Population growth, land loss, shale gas and sustainability

  • Land; they have stopped making it.
  • Malthus and “the passion between the sexes…” remains a problem.
  • Mineral fertiliser production consumes enormous electrical power.
  • Shale gas is a transitional part of the answer.
  • Recycling industrial wastes to land can be done safely and sustainably.

By Bill Butterworth

22 February 15


World population and food

Page 15 of the current issue (Feb 15) of The Furrow from John Deere shows a stunning histogram of World Bank/United Nations prediction of population growth and available farm land up to 2050. It is reproduced above and it is a grave warning of the human race sleep-walking to disaster. If you are under 60 years of age, you have a pretty good chance of living till 2050.

Bear in mind that one tonne of Nitrogen nutrient in mineral fertiliser, made in a modern USA factory does, according again to United Nations sponsored research, take 21,000 (yes, no mistake, twenty one thousand) kWh of electricity to manufacture and deliver. Some factories in production elsewhere are a factor of 10 times less efficient. Global Nitrogen fertiliser production is approaching 150 million tonnes. Most of that electricity will have come from burning fossilised, hydrocarbon fuels. (See this blog 20 December 14.) As a guestimate, that may be a consumption of a thousand, trillion kWh electricity per annum.

Putting it gently; “We have a problem, Houston.”

  • We need to stop population growth. (Reduce is not good enough.)
  • We need to learn to be vegetarians. Meat production takes a lot more land.
  • We need to stop building on good agricultural land.
  • Stop mono-cropping energy crops
  • We can use shale gas to make urea – one of the main agricultural sources of mineral Nitrogen fertiliser.

If we are going to have sustainability, then it has been achieved. (See this blog 7 December 14) See blow.

A 330 hectare farm in the Land Network farmers’ group has delivered taking a range of municipal and industrial “wastes” to make compost, so eliminating the use of mineral fertilisers, to grow good crops – averaging just over 10 tonnes to the ha, safely. Also, by pushing up organic matters on their heavy clays, they have cut cultivation energy cost by around 60%. Every hectare of land planted by this farm removes 69 tonnes of Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pumps 73 tonnes of Oxygen back in. *

Another farm in the Land Network group (Land Network Melton) does, again, use “wastes” to make compost to fertilise their land and eliminate groundwater pollution. The river Eye runs through their 330 hectare (800 acre) farm and the two farming brothers are involved with the river authority including conservation of water voles, freshwater crayfish and otters, plus the RSPB with avian biodiversity (76 bird species) and 18 butterfly species on the whole of their farm. They grow several crops and the wheat they produce would make one million loaves of bread.*

The technology of the last two postings in this blog (15 and 17 February 15) show that this recycling of many industrial wastes can be done safely and productively. That work has been published in peer-reviewed journals and tested in the field over a quarter of a century. Putting wastes back on the land locks up the Carbon as humus. A further bonus of food production is that one hectare of green-leaved crop will, in one season, take around 70 tonnes of Carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and pump  a little more tonnes of Oxygen back in. (See “Reversing global warming for profit” by bill Butterworth, published by MX Publishing, London.)

Will the UK move towards big scale recycling of industrial wastes to land? I seriously doubt it.; the growth of inhibiting regulation will make it uneconomic or ban it outright. What will happen is that we will burn the waste in incinerators which we call EfW (Energy from Waste) plants or burn wastes in “biomass” furnaces, or digest it in AD (Anaerobic Digestion) facilities. This will produce “renewable” electricity, heat and produce enormous amounts of Carbon dioxide.