Keith Woodford explains how the artificial-food debate has lost sight of the fundamental biological and physical sciences, at which stage it becomes science fiction led by shock-jock commmunicators

Keith Woodford explains how the artificial-food debate has lost sight of the fundamental biological and physical sciences, at which stage it becomes science fiction led by shock-jock commmunicators

In recent months I have received many emails asking if I have seen the RethinkX report demonstrating how in ten years’ time animal proteins will have been largely replaced by artificial foods. By 2030, demand for cattle products will supposedly have fallen by 70%. At that time the global grasslands can be returned to nature.

Then this last week the emailers have been asking if I have seen George Monbiot’s report in The Guardian on how artificial foods will replace both plant and animal foods, thereby saving the planet.  According to Monbiot, this food of the future will be made in big laboratory-like factories in which the energy to drive bacterial growth-processes comes from hydrogen separated out from within water molecules.

My response to both the RethinkX and Monbiot reports is that we need more science and less science fiction when shaping the path ahead.

The RethinkX report is being widely quoted by many people.  In the sub-title, it self-describes as foretelling “the second disruption of plants and animals, the disruption of the cow, and the collapse of industrial livestock farming”. The first disruption was supposedly domestication of plants and animals many thousands of years ago, allowing human societies to transform from hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

These are very big claims about the future and raise the question as to just who these RethinkX people are.   I have been trying to work that out. I note that RethinkX self-describes as an ‘independent think tank’.

The two authors of the RethinkX food and Agriculture report are Catherine Tubb and Tony Seba. Tubb’s online biography lists a Cambridge University PhD in Chemistry. Seba’s biography says he is an engineer, serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker and thought-leader (his terms) with a Stanford MBA. Seba’s biography also says that he has taught at the Auckland University Business School.  Well, so far so good. 

The report is beautifully written and provides an impression of strong evidence. Accordingly, most people who seek my views are worried as to the implications for their own agri-food related businesses.

I always say back to people to go and look at the report disclaimers, which no-one seems to notice. The disclaimers include the following:

“Any findings, predictions, inferences, implications, judgments, beliefs, opinions, recommendations, suggestions, and similar matters in this report are statements of opinion by the authors and are not statements of fact. You should treat them as such and come to your own conclusions based upon your own research.”

And then a little further down:

“This report includes possible scenarios selected by the authors. The scenarios are not designed to be comprehensive or necessarily representative of all situations. Any scenario or statement in this report is based upon certain assumptions and methodologies chosen by the authors. Other assumptions and/or methodologies may exist that could lead to other results and/or opinions.”

I also send people to the seldom-read Appendix where it says that:

“Our analysis uses sugar (glucose) as the main feedstock, with efficiency trending from 3kgs of feedstock per 1kg of protein produced (a conversion ratio of 3:1) toward a ratio of less than 2:1 by 2030. There is also scope for other carbohydrates to be used for feedstock.”

That feedstock assumption acknowledges that a tank of bacteria cannot manufacture their own energy.  So, these new genetically modified organisms that will supposedly shape the future of food will need to themselves be supplied with a source of energy.  In that regard, I note that the assumed conversion efficiency of these super bugs is inferior to what can be achieved already with fish farming. 

Turning to the Monbiot report the key example is bacteria-produced flour. Monbiot, who has a BA in zoology, reports that:

“It sounds like a miracle, but no great technological leaps were required. In a commercial lab on the outskirts of Helsinki, I watched scientists turn water into food. Through a porthole in a metal tank, I could see a yellow froth churning. It’s a primordial soup of bacteria, taken from the soil and multiplied in the laboratory, using hydrogen extracted from water as its energy source. When the froth was siphoned through a tangle of pipes and squirted on to heated rollers, it turned into a rich yellow flour.”

Now, let’s just stop at that point and assess this use of hydrogen as the source of energy. How is this hydrogen going to give up the necessary energy?

The answer is that turning water into separate hydrogen plus oxygen is indeed possible by electrolysis. However, that process requires considerable energy. The hydrogen can then be burned and turned back into water, thereby releasing the stored energy within.

The only problem is that energy supplied in this way to the primordial soup of bacteria can never be more than the energy supplied to the water during the process of electrolysis. So, where is the energy going to come from to drive the process of electrolysis?

