegal to bury animals in the city. The organic chickens I buy for meat are used up every last bit!

  6. @ AJK Well.. you're not burying an animal.. lol just leftovers! I know someone did a conversion of one of their tools and it pulverizes bones now.. so he just makes his own bone meal!

    @ OJD... I agree with you. I am actually finding a surprising resource in the 70's age bracket.. amazing what that age group of people are doing. I'm taking lessons... literally!!

  7. I know it's "leftovers' but it's "trash" as well, and "trash" is also not allowed to be buried in our city. So, hush hush. ;-)