Taking land inventory at the 7 billion mark of human population
Our love affair with the typical Western diet is completely unsustainable for very much longer. This week as we officially passed the seven billion mark according to the U.N., we are reminded of the incredibly wasteful feeding model in the Western world. What do I mean by wasteful?
Let’s start with the amount of arable land required to feed our population. Some simple arithmetic:
- It takes over three acres per person to produce the Western diet of meat and dairy three meals a day.
- It takes about 1/6 of an acre to feed someone who eats nothing but plant-based foods.
- On average, it takes from ten to twenty times more land to feed a given population the Western diet as compared to a plant-based diet.
- Arable land (where food crops can be grown) totals roughly 8 billion acres.
- With 7 billion people that works out to just over one acre per person.
So, if you passed 3rd grade arithmetic, you obviously realize that we would need over 20 billion acres of arable land to feed all 7 billion of us the Western diet — about 12 billion more acres than we have. What does this mean? Clearly, everyone cannot eat this wasteful diet-style. And it’s getting worse all the time – not better.
Note: Much of this information is covered in our well-referenced book with 306 footnotes. Also, a few references are shown below, but you may want to do some of your own research. It won’t take you long to realize that we have a very serious problem on planet Earth.
A little background on population. Humans have been around for about 200,000 years and the global population stood at about 250 million at year 1 A.D. It took us a little over 1800 years to reach one billion mark. Since then:
- 1927, we reached two billion. (adding one billion in 123 years)
- 1959, we reached three billion. (adding one billion in 32 years)
- 2011, we reached seven billion. (adding one billion every 13 years since 1959)
It gets worse. Our population continues to grow at about 200,000 people per day and is projected to rise to 9 to 13 billion by 2050. At the same time, more people around the world are choosing our wasteful diet-style around the world every year.
When people coming out of poverty have a little money for the first time, they want to start eating like people in the United States and Europe. And we’re placing McDonald’s, Burger Kings and KFC’s all over the world sot that they can do just that.
We’re not done yet. Our 8 billion acres of arable land is shrinking due to degradation every year — losing an area about the size of South Carolina each year. Some forecast that at the current rate that our total arable land per person could drop from 1.1 acres/person that we have today to only .59 acre/person by 2039. Clearly, we have a problem.
A Sad Summary. When you consider that there has been life on this planet for 4 billion years and that humans arrived just 200,000 years ago, it’s mind-boggling what our race has done to our home since then. And most of that damage has been done in just the last 50 years.
While a relative newcomer to the planet, in just the past few hundred years (a mere blink in the eye of history) we have taken possession of all of the land and have lived as if all of the other creatures have been placed here for our pleasure.
One recent example of how we’re running roughshod over our precious planet was reported earlier this year in Fast Company prompting me to blog on 7-19-11, Burning trees in the Amazon — to feed pigs in China (See source article below). To support a completely unnecessary diet-style, we’re destroying the environment, wasting fossil fuel energy shipping soybeans across the ocean so that the Chinese don’t have to depend on other countries to meet their steadily growing demand for pork.
All of this madness began to come into focus for me back in 2003 when I had my “blinding flash of the obvious.” Suddenly, after reading and studying this topic for about six months, it became crystal clear for me as I realized, “Oh my God, we’re eating the wrong food.”
The Bottom Line. Clearly, what we’re doing cannot continue for much longer — and unless we humans correct this problem soon, we’ll leave Mother Nature no other choice but to do it herself. And that wouldn’t be a very pretty picture.
While our collective problem is maddeningly complex and frustrating, the primary solution to all of the above is incredibly simple. We simply must begin to aggressively return to the natural diet-style — the one that Nature intended for us to eat all along. As we make that move back to plant-based eating, not only do we solve our problem with the shortage of arable land, but we also make a huge dent in our problems with water shortage and pollution, our energy crisis, and the global warming issue.
Finally, the single biggest human problem in most developed countries would be almost totally eliminated — our absurdly high cost of “disease care,” now standing at 17% of the GDP in the USA. Everything is connected.
Haven’t had your blinding flash of the obvious yet? Take a few hours and watch the following two documentaries; they may very well change your life. And if enough of us watch them, they may change the world.
Frequently I am reminded of what Mark Twain said over 100 years ago. I think he got it right about our reckless and selfish species — way back then. People didn’t like hearing it then and they probably won’t like hearing it now:
“Twain had arrived at the not unreasonable but never popular conclusion that mankind “was not made for any useful purpose, for the reason that he hasn’t served any; that he was most likely not even made intentionally; and that his working his way up out of the oyster bed to his present position was probably a matter of surprise and regret to the creator.”
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—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com
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