If we go back to basics, then all energy on earth comes from, or has come from, a single source. It is called ‘the sun’. The hydrogen is simply one means of storing the sun’s energy. If the world is going to be saved by artificial food, then we will need a huge number of solar panels and wind turbines, along with a transmission and storage system, so as to get the sun’s energy transferred across the world to the big tanks of bacteria.

In contrast, in our current food-producing world we use plants to capture the sun’s energy.  It is a marvellous process called photosynthesis. It is something plants do naturally all over the world.

Within green plant cells and using the sun’s energy, photosynthesis turns carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrate-predominant products, with some of these converted subsequently within plants to protein and fat.  Other minerals come from the soil. We then use ruminant animals to take some of these plants through the food chain to produce meat and milk-based products with higher density of protein and fat.

In contrast to ruminants, we humans do not have the capability to digest grass. Just try it and you will get a very sore stomach. But rumen bacteria allow cattle, sheep, goats and deer to digest grass in a way that we cannot do.

As for plant-based artificial meat, it is easy to forget that meats containing plant material have been with us for a long time. One such product is called a ’sausage’.

Fake burgers made from plants are no great challenge to make. However, a fake beef steak or lamb chop is a lot more complex. Also, no-one has yet replicated mammalian milk with anything closely resembling the complexity of nature’s product. 

Now, none of what I say here should be interpreted as implying that agri-food systems of the future will be the same as now. Nor am I implying that new artificial foods won’t have a place. What I am saying is that a healthy dose of scepticism is appropriate when entrepreneurial shock-jock communicators start saying that meat, milk and even plant products are going to disappear. 

A good starting point is to recognise Newton’s First Law that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed.


*Keith Woodford was Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University for 15 years through to 2015. He is now Principal Consultant at AgriFood Systems Ltd. Previous article on Fonterra’s challenges can be found at https://keithwoodford.wordpress.com/category/fonterra. You can contact him directly here.

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I love a good scientific explanation

My take on the Monbiot report was that the most promising opportunity would be to manufacture feedstock from the process, thus freeing up land presently used for that crop growing purpose.

My second thought was what a shame NZ is not leading the way on this type of agri-research.

Kate,
But the key point is where is the energy going to come from to create the feedstock?. The current capture mechanisms embedded in plants spread across the paddocks and grasslands of the world will have to be replaced by new man-made capture mechanisms. Somehow, there has to be a link between the sun's incoming energy received across the land, and the bacteria enclosed wthin the big tanks, that now need to receve this energy. That is a lot of solar panels and transmission lines!
KeithW
KeithW

Yes, and as I read it, Monbiot mentions desert lands being ideal for that production/manufacturing process. Think Australian outback.

Do we not need all the energy we currently generate to run the world we live in? We dont have enough now. Would the displacement of the tractor brigade leave us enough energy to fire the vats of goop. Doubt it. Who wants to eat goop anyway. Our societies revolve around the best food we can manage to buy. Will we change that much that we prefer goop to crisp veg and juicy chops. In 10 years. Laughable.

If you read the Monbiot article you will see that he mentions this process would not displace fruit and vegetable growing. The initial emphasis as I read it, is that the ruminants eat the goop and we continue to eat the ruminants. In other words, steak isn't off the menu :-).

Kate,
And where are these ruminants going to live if not out on the grasslands? In any case, ruminants are not designed to live on so-called 'goop'. They need lots of fibre (plus other things) and will get very sick on a diet of 'goop flour'.
KeithW

Of course they'll still live in paddocks and or barns, just as per today. Thing is you'd need far fewer paddocks with more supplementary feed.

I'm sure the scientists understand and will be considering the whole of the dietary needs of ruminants in relation to any type of new supplementary feedstock.

And as a scientist yourself, Keith, referring to their work as producing 'goop flour' is a bit disingenuous. It serves to denigrate a highly valuable scientific work stream, just as climate science is a highly valuable work stream.

Unfortunately Kate, Keith is dead right. Cattle have tender tummies. Believe it or not, its as easy to have a tits up cow as it is to have a tits up horse. (And horses are notorious for crook tums) Its easy to say all this stuff....the ruminants will be fed the goop. But considering farmers already have a lot of problems on feedlots...read here use of antibiotics...I dont think goop will become cow feed anytime soon. Remember BSE?

