Guardian leader

Just 11% of the planet\’s land surface is suitable for agriculture,
Two billion extra souls will need somewhere to live, which means that precious farmland will disappear under pavement, or be quarried for minerals.

Err, why not dig up and live on the other 89% of the land?

23 thoughts on “Guardian leader”

  1. Tim,

    You make a fundamental error.

    You have failed to realise that this is a Guardian article and you can not in ANY way expect them to use the squidgy mass between their ears.

  2. “Just 11% of the planet’s land surface is suitable for agriculture.”

    Oddly the Guardian’s links to this “fact” don’t lead anywhere.

    I presume 50 years ago agriculture experts would have claimed most of Nevada (say) was unsuitable for agriculture. Whereas these days it seems to be covered in alfafa.

  3. You mean why do people in Japan choose to live in Tokyo rather than in the mountains? Why is the Sahara sparsely populated? Why are there no cities in Antarctica?

  4. Because the other 89% is environmentally sensitive and only good for growing bio-fuels and wind farms. Besides NOBODY lives outside London, Dahrling…

  5. No worries.
    7 billion mouths now, 9 billion in 2050. (28% increase)
    Dire predicted increase in CO2 leads to 30% in crop yields.
    Everyone gets fed AND those wily Aussies have developed a strain which flourishes on saline / depleted soils.
    So where’s the beef?

  6. Right, here’s the source; 15 year old UN figures:

    But guess what; the Guardian’s got it wrong.

    Page 11, line S4, agricultural land is 37.3% of the world’s land.

    Where does their 11% come from? Line S5, 30.4% of that agricultural land is arable. 30.4% of 37.3% is 11.3%.

    So they don’t know the difference between agriculture and arable.

    (But we knew that already, because they think that we could solve food shortages by all becoming veggies).

  7. I like this report.

    Page 12, line P.4, “Number of live animals per hectare of permanent pastures”.

    World average, 0.48.
    European average, 2.44

    So we can produce 5 times as much meat just by using existing pasture in a European manner (and that European average includes Wales and Scotland, so hardly intensive farming).

  8. Mark T, I couldn’t believe that so I checked:


    Holland proper has a population density of 1105.22/km^2, so that is true, but perhaps slightly misleading to the casual reader because most people think of the whole Netherlands when they read Holland. It’s more than double the density of the Netherlands, which is 403.6/km^2.

  9. Mark T (#7), I remember calculating that the entire world population could fit, lying down, in Cornwall.

    Have to move the sheep out first though.

  10. Mark T (#7), I remember calculating that the entire world population could fit, lying down, in Cornwall. Have to move the sheep out first though.

    But then we would all get cancer from the rAdiaSHuN.

  11. I bet Poly’s Tuscan Villa isn’t on arable land. Lovely hillside setting, I imagine. See? It can be done!

  12. IanB (#13), according to Tim’s quote they say “land surface”, not “world’s surface”, which suggests they’re not including the ocean.

    I still think they (or an intermediary source that they used) muddled up “agricultural” and “arable”.

  13. #16 oops my mistake. Apologies. Since the .3x.37 gives teh figure they quote though, they may have mixed the two numbers up anyway…

  14. “If the entire world lived in AUstralia, it would still be less crowded than Holland…”

    I don’t think so – Holland would be empty.

  15. And what about the sea? Rebuild Atlantis, follow the example of Dubai and Treat England’s East coast as the Dutch treat their reclaimed land.

  16. There is plenty of room in Australia for people. Vast desert like bits.
    More importantly the politician dont believe in dams or clearing flammable vegitation and are fond of declaring lots of ‘national parks’ or ‘wild rivers’ so that developement can’t happen.

  17. In these days of synthetic fertilisers, the bottleneck in how much food you can produce is not the amount of land, it is the amount of fresh water. Of course, given the amount of salty water there is in the world, and the fact that you can convert salty water to fresh using electricity, the bottleneck is actually energy. So cheap energy converts to cheap food, and the fact that we have just found all that gas rather helps this problem.

    (Actually, it’s easier than this: just increase water usage efficiency in agriculture. The simplest way of doing this is get rid of the ridiculous subsidies that exist for water use in agriculture in many jurisdictions).

    Not to mention that increased crop yields can solve this problem pretty much on their own, except that the same people seem morally opposed to the use of the best technologies to increase crop yields. Idiots.

    This is just a non-problem.

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