Fueling Freedom by Stephen Moore

Fueling Freedom by Stephen Moore

Author:Stephen Moore
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781621574385
Publisher: Regnery Publishing
Published: 2016-05-01T16:00:00+00:00

Agricultural Gains

Source: Vaclav Smil, Enriching the Earth, p. 201

Natural Gas–Derived Fertilizer

The topic of agricultural fertilizers may not intrigue the 81 percent of the U.S. population that now resides in urban areas. Even as we take it for granted that grocery store shelves will be filled with diverse, fresh, and convenient food from across the world, most of us give little thought to agriculture. The development of natural gas–based fertilizers, however, is one of the most important stories in human history.

Natural gas is the main raw material in synthesized nitrogen fertilizers. Without such fertilizers, the phenomenal expansion of the food supply would not have occurred.6 A study published in Nature Geosciences in 2008 found that this type of fertilizer fed 48 percent of the world’s population.7 The Agronomy Journal reports, “The average percentage of yield attributable to [natural gas–derived] fertilizer generally ranged from 40–60 percent in the USA and England and tended to be much higher in the tropics.”8 Synthesized nitrogen has enabled the developing world to avoid the famines that so many predicted. From 1950 to 1984, global production of cereal grains increased by 250 percent. “As a result,” notes Vaclav Smil, “never before have so many people—be it in absolute or relative terms—enjoyed such an adequate to abundant supply of food. Continuing malnutrition is now caused by unequal access to food rather than by absolute supply shortages.”9

The upsurge in agricultural yield in the industrial West that began in the early twentieth century reveals the potency of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, although application of the Haber-Bosch process was limited until after the Second World War, when refinements to the manufacturing process reduced its cost.


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