Climate Science is probably THE MOST VALUABLE work stream, I can't think of a single industry that gets more government funding, this is our climate emergency crisis and still not enough resources are devoted to climate science.

Animals can be bred to survive on alternative foodstuffs quite rapidly, particularly as they can adapt to alternative gut bacteria. Photosynthesis is an extremely inefficient way of extracting solar energy; at best about ~0.3% efficient compared to extracting energy via pv at ~20% and altering it's form using chemical engineering. And PV doesn't need fresh water and cares little about temperature.

Yes.

Are you sure about the efficiency stats? I thought that pv (I'm assuming photo voltaic) was desperately trying to attain photosynthesis efficiencies and was still lagging by a country mile.

Pretty sure - knew it was bad, but didn't have a number so googled some data and did a quick calculation while I was writing the post. Might be off by a factor of 2 but unlikely by a factor of 10

The work required to produce, maintain and integrate solar panels is inconsequential when compared to the benefits we receive.

The really game-changing impact is likely to be on aqua-culture, creating fish food to lower cost of farmed fish.

Kate
My recollection is that the Monbiot article simply ignores the source of energy except to say it will come from hydrogen. With reference to the Australian outback, either the energy will have to be transferred to a place that has water or else the water will have to be transported in. Either way,the system is inherently inefficient, using that term as a decriptor of the proportion of net energy to gross energy. In the meantime, solar energy is first needed to replace fossil fuels before we impose a whole new set of energy demands.
KeithW

I thought I'd read that solar arrays would be the energy source, and yes, if located in vast desert lands the water would need transport. But the real point is - why not embrace the optimism as Monbiot did?

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Kate,
I prefer that we build our optimism based on scientific principles and analysis rather than science fiction.
KeithW

Are you saying that what Monbiot observed is not real/truthful, i.e., he's lying and the process described is science fiction, as opposed to science?

Kate,
The biochemistry of using external energy to drive a process of carbohydrate manufacture by unicellular organisms is real. But ignoring the challenges of requiring an external energy source, together with issues of scaling, together with ignoring the issues of converting simple sugar and starch molecules carbohydrates devoid of vitamins and minerals into life-sustaining foods, plus the need for converting some of the carbohydrates into protein, has taken the story far into the realms of science fiction.
KeithW

Understood, but one only has to think about the development of electricity to understand that for all new inventions, each experiment leads to the next which expands the applications usefulness and creates new scientific revolutions.

So we destroy a desert to harvest energy. How is that different and better than present?

How do you destroy a desert?

In the main you just wait a couple of thousand years for the next ice age to start creating huge shifts in climate that lead to many deserts becoming Savannah again (much of Sahara was green up till 10-20 thousand years back. But that's ok because it's natural. It's only evil and wrong when humans are involved or when the change is contemporary rather than historic, because man bad, change bad, live in tree good.

You are forgetting that only humans can cause massive changes on a global scale. Climate change is a direct result of evil corporations and they need to be sued for all the hurt they have caused.

NZ recently declared the Whanganui river to be a person or somesuch contorted legal nonsense, so why not volcanoes and asteroids?

"Transporting water is impractical for both political and physical reasons, so buying up water rights did not make a lot of sense to me. What became clear to me is that food is the way to invest in water” – Michael Burry

Water is heavy so extremely expensive to move - westcoast NZ gets it delivered for free thanks to the ranges and the foehn effect

Tony Seba has written some excellent books on energy disruption , particularly emphasizing the increasing benefits of solar power ...

... this treatise on food production however , dips deeper into science fiction , than fact ...

And , lest we forget ... none of this can be studied or researched in NZ ... the Greens are ideologically opposed to GM ... ironically , even if it is a means to protect and enhance the environment ...

Is that process described a function of genetic modification?

Additionally, I think our legislation allows for the creation/research on GM organisms, the restriction lies in the planting/field trials of those organisms. So I suspect your point about the Greens is a bit OTT.

