back to article World population's appetite TO DOUBLE by 2050, boffin warns

In just 40 years from now, global food demand could double with potentially devastating consequences for planet Earth, a top eco professor has warned. “Agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions could double by 2050 if current trends in global food production continue,” said David Tilman, who is Regents Professor of Ecology in the …


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  1. JimmyPage

    Does anyone remember Malthus ?

    1. Spoonsinger

      Does anyone remember Malthus ?

      Nope, people, (in general), can't remember last year as a rule. Fairly sure economic and social history "A"-level is long gone. Mind you can still get "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds", and then extrapolate.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Wrong every time

      Malthus wanted the poor castrated - some things never change.

      Malthusian bedwetters are proved wrong every 30 years but the desire to screw the poor never goes away.

  2. Scott Broukell

    Humanity ...

    Train wreck in slow motion - we are all sitting in the train carriage discussing just how the emergency cord should be pulled. Great idea - tip tons more chemicals into the soil - that's got to be sustainable and long-term thinking ain't it.

    We need not worry about the 7 billionth baby or famine, disease and drought etc etc - I mean let's just party on peeps, yeah! We just can't get it into our heads that the wuvely global village isn't that at all - it's a basement slum for the majority at the bottom and a penthouse suite for the few at the top.

    We are far too divided by politics / ethnics / religion to be able to work together cohesively. It's not the way we do things - it will be nasty and messy, I just hope that those generations who survive it can learn from past mistakes. But then that seems to contradict what I said about the way we do things.

    There's probably too much commercial interest in stopping it anyway - like inventing the ever-lasting light bulb I suppose - if only we could live sustainably - I guess current market, economies would suffer poor dears.

    And why do we insist on sending food and medical aid to folk in places continually ravaged by drought and famine - so the poor bastards can breed another feeble generation who we can then watch going the same way - nice. I know many have clung onto their 'tribal' homelands for thousands of years, but can't we just get over the stone-age mind-set and move them somewhere better! And then help them understand sustainable ways of living - many African tribes-people have spent years and years doing just that after all!

    All this to say there is an awful lot we could learn from the very populations who live on the edge of things and whose predicament seems ever more precarious.

    <rant over - back to the bunker for a nap I think>

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      OK, you're a racist. Cool!

      Is your bunker in Bavaria?

      Just asking.

      1. Scott Broukell

        Racist ?

        Well ok then, yes, Human Racist.

        What's racist about saying that our world is divided by race, religion and creed ?

        And if my land was ravaged by drought and pestilence I would like another nation(s) to offer me land where I can continue sustainably and contribute to the whole, Human Race.

        We are all standing on the same bloody piece of rock so we are one race without borders or political / ethnic lines drawn on any map. I guess your part of the playground is fenced off.

  3. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Nitrogen fertilisers

    Those would be the ones made from fossil fuels whose prices are rising rapidly beyond the budgets of farmers in the developing world?

    1. LaeMing

      Very few people understand...

      ...just how much the 'green revolution' that lets us feeds us is reliant on the black stuff that comes out of the ground.

  4. Peter H. Coffin

    But they're already farming *ORGANICALLY*

    How could that possibly be not enough?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll do my part

    Better get shaggin' then

  6. Andus McCoatover

    Natch, the Americans, Australians and Brits will breed...

    ..producing more of the the impetus for more McDonalds, Arthur Treacher* - type fish 'n' chip shops to open, TV couch potatoes and the obesity it brings. Girlie and I take what we need, not what we want. She's 57 kilos, I'm 78.

    Seems the Asians will outlive even us.

    *Practically gone, but when I made my first trip to NJ, after a couple of days, some junior person suggested we went there for lunch. Management were somewhat taken aback, having me as a guest - they wanted some restaurant more 'upmarket'. When I asked what it was, and he described it to me, I pleaded for it, rather than waste hours on 'posh food'.

  7. Maty


    And once we have worked out how to feed the world population in 2050, it will double again.

