This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Can We Keep Feeding the Population?

This was the question that Malthus asked most famously way back at the end of the 18th century. We have been very innovative in our ability to grow food faster than the population has grown over the past two hundred years since Malthus first raised the concern. But we have to constantly keep our eye on this prize of feeding an ever larger number of humans, as I am prone to remind you on a regular basis (for example, recently on Earth Day!). As I noted in yesterday's blog post, two recent articles speak to this issue--one negatively, and one positively.

The negative one is a story that you probably already know about. We're losing good farmland all over the world, including here in the United States:
Around any large or mid-size city in America, one can find land that was previously rich, fertile farmland being bulldozed and segmented to make room for housing and/or commercial businesses. It might be a well-deserved retirement fund for farmers, but once the land is covered with buildings and residences, it will never be farmland again.
The rise of cities over the past two centuries, in particular, has meant that an increasing fraction of the population is not working on a farm, and so food has to be brought to them. A well-positioned city is obviously one that is near good farmland that can provide food for the urban residents. This is a pattern we see all over the world. But the downside is that a lot of this good land gets wiped out over time by the sprawl of the cities. This is one of the reasons why the amount of good farmland is so limited.

What can we do about this? Aqua-culture has been one answer--farming the sea for fish and other things. An article in Al Jazeera points to a "farm" in Connecticut:
Bren Smith is in the process of creating thousands of decent jobs, transform how we harvest food from the oceans, and blunt the effects of climate change and marine degradation - all at the same time. The system he has developed to do this is called '3D Ocean Farm', a polyculture vertical farming system under the water's surface which grows a mix of seaweed crops and shellfish. Requiring zero inputs, it is the most sustainable form of food production on the planet, and it also sequesters carbon and rebuilds reef ecosystems. The crops can be used as food, fertiliser, animal feed and even energy.
And then there's the process of creating "meat" in the lab, instead of raising and killing animals for meat. 
While the statistics surrounding the industry are terrifying, there is no sign that the industry is slowing down. Meat consumption is on track to rise 75 percent by 2050. Scientists at Mosa Meats in the Netherlands believe they have found a solution to this dangerous trend: growing meat in a lab. This technique eliminates the need to harm live animals, eradicates the dedication of large swathes of land to the cultivation of animals and dramatically reduce methane emissions.
"Methane is actually a very powerful greenhouse gas," says Dr Mark Post at the University of Maastricht. Post is part of a number of teams involved in research surrounding the production of lab-grown meat."[Methane is] 20 times more powerful than C02 and livestock is accountable for 40 percent of all methane emissions. This process would reduce the number of animals from 1.5 billion to 30,000," continues Post.
These two innovations sound very promising, you have to admit. Now the question is whether science and the marketplace can come together. 

No comments:

Post a Comment