Yes, this new 'precision biology' is all about genetic modification to create new organisms that do not exist in nature. Apart from products such as 'Quorn', which has been around for a long time, you cannot get there using natural organisms. And you still need a source of energy to drive the process.
KeithW

I partly agree with the Greens paradox argument. They want to save the planet but refuse to consider the GM option. Until the decades old legislation has a revamp, we will only be able to tread water on the sustainability and environmental front. E.g. predator 2050 is a pipe dream without using a biological control of some type to stop reinvasion. Sure it comes with risks but unless we allow GM to be researched, trialed and implemented, we won't be able to make significant progress.

That will drive them nuclear too.

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For the most part environmentalism and rationality parted ways decades back. NZ greens are only weakly interested in environment, being primarily a loose-knit vehicle for various left wing activists that have co-opted the green banner - they are the Alliance in new garb.

It will be interesting to see if the sustainable nz party will be more of the same or actually offer something other than anti business virtue signallers

When discussing left wing fringe political parties it is hard not to be reminded of the people's front of judea vs the judean people's front, united in their inability to get along with similarly minded people.

This should be compulsory reading for every child in school.

Very well said Keith - I hear the artificial milk thing often and always wonder - what are the inputs? What is the cost per unit protein compared to current inputs i.e grass + sun + water - And I cant get my small brain around how it could be possible now or in the near future to produce a unit of milk protein cheaper than current practice no matter what sort of magical bacteria you use - Energy cant be created or destroyed, merely changes form - nature has blessed NZ with fresh water - anyone interested should look up Michael Burry and his thoughts on farmland/water: Burry has focused much of his attention on investing in water, gold, and farmland. Burry has been quoted saying "Fresh, clean water cannot be taken for granted. And it is not—water is political, and litigious."[21] After the end of the film, The Big Short, a statement regarding Burry's current interest reads, "The small investing he still does is all focused on one commodity: water."[21]

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Sometimes we look for a magical answer like the aforementioned reports.
Often the real magic is right there in the "normal" everyday stuff.
Sun-grass-cows-milk-cheese/butter/icecream/etc is f@$## magical.

"Also, no-one has yet replicated mammalian milk with anything closely resembling the complexity of nature’s product." Its made for babys..no need for adults to drink it.

No "need" for people to have a lot of things; wine, beer, chocolate. The human experience is much more than having things we specifically need. Which includes cheese.

Great article Keith.

Someone had to write it (I'm already penning an email to Monbiot - he does listen and think, which places him well above some hereabouts).

And we see where folk like Kate - obviously smart and obviously well-intentioned - miss it when they miss energy being the turtle at the bottom of the stack. This is all about energy, and about feedstock. We see the same mis-assumption style when the Nine-to-Noon presenter talks optimistically of 3-D printing houses; those priinters still need energy to run them and feedstock to make the houses from.

And you correctly point to the need to discuss hydrogen properly in this country - it seems to me that someone (I'm told it's someone inside MBE) has this misplaced enthusiasm with which the Minister (and others in Cabinet) have been infected.

We do indeed face a dilemma. Agribusiness as practiced, is monocultural, soil-deadening, soil-losing, aquifer-depleting, biodiversity-displacing and most pertinently, entirely dependent on fossil energy. So it is, in a word, unsustainable. So it will reduce then cease. What will replace it, is one question. How many people can be supported ex-fossil energy input, is a very serious other. Download Catton's 'Overshoot' to get a handle on the problem - we were already in a jam with 4 billion in 1980. All we have done since is double the number of humans in the paddock, and deplete the stacks of nutrient in the shed. The finite shed.

Building a sustainable food-production system, might as well be done ex-GM - because unless we do something about population, any gains will be overwhelmed, making you even worse off. So we need to ascertain what NZ food-production can supply without soil degradation, aquifer draw-down or biodiversity loss. Then we work out how much we want to eat, per head, and we're approaching the sustainable NZ population. I suspect we'll find it's around 2 million, if we're clever about it.

Where Monbiot (and Kate) perhaps err, is by starting from the premise that the human construct can be maintained with all the advances gained thus far. I think we have to be sapient enough to re-think that. We are now globally-forcing (Catton calls us Homo Colossus) and it appears we aren't yet smart enough to shoulder that responsibility (which we once apportioned to gods).

Thanks for the article - clean and concise. All we need now, is a jolly little discussion about EROEI....... :)

Across all cultures it seems that when you urbanise humans and distance them from the natural world (especially if they're stacked in little sky boxes and looking at screens all day), the reaction is for people to refuse to breed.

