321. PEAK PHOSPHORUS? HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON
My ongoing ground-and-pound operation on peak oil agriculture scaremongering is having a salutary effect. My buddy cube over at doom central now informs me that:
I think there's a consensus here that phosphorus NOT nitrogen fertilizer is the weak link.Yep, the doomers have thrown in the towel and moved on to the next fertilizer scare which, incidentally, has no connection whatsoever with peak oil. LOL. But let's check it out anyway.
For our purposes, the story begins with an Aug. 13, 2007 article by Patrick Déry and Bart Anderson called Peak Phosphorus. I'll give you the Cliff's Notes version here:
Phosphorus is a critical fertilizer we need to grow food, and the earth has only a finite supply. Like oil, someday phosphorus will peak, terminally decline, and run out.
Now, like all good peak oilers, Pat and Bart are ready to slap a Hubbert curve onto anything at a moment's notice to prove that everything in the world is peaking right now shriek shriek. So here's the money shot:
The article claims that worldwide production of phosphate rock (the source of phosphate; I'll call it "PR") peaked in 1989 although that is certainly a mistake because the USGS data(pdf) the authors rely on indicates a world peak in 1988 at a level of 166 million metric tons. Fixing that for them, let's evaluate the claim that PR peaked in 1988, and is now in terminal decline.
The Hubbert Linearization given by the authors shows a phosphate rock URR of 8 billion metric tons, as indicated by the green arrow:
Now, let's compare that figure with phosphate rock reserves from the USGS (Phosphate Rock Mineral Commodity Summary, 2007):
World phosphate rock reserves: 18 billion metric tons
World phosphate rock reserve base: 50 billion metric tons
Current reserves are more than twice the claimed URR. So clearly this Hubbert-Linearization has been cooked for propaganda purposes. In fact, since cumulative production to date is about 6 billion metric tons, the area under the red curve in Fig. 1 is going to have to be at least three times larger than shown (6 to date + 18 reserves = 24). And that's just counting reserves -- i.e. phosphate which can be economically extracted with current technology.
I asked Stephen M. Jasinski, the USGS phosphate rock specialist, for his opinion on this matter, and he said: "Phosphate production has likely peaked, but reserves will last about 300 years with current technology." Apparently, Mr. Jasinski sees the reserve base figure of 50 billion tons as the more credible figure in the long-term, and that would make the area under the red curve in Fig. 1 seven times bigger than shown.
In conclusion, you can press the snooze button on "Peak Phosphorus".
Note) By an interesting coincidence, it turns out that asteroids are rich in phosphorus, and may in fact have been the original source of phosphorus for life on earth (Source). This presents the future possibility of asteroid mining -- a natural part of our human destiny as we grow beyond the earth and into the solar system.