Monday, April 11, 2005

Land for Food

(Post lifted from Cafe Hayek. I couldn't be bothered writing anything on this nonsense myself seeing that the world's chronic agricultural problem is food SURPLUSES)

In an earlier post, I commented on the fear that we are overcultivating the earth, suggesting that such fears are exaggerated. Here's the way the worriers word it:
More land was converted to agriculture since 1945 than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined.
That does sound scary. It seems alarming. But I have no idea if it is or it isn't. I'm also not sure how we could know such a thing. Who gathered that data from the 1700s? I did finally find some recent data from the UN, here. According to these data, arable land and permanent land under cultivation (which appears to be equal to all land that is cropped) has risen 13% since 1961, from 1.366 billion hectares, to 1.541 billion hectares. Is that alarming? I report. You decide. You can go here and go country by country or region by region. In the US, for example, arable land has declined from 182 million hectares to 178 million hectares.

Is the World Using Up Its Resources?

One of my readers also sent in the following thoughts:

Recently newspapers carried several reports about a new United Nations study with the headline "Two-Thirds of World's Resources `Used Up'" . The report warns that humans are living beyond their means:

* More land has been claimed for agriculture in last 60 years than in the 18th and 19th centuries.
* Human water consumption has doubled in last 40 years, using 40% of all available freshwater.
* Fishing stocks are overharvested.
* Mangroves and coral reefs have been badly degraded.

This study parallels other popular books about the depletion of oil, such as Paul Robert's book The End of Oil, Kenneth Deffeyes' book Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage and David Goodstein's Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil. To solve this world resource shortage, governments and even corporations such as Duke Energy, have recently proposed a "carbon tax" or global warming tax. But are these reports true? Are resources static? Consider the following:

* In 1920 600,000 acres of land in the U.S. were covered by forests; in 1994 740,000 acres were covered by forests according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 23% increase (see Dunn & Kinney cited below).

* The area planted in trees in the U.S. increased by 2000 percent from 1930 to 1991; Canada up 28% from 1976-1988; Western Europe up 143% from 1950 to 1991; Mediterranean Europe up 87% from 1950 to 1991; USSR up 4,540,000 hectares a year in the 1980's; Turkey up 82,000 a year in 1980's; and South Africa up 63,000 hectares a year in the 1980's (according to reliable statistics summarized in by Dunn & Kinney, cited below).

* One cubic mile of continental crust contains the following percentage of world annual demand: aluminum 1,010,563,000 tons or 5,550% of world annual demand; Iron 633,932,00 tons or 90%; magnesium 259,788,000 or 4,600%; Potash 314,000 tons or 1,290%, silica 7,463,000,000 or 7,800% (see Dunn & Kinney, p. 139 cited below). There are sufficient resources in just one cubic mile of the earth to sustain it for the foreseeable future.

* The price of oil is not based on any shortage but the amount that is extracted from the earth relative to demand (i.e., supply & demand).

* There is no shortage of water for the earth's ecology relative to the vast amount of water in the oceans and even freshwater. Much of the indigenous water in urban areas flows to the sea without being captured by the environment or humans. Even in Southern California only about 20% of water is used for the essentials of living (e.g., cooking, drinking, industry), as most of the remainder goes back into the man-made green environment of lawns, gardens, golf courses, and settlement basins (see Pincetl below).

* Fish aren't being over-harvested as much as there are no firm property rights for the fishing industry, so the resource may be exploited.

For a more balanced view of the global resource problem see TCS

James R. Dunn, John E. Kinney, Conservative Environmentalism: Reassesing the Means, Redefining the Ends (Quorum, 1996)
Stephanie Pincetl, Water in California, Is it really scarce? U.C.L.A., unpublished.

UN: The sky is falling : "Malthusian alarmism is back in the news again, with the United Nations Environment Program claiming on Wednesday that humanity has already used up two-thirds of the world's resources. 'They're at it again. This is simply the latest in a series of doom-mongering underestimates of resources coupled with a stubborn refusal to recognize the role of human ingenuity in solving such problems,' said CEI Senior Fellow Iain Murray. Previous examples include the Club of Rome's 1970 screed The Limits to Growth and Paul Ehrlich's prediction of massive starvation, The Population Bomb."


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

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