It could be the overpopulation problem will sort itself out.

Not sure why all the focus on fossil fuels. It's becoming apparent that renewables are rapidly stranding much of the world's coal reserves e.g. https://www.carbontracker.org/press-release-japan/ while gas prices collapse from over supply...
https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/natural-gas/120219-analysis-henry-hub-winter-natural-gas-prices-hit-record-low ...and this is before you even start considering 4th generation nuclear with even Australia looking to lift their current ban https://www.world-nuclear.org/press/press-statements/australian-inquiry-recommends-lifting-the-ban-(2).aspx

It is because they give you more bang for your effort procuring them, and because they - alone - are feedstock sources too. All else - nuclear and renewables - only do electricity.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513003856

I still see no reason that nuclear can’t supplant fossil fuels In the coming decades as a feedstock source. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321365579_Nuclear-Assisted_Hydrogen_Production

In last 10 years I have seen estimates of <$100/barrel for nuclear thermochemically produced hydrogen being used to make synthetic hydrocarbon fuels - tech that goes back to WWII and has been further developed by SASOL. Sunny climate pv can also now make hydrogen for about 10 $/GJ the same as oil at $50/barrel. We are never going to be without cheap oil - whether it is from fossil fuels or synthesised, and people are only going to get wealthier (ie energy and fuels will get relatively cheaper)

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Glad you mentioned Newtons first law of physics Keith, so often it feels the people promoting this technology are claiming to create a lot of food (energy) out of fresh air.
I personally will be sticking to the diet of food that genetically humans have adapted to over the last couple of hundred thousand years, not sure what they use in all the processing to create this protein, I will leave others to experiment with.
NZ free range grass grown protein for this soul.

[pedant hat on] not Newton, Clausius. Conservation of energy is 1st law of thermodynamics

These articles are of concern to the industry, but at times the common sense of the public is under estimated. Monbiot was the lead author of the UK Labour Parties 'Land for the Many' manifesto document; a manifesto which was dismissed comprehensively by the electorate. Whilst his ramblings may contain some idealistic solutions, the complexities of the problems go way beyond his socialist viewpoint. Having said that, the rural sector should not dismiss such comments as nonsense as there are many problems that require solutions. It is a shame that informative thinking, such as Keith's, are devoted to correcting some level of misinformation, rather than promoting informed choice!

Princeofnowhere,
I agree that there are challenges of communicating informed thinking. And that raises the question of whether or not our education system is doing enough to create an informed public. In an early draft of my post I referred to that issue, but I then cut it out through lack of space to develop the issue properly.
KeithW

Suggested reading here, Keith: Kevin Williamson 'The Smallest Minority - Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics' deals with exactly what we see outcrops of right here on this thread: angry tribes yelling across deeply dug lines of demarcation......and names it as the age-old problem of ochlocracy..... with a thick gooey topping of irrationality.

Waymad,
Thank you for extending my vocabulary. I am looking forward to using that wonderful new word.
It goes nicely with the concept of tribalism which I sometiems refer to.
KeithW

Keith, I absolutely agree. But has that opportunity to change this gone given our reliance on 'industry & business' to partner education and research. This seriously limits the prospect of full transparency if commercial interests are at stake. This doesn't just occur in research, but also everyday life - McDonalds sponsorship of kids sport programmes would be one such example.

Yes, even in academia there are certain topics where it is very dangerous to go, despite being evidence-based.
KeithW

Good reading Keith. Of course the critical issue when making assumptions is assuming a highly disruptive variable will not suddenly appear to nullify those assumptions made at the outset of the investigation. I always hate that aspect myself. I cite Elon Musk as a useful example. Who would have thought the guy who helpfully set up a reasonably safe ecommerce process would move to transportation? 20 years ago, I was being laughed at by holden v8 drivers as I was being driven around Hamilton in my friends Honda Insight EV. Now look at how big of a status symbol an EV has become and V8 drivers are virtually spat on and lynched in public due to their environmental insensitivity. Watching TV chef Rick Stein eat half a broiled pig during his show last night as he toured Alabama...simply unsustainable. Change is on its way...give it 10 years and it'll be a plant based meal being served instead. Arise the mighty legume!