    The world does not need better agriculture as much as it needs better birth control.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What's the worry?

      You all know how it goes... Finate space, increasing population - It will eventually be checked to some large degree by conflict, famine and perhaps, most importantly, the humble virus.

      It does not bode well - squeezing loads of people into a small space - the IQ dwindles and inbreeding increases. For an experiment in progress, just visit Portsmouth! 'nuff said.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Population will soon decline

      But don't let the facts get in the way of a good ol' racist rant.

    3. TheCloudTheCloud
      Thumb Up

      Totally agree with this post.

      More needs to be done to discuss how we will manage population growth.

      For the last few years/decades, everything has been based on growth and growth potential. We can't just go on growing forever, so eventually economists are going to have to work a stabilising or shrinking population into their estimates of output.

      Also, I fail to see how saying that birth control is more important than clearing more land to feed an ever expanding population is a "racist rant". Racist in what way exactly?

  8. Spongibrain

    I think Dickens said it far better than I could

    "Oh God! to hear

    the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life

    among his hungry brothers in the dust!"

    1. Steven Roper

      It's all very well

      to quote 19th-century moral platitudes, but it helps to bear in mind that if the Insects in the dust didn't overbreed so much, there'd be enough leaves for all of them.

      1. Sam Liddicott

        but who is surplus

        The point Dicken's was making was who has the right to decide just who is part of the surplus population; and why it is that some peoples hunger offends others so much that the others would rather extinguish their lives than see it.

        If the hungry born still cling to life, what makes you so pompous as to try to stop them?

        If you don't want to help and can't bear to look then stop looking.

  9. John Savard Silver badge


    Obviously, if the world gets its act together, people will want to have meat in their diet, and that pretty much kills any hope of controlling greenhouse gases from agriculture. Unless we get to the point of being able to produce it by tissue culture of a sort - which was the subject of a recent news item.

    But read The Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan - or watch Romance by Catherine Breillat. Men want a woman in their arms - women want a baby to hold.

    So if unmarried men commit the crimes and start the wars, for the men to get what they want, the women have to get what they want, and we're doomed. A massive expansion of nuclear power, and using some of it to do geoengineering, seems to be our only choice. Not that improving agriculture in the Third World, as suggested, isn't a good idea that can be part of an all-out strategy.

  10. Graham Marsden

    The solution...

    ... is not to increase food production, it is to *decrease* population growth!

    Real world evidence has shown that improved education (especially of women) and making birth control easily available has had the clear and visible effect of stabilising populations, *that* is where the money should be focused.

    (That and telling the Catholic Church to realise that when God said "Go forth and multiply and fill the Earth", he didn't say that a message would subsequently appear in the sky saying "The Earth is now full, please delete any unnecessary people..."!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Delete people"?

      Population nutters never look at the facts. Growth declines rapidly to below replacement levels once a standard of living has been reached. It is below replacement in all developed countries even the USA.

      Contraception makes little difference, it is the desired fertility that determines population. Most Mums stop wanting more than two funnily enough, wherever they are in the world.

      The REAL population crisis is NOT ENOUGH people, so the Catholic Church is correct in encouraging more.

      Your advice "delete people" does make you look like a raving nutter. Who gets to say who's "unnecessary"?

      Maybe population cranks should get back to their computer games.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC 23/11/2011 10:08

        "Population nutters never look at the facts".

        Actually, those who are worried about overpopulation (nice piece of "poisoning the well" there, by the way) are motivated precisely by facts and figures. Take a look at a graph of world population, please, and then tell me where you see a hint that it is going to flatten out - far less go into a power dive.

        The other day I was listening to some old Tom Lehrer songs, and my attention was caught by a line in "We Will All Go Together When We Go". This is the stanza:

        "And we will all bake together when we bake/There'll be nobody present at the wake/With complete participation in that grand incineration/Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak".

        *NEARLY* THREE BILLION???? That was 50 years ago, and today there are over 7 billion.

