Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Best Decade Ever

 

Saw this courtesy of WSJ’s Best of the Web Today column:

Efficiencies in agriculture mean the world is now approaching ‘peak farmland’ — despite the growing number of people and their demand for more and better food, the productivity of agriculture is rising so fast that human needs can be supplied by a shrinking amount of land. In 2012, Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and his colleagues argued that, thanks to modern technology, we use 65 per cent less land to produce a given quantity of food compared with 50 years ago. By 2050, it’s estimated that an area the size of India will have been released from the plough and the cow.

Land-sparing is the reason that forests are expanding, especially in rich countries. In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage. Large animals are returning in abundance in rich countries; populations of wolves, deer, beavers, lynx, seals, sea eagles and bald eagles are all increasing; and now even tiger numbers are slowly climbing.

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There are 19 comments.

  1. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I always found it amusing that 1940s and 1950s science-fiction writers, positing what the planet would be like a few hundred years in the future completely missed the “green revolution”. Many of them assumed that humans would be so numerous that they would be reduced to eating food made from yeast or other people (Soylent Green), and totally missed the huge increases in yield per acre of grains and legumes.

    • #1
    • January 2, 2020, at 6:36 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Peak Farmland Reached: Malthusians, Eco-Warriors Hit Hardest 

    • #2
    • January 2, 2020, at 11:25 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  3. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Tex929rr: In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage.

    That was before Germany started turning forests into wind farms. 

    US farms are are amazingly more efficient that farming elsewhere. When the techniques and special seeds are used elsewhere, production can easily double again. The biggest thing slowing progress are the weird population control Gaia worshipers that promote a “carrying capacity” of 1 billion.

    • #3
    • January 3, 2020, at 9:39 AM PST
    • 1 like
  4. The Reticulator Member

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    When the techniques and special seeds are used elsewhere, production can easily double again.

    There are people with data and arguments saying you can’t easily get another doubling. If you have serious data suggesting that a doubling is possible, I’ll dig into it. If your data are from people saying GMOs can bring it about, they are wrong and are misleading you.

    • #4
    • January 3, 2020, at 9:45 AM PST
    • 1 like
  5. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    When the techniques and special seeds are used elsewhere, production can easily double again.

    There are people with data and arguments saying you can’t easily get another doubling. If you have serious data suggesting that a doubling is possible, I’ll dig into it. If your data are from people saying GMOs can bring it about, they are wrong and are misleading you.

    To be fair we didn’t have reliable data predicting all of the other doubling, nor is Moore’s law legally binding for computers. 

    You’re right, we can’t rely on improved technology to bail us out indefinitely, but I wish we could, as a world, adopt a cautiously optimistic approach to…I dunno, everything. 

    • #5
    • January 3, 2020, at 10:28 AM PST
    • 1 like
  6. The Reticulator Member

    TBA (View Comment):
    but I wish we could, as a world, adopt a cautiously optimistic approach to…I dunno, everything. 

     That would be ok, but I’d be fine with cautiously pessimistic, too. Either is s conservative approach. 

    • #6
    • January 3, 2020, at 10:35 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):
    but I wish we could, as a world, adopt a cautiously optimistic approach to…I dunno, everything.

    That would be ok, but I’d be fine with cautiously pessimistic, too. Either is s conservative approach.

    Resolved: we round up all the outlying pollyannas and mongers of doom and execute them along with all the other extremists! ;) 

    • #7
    • January 3, 2020, at 11:12 AM PST
    • 1 like
  8. Henry Racette Contributor

    The complement to increasing food yield per acre is the very real prospect of declining global population – or rather, declining rate of growth of global population, and eventual stability far below the carrying capacity of the planet.

    The world faces plenty of problems, but running out of stuff does not appear to be one of them.

    • #8
    • January 3, 2020, at 8:15 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. Full Size Tabby Member

    That is one aspect of the general idea that the richer and more technologically advanced people get, the more they respect and care for the environment in which they live. So instead of trying to bash developed nations back to the stone age, “environmentalists” should be encouraging the growth of wealth among the less developed people of the globe. 

    • #9
    • January 4, 2020, at 3:34 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Partially offsetting the productivity increases and the population stabilization/decline: as people become economically better-off, one of the first things they do is to improve their diet, including more eating of meat.

    And the “organic” farming favored by a substantial segment of people in the US is considerably more land-intensive for any given quantity of food

    • #10
    • January 4, 2020, at 4:40 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Partially offsetting the productivity increases and the population stabilization/decline: as people become economically better-off, one of the first things they do is to improve their diet, including more eating of meat.

    And the “organic” farming favored by a substantial segment of people in the US is considerably more land-intensive for any given quantity of food

    True. But the point is control, which is why all of their proposed solutions don’t actually solve anything but do manage to ban something they don’t like for aesthetic reasons. 

    • #11
    • January 4, 2020, at 4:47 PM PST
    • Like
  12. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    When the techniques and special seeds are used elsewhere, production can easily double again.

