Julian Cribb, Icelandic farmers association and Soylent Green

Today I attended a lecture by Julian Cribb, which was held by the Farmers Associtation here in Reykjavík. Julian Cribb is an Australian lecturer who specializes in communication in science, agriculture, mining, energy and the environment. Last year he wrote a book called “The coming famine”.

He had some good points, although you can never expect a complete overview from a short conference. Afterwards, a panel of five people spoke of their interpretation of what had been said. There could have been a more adventurous selection in participants and it would have been good to see more people from other ministries and stakeholders taking part. In my opinion, it felt a bit to much like a pep-up meeting for a selected audience and not “organic” enough.

Here is a list of a few things I heard at the lecture.

In 1950 there were 2,5 billion people in the world.
In 2050 there will be 10 billion people in the world.

The total demand for food will double by the year 2060.

Levels of groundwater are declining and glaciers melting.
This will effect food production, which will possibly
( given that all the glaciers all melt away ) drop by half.

He said that by 2050, the cities of the world will have grown so much that if all of them were put together they will be the size of China, and have 7,7 billion inhabitants.

He spoke of the dangerous effects that could arise from this development if there was an oil crisis or war, and said that it would make it difficult to bring supplies to cities and that they food supplies in cities could be finished in as little as 48 hours.

Agriculture is highly dependent on phosphorus for fertilizers.
The countries governing phosphorus supplies are Morocco, China and the USA and that China has apparently stopped exporting in order to keep the supplies for themselves.

Phosphorus supplies peaked in 2001.
Oil supplies peaked in 2006.

Biofuel: Growing fuel on land is not possible everywhere, and it takes up to much land from the actual farming and is therefore not the way.

Algae farms for biodiesel, geothermal energy and solar energy would possibly be the future.

Fish apparently peaked in 2004.
Fishfarming takes up a lot of feed, so instead we should be looking at using other species.

He spoke of drought and climate instability which are quite a concern.
Also the amount of money being spent in the world on weapons and the development of new weapons, instead of being spent on agricultural research.

Stable food supplies hold hands with peace, so if people are hungry there will be conflicts and war. That has been the case in history, and will repeat itself if action isn´t taken.

He spoke of a “migrant tsunami” – globally forced movement.
In 2008-2009 there were 43 million refugees and 250 million migrants in the world.

He spoke of urban farming, naming a few examples like a fish farm in New York as well as farming in cities ( on rooftops for example).

Apparantly there are 23.000 plants in the world but we are only using 2-300.
We haven´t started exploring the planet food wise, both in regards to plants and animals.

Afterwards, people got a chance to ask questions and there were quite a few that did.

I was a bit surprised by the fact, that when a young student – didn´t catch his name or what he was studying – asked if there was actually a list of the 23.000 plants and where that could be obtained, he got laughter from part of the participants.
I think that was one of the best questions being brought up and was actually interested to hear the answer.

Apparantly there is a list, that was made by a Dr. Bruce Davidson.
Don´t know more about it, but it will make an interesting google when I have the time.

This is just a small take on the lecture, but not a complete overview.

The conclusion is that we need to take action and we need to take it fast.

I would have loved to hear some new thoughts and ideas brought into the discussion from others than people from the Farmers association or academics saying they needed more money for research. A lot of research has been done, and more should be done. But perhaps it is time to involve more participants into that research in order to find new ways to enforce change.

This is a matter that concerns all of us, and discussions about the subject as well as ways to make food production and distribution shouldn´t be steered by a handful of people.

It in order to find solutions to the problems of the future, it is necessary for politicians to open up their minds for new influences and start thinking of matters without their usual worries of whether or not they will be reelected.

Perhaps this is a task too big and too serious to be tackled by politicians, academics and stakeholders alone. It needs to be addressed at every level and worked at with cooperation of grassroots.

At a point in time during the lecture, when there was a photo on screen from a very high tech lab with test tubes….with algae….and discussions on how perhaps algae could be the solution. How we could perhaps try to find ways of making green algae palatable. It was taken as an example….

It made me think of the movie Soylent Green.

“Soylent Green is a 1973 American science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer. Starring Charlton Heston, the film overlays the police procedural and science fiction genres as it depicts the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including “soylent green”.”

Here´s a trailer from the movie…

In this scene they have “real food for the first time in a while….

And here´s the ending.

Don´t watch you don´t want to know how it ends!

Perhaps we should start thinking a bit about the environment before we start having to add soylent green to our menu.