        "Growth declines rapidly to below replacement levels once a standard of living has been reached. It is below replacement in all developed countries even the USA".

        Barely below replacement in the USA - whose population, however, continues to grow like a weed because of immigration from countries where fertility is far, far higher. And the USA's population is less than 5% of the world's, so it's almost negligible.

        As for your tenuous theory that population growth declines once "a standard of living has been reached" (the missing word(s) graphically reveal your uncertainty) - there aren't enough resources on the planet for everyone to reach anything like a US standard of living, even at today's population levels. Let alone the 9, 10, or 11 billion we shall have in your lifetime.

      2. Graham Marsden


        Oh dear, I suggest you re-read my post (especially that last part in brackets) with your Irony Detector switched on!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Does anyone remember Malthus?"

    Oh, hadn't you heard? Malthus has been conclusively refuted by arts graduates who think that, because a linear curve has managed to stay ahead of an exponential curve so far, it can be relied on to do so indefinitely.

    Failing that, they fall back on the economists' standard last line of defence.

    "Er, the engineers will think of something... they always have in the past!"

    1. Mme.Mynkoff

      Another science-hating doom monger

      Malthus has been refuted by science and technology - you would not be here if Malthus was correct. We learned how to do things better.

      Some people don't like progress, and they're usually guilt-ridden middle class idiots.

      1. Perpetual Cyclist

        Malthus did not anticipate better technology and fossil fuels.

        There are limits to the productivity that better technology can provide, and there are limits to fossil fuels. We are approaching the first, and we are already at the second.

        Poor third world farmers are already being out-bid for fertilisers and fuel for the irrigation pumps by first world SUV drivers, who are topping up their tanks with food-derived ethanol. Once they can no longer afford the pesticides or the seed corn for their terminator gene round-up ready GM ready crops, they will starve.

  12. Alistair
    Black Helicopters

    feed mouths, feed kids, ... feed them there elderly

    Population might double by 2050?

    Damn, gonna have to feed all them there kids.

    Cause if we don't feed 'em they wont work

    If they don't work,

    We cain't reeeetyre!!!

    So -- be careful before you decide to cap the birthrate too darn tight. China is already in trouble on that front since they have 2 generations that will have far too few kids working to support the elderly.

    Don't jump on the heads of 3rd worlder's too quickly -- since immigration from the slums is what will prop up your country's thinning population. And yes folks -- 1st world nations are ALL in the same boat. Higher incomes=smaller families=higher taxes since there are fewer workers 2 generations on....

    And improve food production? Sure we can. But -- it will cost ya -- and that means... .higher prices for food, and of course higher taxes there too.

    I've been using the sig:

    The sum total of intelligence on the planet is a constant.

    for years. This set of wonderfully bigoted, short sighted egotistical arguments is one of the reasons I believe that statement.

    1. Scott Broukell


      At least China was brave enough to attempt to place controls on its population - remember the slagging off it got at the Copenhagen conference, nobody mentioned that years ago it had smelt the coffee regarding sustainable population whilst the rest of us dare not even mention population control - even now! What's the quote again "Whatever your cause it's a lost cause unless we limit population".

      Ok, China messed up because male children were favoured ahead of females because they can supply higher levels of labour output, supposedly. That attitude prevailed amongst the poorer families because they had immediate problems that needed fixing and couldn't wait for their levels of income / living to increase - which was the long term goal of the plan and would very probably have resulted in a balance being achieved between the sexes.

      Instead we dream up (very expensive) ways of helping infertile couples have children when infertility is natures own way of keeping populations in check. There is a growing population of kids in the west who need foster care or, better still, adoption and we prefer to go abroad and cherry pick some African / Cambodian kids or whatever - have children become commodities in our culture?

      Every woman on the planet should have the right to decide on her own application of contraception / abortion - whilst also considering the implications for the next generation to come. And all of us need to get it into our heads that we, the current generation, are less important than the generations to come - they are the ones who have to live with any mess-ups we make. Therefore our policy thinking must always err on the side of the generations who will truly inherit the results of our actions.

