Nitrogen

Favorite food of plants

Several apropos metaphors can be used to figuratively describe the burgeoning human population. The Elephant In The Room which everyone pretends to ignore? The Emperor With No Clothes, which just one little boy points out? The frog in the pot of gradually heated water who succumbs from the heat without panicking?

Take your pick. We face a seemingly insoluble problem: more and more people needing to be fed and housed in a warming world which is losing agricultural productivity with every degree of warming.

Politicians, with their typically short-term priorities, don't want to discuss this issue. Doing so won't get them elected, to be frank.

A generation ago the Chinese government attempted to address the issue, which even then was perceived in that populous nation as a potential problem, by trying to mandate family sizes. That didn't work. No other nation has been willing to make an analogous effort.

So what has made the population of this planet expand so exponentially? My opinion is that a major factor is the development of the Haber-Bosch technology for producing nitrogen in a form available and usable by food plants. This process was developed and refined during the first decades of the 20th century.

As much as I sympathize with efforts in this century to expand food production, such as inner-city community food gardens and vertical urban farming, most of current human nutrition comes from large-scale grain farming. Yes, fruits and vegetables are wonderful supplements for our diets, but grain is the base. The massive amount of grain production which sustains our species wouldn't be possible without synthetically-produced nitrogen.

Just my opinion, a result of a lot of reading! Try and prove me wrong, if you like. I welcome contrary opinions!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process

[A note: the first three readers of this dashed off piece got to see two egregious typos. A bit embarrassing, but I got ‘em all cleaned up. A seventeenth century book about woodworking and building techniques contained this sentence: ‘Of the making of windows there is no end.’ The same is true of editing! I can read through an essay twice and think “Okay, it’s good!” But the third time — that’s when I find the flaws… ]