The world is collectively dependent on nitrogen fertilizer produced by the Haber-Bosch process, without which agriculture could support only half as many people as are alive today, and then with very basic, predominantly vegetarian diets. Today’s average diet could be supplied to only 40% of the population. We can no more give up Haber-Bosch nitrogen than an addict can give up heroin. The removal of our ‘drug’ would cause widespread trauma and death. Barring some massive technological development or horrifying human catastrophe, our dependency on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is set to increase. This state of dependence is not desirable, but it is the state in which we find ourselves, and it will be intensified by 2024.
The Haber-Bosch process needs energy, which now comes chiefly from natural gas. By 2024, the demand for fertilizer will have increased and the supply of gas may have declined. The 2024-generation will face a massive challenge balancing the need for energy for fertilizer against all the other demands on energy. We must help by thinking about it now. I don’t always agree with Tony Blair, but I’m sure he’s right to reintroduce the nuclear option. As the lady said, ‘there is no alternative’.
Thomas Addiscott is coauthor of Nitrate, Agriculture and the Enivronment (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and Farming, Fertilisers and the Nitrate Problem (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website.