    There are people with data and arguments saying you can’t easily get another doubling. If you have serious data suggesting that a doubling is possible, I’ll dig into it. If your data are from people saying GMOs can bring it about, they are wrong and are misleading you.

    Don isn’t saying that we can easily double productivity here. I believe his point is that if the parts of the world that are still using outdated farming techniques were using American-style techniques and achieving American-style productivity, global production could double.

    • #12
    • January 4, 2020, at 9:12 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Gary Robbins Reagan

    On a parallel point, the book “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling asserts convincingly that by objective measures, the quality of life worldwide is getting better. This book was one of a half-dozen books recommended last year by Bill Gates.

    • #13
    • January 4, 2020, at 9:15 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. The Reticulator Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    When the techniques and special seeds are used elsewhere, production can easily double again.

    There are people with data and arguments saying you can’t easily get another doubling. If you have serious data suggesting that a doubling is possible, I’ll dig into it. If your data are from people saying GMOs can bring it about, they are wrong and are misleading you.

    Don isn’t saying that we can easily double productivity here. I believe his point is that if the parts of the world that are still using outdated farming techniques were using American-style techniques and achieving American-style productivity, global production could double.

    That’s what I thought he meant. I am skeptical, but if someone can make a case for it, surely he can show the assumptions and data behind that claim.

    • #14
    • January 4, 2020, at 9:42 PM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Manny Member

    I thought we had one of the worst recessions in the history of the country in that decade? And it took forever to come out of it. No way was that the best decade ever. It certainly doesn’t beat the 1980s. But it wasn’t even a net plus decade. I think it was a terrible decade. The last couple of years sort of made up for how bad most of it truly was.

    • #15
    • January 4, 2020, at 9:46 PM PST
    • Like
  16. The Reticulator Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    When the techniques and special seeds are used elsewhere, production can easily double again.

    There are people with data and arguments saying you can’t easily get another doubling. If you have serious data suggesting that a doubling is possible, I’ll dig into it. If your data are from people saying GMOs can bring it about, they are wrong and are misleading you.

    Don isn’t saying that we can easily double productivity here. I believe his point is that if the parts of the world that are still using outdated farming techniques were using American-style techniques and achieving American-style productivity, global production could double.

    That’s what I thought he meant. I am skeptical, but if someone can make a case for it, surely he can show the assumptions and data behind that claim.

    Just in case that information is forthcoming, I dusted off my copy of R. Ford Denison’s book, Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agricultureso I can compare with his assumptions and data. My skepticism is based on a reading of his book several years ago. I certainly do not have all of it in my head, but I was amused just now to see that Denison shows that Robert Malthus was overly optimistic about the increase in food production in the U.K. since his day. Malthus was of course not very accurate in his predictions about population growth.

    Partial disclosure: After I read his book I had a chance to meet Denison when he came to my workplace to speak. 

    • #16
    • January 4, 2020, at 10:30 PM PST
    • Like
  17. Full Size Tabby Member

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    On a parallel point, the book “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling asserts convincingly that by objective measures, the quality of life worldwide is getting better. This book was one of a half-dozen books recommended last year by Bill Gates.

    Coincidentally, that book came up at our Sunday School class last Sunday.

    Most people in the class were surprised at the data presented showing such a change in the quality of life worldwide.

    The thesis we were discussing in class was that most of us frame our thinking based on what the world looked like when we were children and teens, and we tend not to keep up with changes thereafter. Yet the vast majority of the radical changes in world material well being (at least as Hans Rosling’s data show) have been since the late 1950’s. Since most of us in the class are in our 60s and 70s, we tend still to think of the world material well being as it was in the 1950s, which is not the state of the world as it is today. 

    • #17
    • January 5, 2020, at 4:45 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  18. Iguanadon Coolidge

    American farmland is one of our most precious resources. This should be no rationale for giving it up to development.

    American farmers are already highly efficient, because they have to be. The first major boost to agricultural efficiency was the production of chemical fertilizers from the nitrogen in the air by the Haber-Bosch process in the early 1900’s. The next was the development of new crop protection materials after WW II. The third big thing was the development biological engineering technology.

    Where are we now? Fertilizers and pesticides are becoming increasingly regulated because of environmental concerns. We are losing many of these crop protection materials, and the many of the replacements are not as effective at controlling the pests. I don’t have to tell you what the prevailing attitude is against biological engineering, or GMO’s. Organic agriculture has been increasing its acreage, but organic is not as efficient and will take more farmland to produce the same amount of food.

    The worst locust infestation in decades is now taking place in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Al Shabaab is shooting them with machine guns. How efficient is that? An estimated 175,000 acres of farmland has been affected and this could last several months. I don’t see any increases in efficiency forthcoming in such places. 

     

     

     

    • #18
    • January 5, 2020, at 10:37 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. Pony Convertible Member

    One of the benefits of increased CO2. Plants love it.

    • #19
    • January 6, 2020, at 4:19 AM PST
    • Like