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The era of peak phosphorus is coming

You probably heard of peak oil - the idea that global petroleum supplies are about to, or have, passed their peak. But have you ever heard of peak phosphorus?

Probably not, but it's something you'll hear alot more about in years to come because when the earth's phosphorus supplies run out, so too will food.

It sounds like a doomsday scenario, but my guest today believes deposits of phosphorus could be depleted this century.

And while oil can at least be partly replaced with alternative energies, nothing that can replace phosphorus in food production.

But there's a glimmer of hope if phosphorus can be reclaimed from human waste.

In this report: Dana Cordell, an Australian PhD scholar studying in Sweden; Nick Drew, executive mananger of Fertiliser Industry Federation of Australia

Editorial Notes: The audio interview is available at the entry for June 20 in the Bush Telegraph archives. The interview is from about 1:40 - 17:00 minutes in the show. An excellent interview. Dana Cordell was especially good. I had read her online work before, but in this interview she seems to have a larger view of the problem and she mentions peak phosphorus by name. As far as I know, the first person to put forth the idea of peak phosphorus was Quebec researcher Patrick Déry in an article he published on Energy Bulletin: Peak Phosphorus. [See UPDATE below] More articles on phosphorus are available in the Energy Bulletin archives. Even though peak phosphorus was mentioned during the interview, the full implications were not made explicit. Even though phosphorus supplies will not "run out" for decades, peak production of phosphorus will bring with it much higher prices and probable shortages. Dana Cordell mentioned that prices of phosphate rock have gone up 700% in the last 15 months. She also pointed out that little data is available on which to base our estimates of phosphate reserves. Nick Drew, a representative of the fertilizer industry, seemed to be very open to Dana's ideas and has invited her to speak to his group. The ABC article text is by Belinda Tromp. The interview is conducted by Michael Mackenzie. According to the archive web page, audios are only kept online for four weeks. I hope we can arrange to get the audio archived somewhere else - perhaps at Global Public Media. Thanks to EB contributor Michael Lardelli for bringing the interview to our attention. -BA UPDATE (June 25) Keith Thomas of writes: Duncan Brown (in the book referenced in Déry's article) dealt in detail with the "idea" of peak phosphorus, but did not refer to the phenomenon by that name. Duncan is a retired prof from the University of Wollongong. BA: Thanks, Keith. What I was trying to say was that Déry seemed to be the first to apply Hubbert analysis to phosphorus. More on Duncan Brown and his book "Feed or feedback: Agriculture, population dynamics and the state of the planet". Interview Review (NZ) Review (RIA) Praise for book UPDATE (June 27) Jan Steinman writes: I found this Aldous Huxley quote somewhere that shows that people have been aware of this for far longer:
"With your intensive agriculture," he went on, "you're simply draining the soil of phosphorus. More than half of one per cent a year. Going clean out of circulation. And then the way you throw away hundreds of thousands of tons of phosphorus pentoxide in your sewage! Pouring it into the sea. And you call that progress. Your modern sewage systems!" His tone was witheringly scornful. "You ought to be putting it back where it came from. On the land." Lord Edward shook an admonitory finger and frowned. "On the land, I tell you." -- Aldus Huxley, from "Point Counter Point," published 1928

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