Speaking of fossil fuels, humanity extracts one cubic mile (4 cubic km) of fossil petroleum per year, and 150 cubic kilometers of water per year. Most of this water is irreplaceable on human time scale, and can be regarded as another fossil resource. Most of groundwater in the world is extracted for agriculture.
So just how big industrial agriculture is? It is difficult to quantify agriculture's impacts on the Earth, but an analysis of the FAOSTAT data can illuminate some aspects of it. So here is what I did: I looked at the world's largest agrofuel and livestock feed crops: maize (corn in the U.S.), soybeans, sugarcane, and oil palms (rapeseed in Europe). I have accounted for all countries in the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Separately, I looked at wheat and rice paddies. The bottom line is shown in the three figures below.
To grow agrofuel crops, humans have taken out from the Earth's most productive tropical forests and savannas (prairies and steppes) an area equal to the Indian subcontinent. The permanent damage to the health of the planet has been staggering, and humans will pay dearly for this insanity with their lives and health. The two main food crops, wheat and rice, now span an area equivalent to that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Please remember that these are just the field areas. Now think about access roads, human settlements, working the land, moving this stuff around, moving the fertilizers in, storage and processing facilities, transport from the tropics to moderate latitudes, and so on.
|The area of wheat and rice paddies is now equal to the total area of one of the largest countries in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is neither democratic nor a republic.|
With this fourth installment, I am ending - for the time being - my analysis of the multiple and complex influences of industrial agriculture on the state of the planet. I hope that by now you understand that industrial agrofuels are a sure recipe for humanity to commit suicide faster and more completely.
|Agriculture does not stop at land's edge. Here is a large algal bloom on a beach in Qingdao, China (July 6, 2013). A central factor is the high supply of nutrients from agricultural runoff and wastewater, but nutrients injected by seaweed farming are also a contributor. This green tide, spread over 7,500 square miles, is thought to be twice the size of an outbreak in 2008 that threatened sailing events during the Beijing Olympics,|
Here are the global areas of the crops included in my analysis. The source of all the data is the FAOSTAT, and I wrote MATLAB programs that read the data in for all the countries on the planet and analyzed the crops I have considered.
By far the largest crop on planet Earth is maize, followed by rice paddies, soybeans, and wheat. The sugarcane and oil palm plantation areas are much smaller but also grow fast.
|In the last 50 years, the total area of maize agriculture has doubled to the area of Iran.|
|In the last 50 years, the area of rice paddies has increased by 30% to almost the area of Iran.|
|Over the last 50 years, the total area of wheat agriculture has not quite doubled to the area of Venezuela. The jump in 1991, follows the fall of the Soviet Union, and jumps of wheat production in Ukraine and Russia.|
|Over the last 50 years, the total area of sugarcane agriculture has doubled to almost the area of Poland.|
|Over the last 50 years, the total area of the oil palm plantations has grown 6-fold, to almost the area of Poland.|
P.S.P.S.P.S. April 8, 2015. There is no such thing as cheap agriculture. Trillions of dollars per year of hidden costs of environmental devastation?