Except a large proportion - guessing a substantial majority - of farmed land on earth is not economically capable of supporting any sort of edible plant production, but it can almost always be economically used to raise animals for meat. That won't change, in fact more and more farm land is likely to lose economic viability for growing edible plants as horticulture continues to intensify in the best locations rendering worse land unviable.

For me the issue is what we want to eat. I have increasing sceptism about the food processing industry. Once we drank real milk.
Frankenfood abounds, and we are being sold rubbish.

Our present government is heavily invested in the concept of artificial food production, without having a clue as to how it might be achieved. Why else would they be encouraging the transition of food producing land to forestry? Their approach is typical of left leaning climate change ideologues the world over - they are very long on fanciful ideas and very short on practicalities. If they had a clue, and were responsible in their approach, they would be ensuring that a viable alternative was available before they embarked on a course that will severely damage both NZ's livestock industry and economy. Great article Keith!

www- with a regime of growing consumption of a finite planet, you run out of 'viable alternatives'' - that's where all political hues currently fall over.

NZ's 'livestock industry and economy' re both based on resource (and fossil energy) draw-down, which is being done at exponentially-increasing rates. They are therefore unsustainable. Don't blame your political opposites when they falter.

PDK I am well aware of the conundrum of trying to maintain growth in the face of finite resources. However , human kind's need for sustenance is constant and immediate - whether or not an activity is sustainable is immaterial to the needs of the moment, and it would represent the height of stupidity to cease that activity because it was not considered sustainable.What we do now and how we do it may not be perfect but it will have to suffice until a better way can be found.

NZ should be a world beacon, leading the work towards augmenting animal based products , not afraid to ditch the old agri business model that is proving ruinous to our future generations.

Impossible to prove anything is ruinous to future generations now.
How do you compare how things are now, to how things are in the future?

Most people are able to:
Consider how are things now. How are things now compared to how they were, the past.

Bollocks.

Of course you can prove your current actions are deleterious to future generations.

You just need to avoid that fact. We just need to ask why?

Steady, the future has not yet happened.

Consider the recognised concept of unintended consequences (observed).
Consider the body of work of Risk Management (threat, impact, likelihood, rating, mitigation, adjusted rating).

At best you are thinking conspiracy like, but then with conspiracy you need intent. Where and what's your intent?
Both of you can answer.

You have to realise the average commenter on a thread such as this, is a wee bit smarter than the level of your spin-targeting.

If one fills one's tank and drives, one can anticipate rolling to a halt when the tank empties. One needs no special cranial capacities to come to this conclusion, despite the emptying not having happened yet. Indeed, every forecourt is full of people smart enough to anticipate the problem, and do something about it before it occurs.

Take your silly spin somewhere else, OK?

Your argument is not deductively valid.

We started with a planet full of resources - finite, renewable and sinks. In all cases, measurably, we are drawing them down.

100 million barrels of finite fossil oil burnt yesterday, totally measurable.

We can read the gauges clearly. The analogy holds.

It must be a real sod to have to defend a base-line falsehood. Good luck with it all, just do it somewhere else.

Look at what you write.
.... oil burnt yesterday totally measurable.....
Because it's happened.

Try this.
.... oil burnt 13th January 2025. totally measurable, no.....
Because it has yet to happen.

Back to the my top post. I don't see any evidence that you know what has occurred in the future.

Please show an example of your knowing what has occurred in the future.

You're going close to looking like a fool. Your doing, whatever.

What is happening is that future generations can neither burn that oil for the energy, nor have you given them the energy to deal with your exhausting from your burning. So we can state with complete certainty, that we took those options from them and that they were choice-less in the matter. Arguably, that is fraud. Nobody will be taken to court, of course, but no future person is going to thank us. Not one.

Just give it away, unless you can do a little better. It's a waste of reader's time.

Well done this is a walk back from .... proving ruinous to future generations.

Now you are talking economics and resources allocation in relation to energy.

But don't you agree that while people predict the future, without a time machine none know the future.

Well, this decade old report from Aussie certainly got the future right;

https://au.news.yahoo.com/decadeold-climate-reports-harrowing-prediction...

Massive fuel build up also explains what has come to pass.

http://www.garnautreview.org.au/update-2011/garnaut-review-2011.html

Check out the report for detail.

