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Tuesday, December 06, 2005 

Time is running out.

New maps show that the Earth is rapidly running out of fertile land and that food production will soon be unable to keep up with the world's burgeoning population. The maps reveal that more than one third of the world's land is being used to grow crops or graze cattle.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison combined satellite land cover images with agricultural census data from every country in the world to create detailed maps of global land use. Each grid square was 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) across and showed the most prevalent land use in that square, such as forest, grassland or ice.

"In the act of making these maps we are asking: where is the human footprint on the Earth?" said Amato Evan, a member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison research team presenting its results this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The current map shows a snapshot of global land use for the year 2000, but the scientists also have land use data going back to 1700, showing how things have changed.

"The maps show, very strikingly, that a large part of our planet (roughly 40%) is being used for either growing crops or grazing cattle," said Dr Navin Ramankutty, a member of the Wisconsin-Madison team. By comparison, only 7% of the world's land was being used for agriculture in 1700.

The Amazon basin has seen some of the greatest changes in recent times, with huge swaths of the rainforest being felled to grow soya beans.

"One of the major changes we see is the fast expansion of soybeans in Brazil and Argentina, grown for export to China and the EU," said Dr Ramankutty.

This agricultural expansion has come at the expense of tropical forests in both countries.

Meanwhile, intensive farming practices mean that cropland areas have decreased slightly in the US and Europe and the land is being gobbled up by urbanisation.

The research indicates that there is now little room for further agricultural expansion.

"Except for Latin America and Africa, all the places in the world where we could grow crops are already being cultivated. The remaining places are either too cold or too dry to grow crops," said Dr Ramankutty.

It's time that we stopped kidding ourselves. We are living beyond our means. Unless we drastically cut back on what we are doing, then a harsh future may await us, let alone our offspring. As population levels continue to rise, although they are more or less static in the majority of Europe, more and more power is being consumed, our resources are being exploited, and our heritage is being wrecked.

We have to face up to this now. We are may not want to abandon our lifestyles which revolve around the economic orthodoxy of constant growth, its foundation in neo-classical theory, but unless we do then it already may be too late. Global warming is accelerating and looking to have already an even higher bigger effect on the weather than was predicted. We also cannot rule out nuclear power, whatever our feelings about it. At the moment there is no consensus on moving towards a system of true-cost economics, which measures the damage we are doing to the environment and what resources we are using, as well as the improvements to life in general. We can no longer rely on GDP as a measure of how well a society is working. If we are not careful, catastrophe could be here quicker than we imagine.

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as Colonel Potter use to say,


Man has ALWAYS inventive and adaptive to what the environment gives and technological advances that are not even a thought or a dream today will make the transition from excess to minimal food productions.

i.e. Fossil fuel, petro, benzine, automobiles that we know today will non-exsist 50 years from today.

the food choices in 50 years will be even more abundant and plentiful than they are today from maximizing higher yielding crops from the seeds available today.

I hope you're right. However, it already seems too late to start investing in renewable energy, as we cannot fill our current energy needs with just renewables. As for these technological advances, where are they going to come from? Unless we can produce energy out of thin air, which somehow seems unlikely, and as hydrogen is currently unreliable, then we may well be screwed.

Besides, it's certainly not alarmist to begin cutting our energy usage and carbon emittance. To not do so or begin planning for it would itself be dangerous.

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