There’s good eating on one of those


Recently, Y.-H. Percival Zhang and colleagues demonstrated a method of converting cellulose into starch and glucose. Zhang thinks that it can be scaled up into an effective industrial process, one that could produce a thousand calories of starch for less than a dollar from cellulosic waste. This would be a good thing. It’s not just that are 7 billion people – the problem is that we have hardly any food reserves (about 74 days at last report). The usual assumption is that any drought or blight would be local, but that isn’t necessarily so. We might have another Tambora-style eruption, or an asteroid big enough to generate tidal waves and kick up a lot of dust – or wheat rust might get out of control.

If this works, we might have a reserve in hand. At least until the population runs up to the new Malthusian limit.

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16 Responses to There’s good eating on one of those

  1. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Could this be done on a small scale?

  2. Anon says:

    I will get shouted at for saying this, but I just don’t see this as a problem that should concern first-world nations. So what if a bunch of nations that overpopulated starve?

    • Toddy Cat says:

      All morality aside, does anyone think that these people would just sit in their countries and starve, if there was food for the taking in the First World. Hell, we’re being over-run now, just think what would happen if the various third-worlders were even more motivated. Like it or not (and I don’t like it), we’re all in this together

    • misdreavus says:

      You think a near-total shutdown of agricultural output in the temperate zone will not adversely affect your life, whatsoever. (go google the “year without a summer”.)

      Are you kidding me?

      • Anon says:

        This is not how I read that article. I read it “we might have a way to produce nutritionally poor calories out of cellulose” . Great, so places that already overpopulated can get overpopulated even more, because now there is a way to feed them?

        In my mind problem is not that we have inadequate reserves of food, but that we have too many people in areas that cannot support these people.

        In your doomsday scenario key threat will be not starvation, but nations going to war over decreased pool of resources.

      • misdreavus says:

        Your #1 problem seems to be that you don’t understand what you read, in general.

      • Anon says:

        We still have a problem of drinking water, but would you not agree that more cheap food (and water) = more humans living in third world countries? Am I wrong in my understanding that the only thing keeping populations of a large number ‘developing’ countries in check is hunger?

      • misdreavus says:

        Again. You misread this post. Nobody even talked about feeding the third world until you barged in. Get the hint?

  3. Jehu says:

    I’m honestly shocked the wheat rust and other devastating agricultural plagues HAVEN’T gotten out of control. Is this because terrorists lack an understanding of the interconnection of biology, agriculture, and economics? They wouldn’t need to do any new development, just assist what’s already trying desperately to spread anyway. Ditto with the whole Asian carp thing.

  4. Wonks Anonymous says:

    That reminds me, does Greg have an opinion on the recent dismissal of Toba catastrophe theory?

  5. mitchellbpowell says:

    Anon: “Am I wrong in my understanding that the only thing keeping populations of a large number ‘developing’ countries in check is hunger?”

    Yes. Yes you are.

  6. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Is this because terrorists lack an understanding of the interconnection of biology, agriculture, and economics?”

    Most terrorists are either really dumb or intelligent but in a more artsy than technically minded way which is lucky as it would be so easy to take down a modern country.

  7. Pingback: Up Out of the Malthusian Trap | Mitchell Powell's Blog

  8. Esso says:

    I don’t think we should eat trees older than Jesus, however hungry we might be. Conifers do taste relatively good though.

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