Reading Notes:

This book makes the case that our biggest problem is water. We use it to much, for the wrong things. We were doing fine until 1984, just using as much as we liked, not bothered by anything, crop yields peaked. For instance in China 123 million tons in 1984. But since that year water problems have started to effect our yields. Again in China it dropped to 87 million tons in 2002, a 30% drop. So this means the progress that was made in eradicating hunger worked until 1984 when per person the yield climbed from 251 kilos in 1952 to 344 kilos in 1984, but then fell back to 290 kilos in 2002.

Food is becoming a national security issue.

Basic problems Brown identifies:

  • overpopulation
  • ineffective water use
  • depletion of reserves that can't be replenished
  • global warming
  • efforts to raise yields further are starting to push against the physiological limits of plants.
  • farming is losing out to cities and roads.
  • Ever more countries become ever larger importers of rice mais, grain etc. creating a food bubble economy in which food is production is artificially inflated by the unsustainable use of water.

Some staggering figures I selected from the book, there is more of this on every page:

Depleting aquifers in the Indian provinces of Punjab Haryana makes water tables drop 1 meter a year.

In Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas the water table has dropped more than 30meters so far. The vast Ogallala under the Great Plains of the US and the deep aquifer under the North China Plain are coming to an end.

Countries like Saudi Arabia have already started using fossil (non-replenishable)water, in-fact it has used half of it in the last 25 years so it has at most 25 more to go.

Yemen will be pumped dry in 2010 their pipeline goes 2 kilometers deep, but are failing to find water.

The Colorado rarely makes it to the sea, the Yellow River has failed to reach the sea for a part of every year since 1985.

Dams are causing problems downstream for 160 million people at the Mekong and 90% of the wetlands down the Eufrate and Tigris are now desert.

Shortage of water and unsustainable farming causes soil erosion on a massive scale. The U.S. loses 3.1 billion tons per year, Ethiopia 1 billion, India 4.7, Nepal 1.3

Dust storms in china can remove topsoil in a day that takes a century to form, in Korean they have come to dread what they now call the fifth season the dust-storm season of winter storms occasionally bring public life to a standstill, with airports and schools closed.

Research in India has shown that a rise of 2 degrees Celsius led to a decline in irrigated wheat yields between 37% to 58%. For rice every degree increase above 30 during flowering decreases fertility by 10%.

As the world population is moving up the food-chain to eat meat, the water problem increases, because to gain a kilo of weight a cow needs 7 kilos of grain, a pig 4, poultry 2 and fish just below 2. World meat consumption increased from 47 million tons in 1950 to 240 million tons in 2002.

Brown suggests a number of familiar solutions.

  • Better irrigation.
  • making water use more effective in industry (is his biggest target in the book)
  • raising land productivity by multiple cropping
  • raising protein efficiency by shifting from beef to poultry and fish, and by using crop residues as animal food.
  • saving soil by minimizing tillage, simply drilling the seeds directly into the ground.
  • moving down the food chain in rich countries increases the health of the planet and those people themselves.
  • halt global warming
  • resolve social issues

also read 'Proprioception as an Aesthetic Sense .'

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