Feeding the world:
There is interest (How to Feed a Hungry World NATURE vol. 466 no. 7306 July 29, 2010 page 531 and special section page The Growing Problem page 546 through 556) in how we are going to feed all the people that will be in the world in forty years. 

There have been famines in the past.  My impression has been that a lot of them were caused or made worse by bad distribution rather than absolute lack of food.  Captured Union soldiers were starving at Andersonville in the South with plenty of food nearby because the prisoner exchange program had been shut down abruptly by Lincoln and no system was in place to get the food were it needed to be.  At the same time captured Confederate prisoners were staving in the North because this was thought to be the easiest way to kill them.  I suspect those in charge all the way up to Mr. Lincoln might have faced charges of a crime against humanity a century later. 

During World War I an enormous number of Germans starved because of the allied blockade.  During the Irish potato famine people were starving while food was being shipped from Ireland to England.  It was only the potatoes that were in short supply, and the English market could outbid the Irish for anything else.  And today there are about a billion people who are starving if not dying in such great numbers while there is enough food in the world to feed them.  Bad distribution is not just a thing of the past.

On the other hand low tech remedies have been tried.  Once I was told by an Italian who had lived through it that the dictator Mussolini dealt with a famine by ordering that any land not being used to raise food could be planted by anybody and that person would have the right to the harvest.  If you had a lawn I could plant it with grain for my own purposes.  Public land was also thus available.  The dictator had marshes drained and converted to farmland and otherwise diverted resources into grain production.  The man did a lot of terrible things, but at least he made a gesture toward feeding people. 

In prehistoric Britain hills were terraced, evidently in an attempt to increase the ability to grow crops.  That maneuver was not even repeated during the hungry days of World War II.

The solutions proposed nowadays are mostly high tech.  Useable water is and will to an increasing degree be in short supply.  Some farming techniques are more sparing of water than others.  Also crops are being created that will thrive with less water.  Then there is waste.  A quarter to a third of food now grown is lost or spoiled.  That is enough to alleviate world hunger right now.  As I said, there is plenty of food at the moment. 

My look at the demographics gives me concern that our high tech civilization may not survive long enough to come up with enough answers when the population is at its peak.  That seems to concern nobody else.  The current opinion is that we shall be able to produce enough food to feed as many people as there will ever be.  Managing to distribute it is, of course, a different matter.  

The problem that concerns the consensus of involved scientists is that if we do what we know how to do and produce the food that will be needed, the impact on the environment will be unacceptable. 

Of course I am all for saving the environment.  It is the one thing that is more important than babies.  A good environment will eventually produce people; at least it did once before.  But people cannot live without an environment. 

But I am a little less concerned than others about the environmental impact.  The prediction is that the population will plateau, that we will remain at our maximum number for a long time.  I believe that the population will peak and then fall very rapidly.  That will spare the environment an indefinitely long burden from agriculture.  The possibility of social upheaval as nations die is still a possibility, and that could be a different threat to the environment. 

So it is not all doom and gloom.  We should be able to feed each other.  Work is being done on figuring out how to produce the food without trashing the world. 

There is another problem that seems to be related.  Global warming is real enough.  Some of the agricultural practices that will be required may make it worse.  And warming is having a bad effect on the seas.  (Century of Phytoplankton Change, David A. Siegel and Bryan Al Franz NATURE vol. 466 no. 7306 July 29, 2010 page 569).  The current best guess is that plankton is diminishing at a rate of about 1% a year and it’s due to warming.  That means the rate of decline could get worse.  Just about everything living in the sea needs plankton directly or indirectly.  So that may add to our food worries. 

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