Friday, 10 November 2006

Statistics to really scare you

China has a rapidly expanding economy, and it is likely to continue to grow. China holds over $323 billion of US debt(Wikipedia, April 2006), and consequently has a huge influence on the US economy. And if China was to have car ownership at the same level of the US there would be over 1 billion cars in China. These would need 99 million barrels of oil a day -- more than the world total production of 88 million.

According to the FAO website in 1962 (the year Silent Spring was published) Brazil had 155 million hectares of agricultural land, but by 2003 another 100 million hectares had been cleared. Worldwide some 600 million hectares had been added to the agricultural lands, mostly in the tropics. That's an area the size of Argentina and India combined. I find this so scary, that it is difficult to believe, but I checked again and it seems to be right. Perhaps someone else can look into this and correct me if I am wrong.

In 1962 there were 996 million head of cattle in the world, by 2002 there were another 362 million. By 2005 there were 1,372,251,000 cattle in the world.

Another statistic: from 1993 to 2003 world production of soya bean increased by 90 million tonnes a year. Wheat production rose from 250 million tonnes in 1962 to 573 million tonnes in 2002, and the yield per hectare more than doubled in that time as well. Banana production trebled from 21 million tonnes a year to over 67 million tonnes

In 1962, in developing parts of Africa there were 183 million sheep and goats; by 2005 as most of developing Africa continues to spiral into poverty there were over 450 million sheep and goats. And bizarrely, developing countries suddenly started producing strawberries -- less than 1 tonne a year until the mid 1960s, and then an ever increasing volume which had reached 214,800 tonnes by 2005.

In the same period the United Kingdom's use of fertilizers had gone up by over 200,000 tonnes a year, but the worldwide usage had gone from 35 million to 147 million tonnes.

All this and more is on the FAO website:

It's really scary stuff, if you have the slightest belief that the world's resources are not infinite. Applying a sort of Gaia theory to all the above statistics, it becomes apparent that it is not only NOT surprising that so many species are going extinct, but it is actually rather surprising that the rate is not a LOT faster.

The inferences that I draw from reading these statistics, and placing them in the context of the wild places I visit, the nature reserves I know in England and other parts of the world, is that we really are teetering on the brink of an abyss. When ecosystem collapse starts it will be truly catastrophic, and when pandemics strike man and his food resources they too will be catastrophic. An inkling of things to come was seen when the threat of avian TB loomed. We can be certain that in the relatively near future, pandemics will sweep human populations. Pandemics could also affect food crops. And if an explosion the size of the Tambora volcanic eruption took place now, the crop failures and subsequent disease and other after effects will be truly devastating. We have absolutely no excuse for complacency, but meanwhile the human population is still careering out of control. It is no good saying that the populations of countries like Britain are more or less stable -- their resource demand are not.

1 comment:

  1. How about a cheerful blog for a change :-) I am about to head for Heathrow, where I will fly to Tierra del Fuego to work on a cruise ship that visits the Antarctic Peninsula. Heavens knows how many air miles, sea miles, food miles etc will be consumed this season so that people can see penguins. But at least we take great care not to disturb the penguins or tread on the moss.
    Yours guiltily