I was just about to sit down and write a lengthier post about Stephen Emmott’s book 10 Billion to go only with the shorter critical post I wrote about his Observer article, but have noticed that Chris Goodall has written an excellent one and my time would be better spent simply directing the reader there instead and allowing me to walk the proverbial dog instead of spending a couple of hours writing.
Not fooling around Goodall quickly lays it down and calls it a “strangely unscientific and misanthropic” book. No argument there. Like Goodall I found that Emmott’s dismissal of renewable energy was not one that anyone should take seriously – I expect some will. Emmott seems to have a conclusion – “We’re fucked!” and is in search purely for evidence to back it up.
Goodall closes by pointing out why Emmott’s claim that we will certainly run out of phosphates this century is factually inaccurate:
“Emmott asserts (page 129)
The amount of food we produce is almost entirely dependent upon phosphate-based fertilizers. But phosphate reserves are finite, and it is becoming apparent that we are going to run out of it, almost certainly some time this century.
The US Geological service estimates (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/phosphate_rock/mcs-2013-phosp.pdf) the usage rates of the key minerals and the amount of reserves still in the ground. In the case of phosphate rock it states that annual usage is about 210 million tonnes. World reserves are put at 67 billion tonnes, or enough for 300+ years at current rates. (In mature economies such as the UK demand for phosphates for farming is tending to fall).”
Emmott of course is not alone in making claims about running out of phosphates. The same thing was claimed last year in Nature by Jeremy Grantham, and were masterfully deconstructed at the time by Vaclav Smil. As Smil wrote “he puts his claims in terms more suitable for tabloids than for one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious scientific weekly magazines.” A description equally fitting for Emmott’s slim and uninformed volume.