Re: If all the ice melted...

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Jul 02 2001 - 00:35:25 MDT

On Sun, 1 Jul 2001, Spike Jones wrote:

> wrote:
> > Technically it's doable but you would have to pay
> > Russia, Azerbaijan, and Khazakstan astronomical
> > sums of money to justify flooding so much of their land.

Actually if you gave them fresh water they might let you
do it for nothing. By that time they will have drained
the Sea of Aral dry.

> If GM works out the way I expect, farmland
> will be cheap indeed.

Not so fast spike. The editorial lead-in for the June 22 2001 issue
of Science "Genetic Engineering and Water" is quite provocative.
Some facts:
 - world population increases by 2.5 billion (~40%) by 2025
 - annual cereal yield increases are declining
 - of the water available for agriculture 70% is already in use
 - 50% of the world's wetlands have disappeared
 - 40% of the world's food is produced from irrigated land
 - 10% of the world's food is produced from water mined from aquifers
   (many of which are being mined unsustainably)
 - 1 lb of cotton requires 17,000 lbs of water
 - 1 lb of rice requires 4,700 lbs of water
 - 40% of plant productivity in Africa and Asia and 20% in the developed
   world is lost to pests and pathogens, 1/3 to viruses, fungi and bacteria
   and 2/3 to insects and nematodes.

If you combine the population increases driving food demaind with the
probability that we will probably have to start migrating our energy
production to solar-electric or solar-methane (or H2) for sustainability
then I would predict the demand for land is going to remain fairly high.

GM will help a lot but I wouldn't label it a sure thing until people
actually sit down and run the numbers looking at where we are now
and how close we can get to the theoretical limits.

There are other solutions (breeder reactors, solar power satellites,
etc.) but those may have to wait for the Nano-santa to make them
viable candidates.

> Agreed. There are a lot of countries which would likely
> kick in some gold to buy land from the commies for
> water storage purposes. Seems like a far cheaper solution
> than reducing CO2 emissions. spike

Ahhhemm.... spike, with the exception of China, in the countries
mentioned most of the people aren't "commies" any more.

For an optimal situation I think you actually want to increase CO2 emissions
right up to the point where very advanced biotech or nanotech can
reverse it. The more carbon you put into the atmosphere the greater
the "sunk cost" benefit you have during the nanotech transition.
There is a negative side to this (more people will likely die in
the pre-transition period due to storms, floods, etc.) However
the plus side is that more people are likely to be saved by cheap
carbon from the commons once nano-minting becomes feasible.
(There is an assumption here that removal of carbon from the
atmosphere isn't "immediately" taxed or regulated by governments.)

There are probably several PhD theses of work to be done in
designing simulations for this so that one could analyze
various tradeoffs (maximization of # of people saved, minimization
of total years of potential life lost, maximization of economic
growth, etc.) that Robin could put graduate students to work on.


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