Yep, read it years ago.

So we are agreed that the future can indeed be modeled/predicted with a reasonable amount of accuracy?

Re read the thread.
It suggests the future is not a known.

For context.
Newspapers
On this day 80 years ago.
https://youtu.be/srG7Hy8ySI4

H_T,

I have followed the thread between you and PDK and must say that I find your last post bizarre. No we can't see the future with clarity, but that cannot and indeed must not, stop us from making predictions based on the evidence we have accumulated.
we do this all the time in say, weather forecasting and while not always accurate, it allows people like farmers to make reasoned judgements. Others make planning predictions based on available information such as mortality tables and so on. We don't know just how much oil exists on earth, but we do know it's not infinite, so we must plan ahead, even without climate change making it increasingly imperative that we reduce our reliance on it.

Thanks, the thread is all about folk not knowing the future and the future is a prediction. This was to the OP who was saying .... current ag systems proving ruinous to future generations....

I have had to demonstrate that people are mistaken when they say look at my view of the future, it is truly proving how the future is. Therefore you must...... < whatever >. My point is, decussions about the future are exactly predictions.

You will see PDK has stepped back and is now saying, options have been limited, they are choice less in certain areas...
This is a massive roll back from ... proving ruinous to future generations,

You should also note PDK has been animated (primed) from when we discussed the merits of his wish for population control and cheerful support of China's one child policy, over the new year.

You and I seem agree in that consistent view, reasoned judgements, of the expected/anticipated/predicted future through a risk management framework has advantages. Problems arise when it's not done adequately.

The difference between knowing past, present and future is that observations on past and present can be objective, whereas observations about the future must be subjective ( if you rule out oversimplifications like pdk's fuel tank ) and therefor depend on the observer's point of view. Someone above mentioned the possibility of disruptors from left field - for a classic example of that try googling "the great horse manure panic of 1894 ". The circumstances then might have been different but the topic is the same now as it was then.

You have 'proved' squat.

If we deplete resources, they aren't there for use tomorrow. If we crap in the nest and don't clean up in real-time, we're giving the bill (a physical bill, increasingly undo-able as the best energy is increasingly used by us) to people as yet unborn.

I call that predictable, inevitable, and unacceptable in a moral sense.

I doubt you understand, particularly the last bit. Perhaps sticking to fact(s) and using less words might help? You have to understand that folk on this thread will probably understand overstocking/overshoot. Maybe try an arena where folk are a little more naive?

Current supply levels would see Sydney likely run out of water in about 18 months, assuming no rain. The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a drier than usual summer for NSW.

https://www.9news.com.au/national/sydney-water-restrictions-what-it-mean...

The great state of NSW.

Climate Change is starting mean everything now a catch phrase for anything and everything.
For poor politicians climate change now their get out of jail free card on the government monopoly board.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7831601/amp/Sydneys-population-...

The NSW Government is to fast-track housing developments for a Sydney population increase of nearly two million people despite a lack of new water sources.

Sustainable Australia Party spokesman Kelvin Thomson said development planners had failed to take into account the water shortage.

PDK - your rather intemperate post seems to be directed to me so I will reply in kind. Concerning the finite nature of fossil fuel reserves; it has been said that any fool can predict a recession, and probably will, but it takes an expert to tell us when. Just so with fossil fuels - knowing that reserves are finite any fool can predict that we will eventually run out. Indeed, some fools may have already done so, but no expert has yet stepped up to tell us when. With regard to words, perhaps those wish to engage in a discourse with you should confine themselves to words of one syllable, you know, short ones, so that you might be better able to comprehend -oops- follow what they are saying

In a related note Keith I saw this on the internet today.
https://grist.org/article/2010-02-23-new-research-synthetic-nitrogen-des...
Despite the title the research is not new. This is an article from 2010. It is US based and about nitrogen fertilizers effect on soil carbon and health.
I wonder what the situation is in NZ? Is there much research on the best way to build up soil carbon on the NZ farm?
The conversation in NZ about farming's impact on climate change is really focused on the methane narrative i.e. that ruminants (cows etc) are bad.
Historically manure from livestock and crop rotation was used to fertilise soils. Would that be the best way to store carbon too?
What if the farming climate change conversation was more nuanced i.e. it discussed the possibility of using livestock and crop rotation to store carbon in the soil?
I am no farming expert but these seem like reasonable questions that NZ Inc should be allocating significant resources into ensuring we have the right answers.

