Peak Everything

Jim Brown
 
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Peak oil, peak water, peak copper, peak coal, peak uranium and now peak phosphorus. Seven billion people are consuming every natural resource and eventually there will be serious problems.

Water is normally the item that people claim will cause the most harm in the world. Over one third of the world's countries already do not have enough clean water. It seems like such a simple resource and one that is naturally replenished but we are polluting more and more of it every day. Another resource even more important than water may forestall the water crisis.

That fertilizer nutrient is phosphorus or potash. Many things can be created artificially today like nitrogen, which can be synthesized from the air. Oil can be grown in multiple forms to create bio diesel. Unfortunately potash cannot be synthesized. Potash and phosphate fertilizers are mined from phosphate rock. That makes it a finite resource that cannot be replaced once it has been mined.

Without potash the world's farmers would be facing significantly lower crop yields and many more people would be starving. BHP understands this when it tried to acquire the company Potash over the last several months. There is a shortage of the mineral and it appears we will run out soon.

Soon is relative but like every peak commodity, once supplies begin to run short the price will knock many buyers out of the market and some countries with supplies of that commodity will immediately halt export to save those supplies for their own use.

Analysts believe that peak phosphorous, the point when supplies fall behind demand will occur around 2040. Even worse, all known supplies will be exhausted within 50-100 years. That means that even at 10-50 times the current price nobody will be able to obtain this crop nutrient.

The Swedish EPA estimates that a person on a vegetable based diet uses 0.6 kilograms of phosphorous per year compared to 1.6 kg for a person on a meat-based diet. It takes far more fertilizer and water to raise cattle than plants.

The majority of supplies come from Canada, China, U.S. and Morocco. That means all the other nations are dependent on those countries for their supplies. When supplies run low you can bet that the poor countries will be the first to do without and the first to see their citizens starve as the starved ground produces fewer and fewer crops.

China has the largest reserves but once global supplies began to shrink n 2008 they quickly placed a 135% tariff on exports to protect domestic supply.

The U.S. is historically the world's largest consumer, importer and exporter of phosphate fertilizers. The U.S. is now thought to have less than a 25-year supply. The U.S. is currently importing large quantities of phosphate from Morocco. That country supplies about one third of the world's demand but reserves are politically unstable. They get their phosphate from the Western Sahara from an area that has been condemned by the United Nations.

About 20% of fertilizer is exported in produce and 75% remains in the soil. 5% is washed into rivers and seas by the rain and floods and is responsible for killing thousands of square miles of ocean every year.

Humans consume about three million tons of phosphorous each year and excrete 100% of it. Some municipalities in Sweden has mandated that new toilets collect urine, which is essentially sterile and contains nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the correct ratios for plant growth, and divert it away from solid waste. The urine is to be collected in tanks where it will be picked up once a year by farmers who will use it as fertilizer. I can't tell you how excited I am by that thought. (grin)

Peak oil, water, coal, potash, etc will eventually lead to peak people. The world is already carrying 7 billion people and researchers claim the actual capacity should be something closer to four billion. We do it today by massively fertilizing dead dirt in order to produce every pound or bushel of crops possible and millions of people are still starving. Once peak oil arrives and farmers are unable to use their massive tractors on the scale they do today the quantity of produce and crops will decline even further. Peak oil, water and potash will produce peak people. That will be the point where food demand exceeds food production and without food humans tend to do poorly.

Jim Brown

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