      Costs for food production don't have to get ever higher - there are simple ways of using composting, biomass and simple crop rotation that even our ancient ancestors understood which can mean it is managed in a sustainable way. Meat can be produced only on grass upland for example - land which is unsuitable for crops. Granted, meat product might therefore be at a premium, but it will be sustainable - not resulting in deforestation, topsoil loss, erosion and barren land that is of no use to anyone. We choose to industrialize farming - that's where the problem arises.

      The sum total of our intelligence is, as you say, already here - it is the persistent blinkered approach to our own predicament that holds it back from yielding up sustainable solutions and getting anywhere close to what that sum total could ultimately achieve. We only choose to see what we want, to sustain that blinkered approach come what may, so we can have stuff, things, and consume now that which we should be passing onto the next generation.

  13. Tom 7 Silver badge

    We can feed them all

    But not using modern factory farming.

    An allotment will produce all the vegetable food a family of four and the waste will feed a pig - that's basically what they were designed for. And you can use it to save money on gym membership, petrol and buying shit you don't need in tescos cos they made it shiny and you saw it there.

    The same land under intensive modern agriculture will produce a couple of hundred loaves of bread.

    There is good reason to believe that the modern farming industry as epitomised by beef production in the US which utilises vast resource and takes huge fuel input and vast acreages of soya and other crops in the amazon produces a similar amount of meat to that the buffalo, that we nearly wiped out for fun, produced on much less land.

    OK 'growing your own' takes much greater human effort but what was the problem we were trying to solve?

    We can feed them all - but its a question of whether you have your next flat screen telly or some other nation compulsory sterilises someone.

  14. Herby

    Wasn't there a solution to this a century or so ago...

    It was called "a modest proposal".

  15. AndrueC Silver badge

    I've done my bit. I don't have any kids.

    I don't get much thanks for it though. Government policy is usually targeted at families and when they consider me it's because they want to know why I need an entire house all to myself and wouldn't it be better to let a family live there?

    Oh well. Not having a family means a lot of disposable income so I'm debt free and can probably afford to buy food regardless of how expensive it becomes. Just need to buy a better door to keep the rabble outside :)

  16. I understand now

    Intensively farmed land..

    Reduces biodiversity, which is why in the UK, farmers are/were paid subsidies to have proper hedgerows instead of gigantic fields or wooden fences that maximise land space.

    Biodiversity is good right? So moving to intensive farming isn't the only answer.

  17. JimmyPage

    Malthus again ...

    I think a wider point he stumbled upon (bearing in mind he was a contemporary of Darwin) is that overpopulation is REQUIRED such that evolution can work.

    If there were no overpopulation (and therefore no competition for resources) then there would be no clock signal of natural selection to advance the genome.

    As others have pointed out, we have improved the efficiency of farming to push back the Malthusian meltdown. But you can only farm so much out of a finite space.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In just 40 years from now, global food demand could double with potentially devastating consequences for planet Earth, a top scaremongering nimby has warned while sipping a glass of wine and tucking into his 3 course meal at a top restaurant.

    There fixed that for you.

  19. Sirius Lee


    A few weeks ago there was an article on Newsnight about a some of EU money given to a company in the Netherlands which is growing insect lavae as a food source.

    Apparently for every 10Kg of input foodstuff (usually plant material) you get 8Kg of protein which compares favorably with using livestock: 10Kg in get 4Kg out. Allegedly insects like being factory farmed (and who would care if they didn't), they grow just about anywhere, the diseases they have are not communicable because they are genetically so remote.

    Of course no one would stuff a handful of maggots in their mouth (today at least) but dried and ground up you have a protein substitute. I guess you could have the expensive high-brow variety processed stock with all the crunchy bits removed and the cheaper variety with the roughage left in.

    So maybe insects will rescue humanity and feeding its teeming hoards in 2050.

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