Green by diet

In his latest book “Alchemy of Air,” author David Hager has come out with an eye-opening look at nitrogen and its role in the overfeeding of our waterways, our oceans, and ourselves. It’s not news that we are fertilizing the planet to death; dead zones proliferate in areas impacted by excessive use of artificial fertilizers. What is new, at least to me, is the root cause.

In a sense, says Hager, we are victims of our own success. Better medicines, improved sanitation, improved agriculture, meant by the turn of the century there were more of us and we were living longer. As such, we needed more food. However, scientists were rapidly coming to the conclusion that there was a limit to the amount of food we could produce. Estimates at the time determined that even the most environmentally friendly eating and cultivating habits could not sustain a population much larger than four billion people.

Enter two German scientists who devised a way to turn the nitrogen that proliferates the atmosphere into a form that could serve as fertilizer. Hager argues that this technology, which is widely used today has enabled us to feed rapidly growing populations and eliminate starvation. But such excess has come with a price. One is obesity; the other turbocharged waterways that are now clogging up the earth’s ecological arteries with nitrogen-loving plants.

Hager doesn’t claim that this is going to turn out badly, only that with a large, nitrogen-filled hypodermic needle constantly injecting fertilizer into the system we’re all taking part in a global ecological experiment that could get ugly fast.

I’m optimistic on this one. Unlike, say, the internal combustion engine, which we’ve only been using for a century or so, people have been growing food for millennia. Combine that with today’s scientific knowledge and a burgeoning environmental movement and there will be a solution. And/ or we could just eat less, which for most of us wouldn’t be a bad thing and probably not a bad place to start.

Posted by patrickj on 02/05 at 08:59 AM
Environment • (0) CommentsPermalink

 

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