Carbon can indeed be sequestered in the soil - biochar is flavour of the month.

But we are pulling from below the ground, carbon that has been sequestered since before our species evolved. That has the obvious potential to shift out global habitat out of our ecological range, most obviously via temperature rise. Given that surface carbon was present in forests before we commandeered the space (46% of global forest depleted, according to a 2015 study), we'd barely be restoring surface conditions to what we evolved with, although I'll grant you some pasture may mitigate to an extent.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228118939_Soil_carbon_changes_f...

Brendon
The issue of soil carbon and the factors that influence it is remarkaby complex. A couple of years back I discussed this for a couple of hours over dinner at a conference with a person who had been studying it for much of his life including the topic of his PhD. At the end of the evvening I said to him that what he was telling me was thet no-one really understood the processes and how they played out in different situations. He agreed.
What we do know is that cultivation breaks down soil organic matter very rapidly and that livestock systems tend to build it up. Drainage of peat soils leads to a rapid breakdown. No-till systems are consistent with good conservation practice, but there are also good reasons why farmers burn stubble and cultivate. It is hard to make no-till systems work without lots of synthetic weedicides and pesticides.
KeithW

Thanks Keith. I was hoping that building up the soil carbon sink could balance out the methane cycle wrt ruminant livestock farming. But it seems the science is not very clear...

Also if the science is saying that crops are depleting a lot of carbon from the soil, maybe that needs to be addressed by climate change activists and policy makers as much as cows farting?

And if one reads Bryson's 'The Body - a Guide for Occupants', it will become clear that there are a great deal of bodily processes about which we know just enough to appreciate that we have a very long way to go indeed, in Understanding the interactions of our favourite meat robots. That's true of all science.......and particularly applies to climate 'science'.

This research quantifies the amount of carbon that can be accumulated in degraded arable land by rotationally grazing it with ruminants.

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms7995

Thanks Doris so in very degraded former cropland like US cottonfields increasing soil organic carbon could be significant but probably not so much in NZ...

Brendon,
To a large extent it is the cultivation process rather than the crops thensleves that cause the loss of carbon. Although soil carbon is important for multiple reasons including soil health and wate retention, I am doubtful where soil carbon can ever be a game changer in relation to atmospheric carbon levels.
KeithW

1st thing that hit me is the term "plant-based artificial meat"And assuming it has more than a meat flavour and texture feel.
It is no more than a processed vitamin, mineral pill re shaped and re marketed as a substituted then promoted as the great savour of the world by marketing people. Who know full well we are way off the point of waking up and taking a pill for breakfast. Which at this point in time would be totally unmarketable.
Meat is meat. cereal is cereal, junk food is junk food and processed food is proceeded food, 'heath tablets are health tablets.
Companies are always on the look out for a new edge and employ marketing ppl to promote the next 'generation' of repackaged product as the savour of the world.
And that means promotion within the legal guidlines of what is is called.
Is a cheese spread a cheese?..It was till regulations determined watered down cheese could not be called cheese but a spread.
And in the mean time , before regulations are put in place to curb marketing claims, to get things off the ground there is always a heap of information, missing critical bits, to set the ground work for a successful release for the wonder product on the of the decade. In this case the wonder products of the last 10,000 yrs

Fortunately one of the other big movements in food trends is to eat more naturally. Diets high in processed foods are making people sick. Healthy people want natural, organic and grass fed. Real vegetables grown in soil and animals raised on their natural diet. None of these fake foods have any kind of long term health and safety studies done. Just like when they tried to replace butter with margarine, and introduced transfats and high fructose corn syrup into everything. If other people want to sacrifice their health in the belief that its saving the planet, then go for it. We need less people hanging around. But I won't be one of them!

Indeed. Food fads may be the Fifth Horseman (oops, Equine-Conveyed-Personage)..

Surely Newton's First law is the Law of Motion. What is described here is the First law of Thermodynamics, attributed to Clausius, though as always, others were involved.

I try to have a motion on a daily basis but it can have the tang of entropy on occasion. Carnot (and the 2nd) is more my champ - happens when I ride my bike...