Monday, August 24, 2009

World Reserves of Phosphorus and other Vital Resources

Photo: Sun setting over Lake Tanganyika behind a field of maize.

We hear a lot and read a lot about 'peak oil' and some other resource shortages facing the world over the next few decades. But The Broker Online has a fascinating article called 'Peak Phosphorus'. It describes how intimately modern agriculture is connected with phosphorus supplies, one of the main constituents of fertilizers. Along with several other minerals, rising prices will seriously affect the price of food.

Indeed, the prices were most recently influenced by the oil price hike, which resulted in a lot of crops being planted for biofuels. In addition to depriving people of food, land and livelihoods, destroying large tracts of land and using up and polluting enormous quantities of water, the crazy plan to increase production of biofuels will also speed up the time that phosphorus reserves will become exhausted.

Phosphorus supply is even behind Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara and the US's tacit support for that occupation, because Western Sahara the largest source of phosphorus after China and the US. The US have already peaked but they have a useful little bilateral agreement with Morocco, so they're in no hurry for that particular repressive regime to end.

Other resources that are in short supply or will be in short supply in the next few decades include sulphuric acid. There was a time when it was said to be possible to judge a country's industrial output by its consumption of sulphuric acid because it has such widespread use in industry.

The simple fact is that developed countries need to find ways to reduce their use of resources. There are only so many tricks in the box to substitute for resources that are running low when we are just exhausting the natural resources that will allow humanity to survive. The big users, the rich, developed countries, need to change their lifestyle. Otherwise they will be wiped out too, eventually.

And big subsidizers, such as the EU and the US, need to practice what the preach and stop encouraging overconsumption. It's time to recover as many wasted products as possible and consider the long term future of all people, not just the comfortably off ones.

It's worth advocating for change because the most vulnerable people will probably suffer the worst and most immediate consequences of our behaviour, the people who least deserve to pay for society's stupidity. Sphere: Related Content

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