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Cretins on phosphogeddon

Abject idiocy:

The element’s global importance lies in its use to help crop growth. About 50m tonnes of phosphate fertiliser are sold around the world every year, and these supplies play a crucial role in feeding the planet’s 8 billion inhabitants.

However, significant deposits of phosphorus are found in only a few countries: Morocco and western Sahara have the largest amount, China the second biggest deposit and Algeria the third. In contrast, reserves in the US are down to 1% of previous levels, while Britain has always had to rely on imports. “Traditional rock phosphate reserves are relatively rare and have become depleted in line with their extraction for fertiliser production,” added Johnes.

This growing strain on stocks has raised fears the world will reach “peak phosphorus” in a few years. Supplies will then decline, leaving many nations struggling to obtain enough to feed their people.

Bollocks. They think mineral reserves are the amount available.


Reserves are the working stock of extant mines. Resources are the amount available for us. And note. Not the total amount, just the amount we know about in this particular form that we mine, phosphate rock:

Some world reserves were reported only in terms of ore tonnage and grade. Phosphate rock
resources occur principally as sedimentary marine phosphorites. The largest sedimentary deposits are found in
northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and the United States. Significant igneous occurrences are found in Brazil,
Canada, Finland, Russia, and South Africa. Large phosphate resources have been identified on the continental
shelves and on seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. World resources of phosphate rock are more
than 300 billion tons. There are no imminent shortages of phosphate rock.

Again, that’s phosphate rock, not phosphorous. That, the element, is some 0.1% of the lithosphere.

23,000–24,000 × 1015 metric tons.

23,000,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes.

Or, 2,300,000,000,000,000 tonnes of phosphorous on the planet.

Which is possibly quite enough to be going on with.

Fucking cretins.

“We have reached a critical turning point,” said Prof Phil Haygarth of Lancaster University. “We might be able to turn back but we have really got to pull ourselves together and be an awful lot smarter in the way we use phosphorus. If we don’t, we face a calamity that we have termed ‘phosphogeddon’.”

Phosphorus was discovered in 1669 by the German scientist Hennig Brandt, who isolated it from urine, and it has since been shown to be essential to life. Bones and teeth are largely made of the mineral calcium phosphate – a compound derived from it – while the element also provides DNA with its sugar phosphate backbone.

“To put it simply, there is no life on Earth without phosphorus,” exlpained Prof Penny Johnes of Bristol University.

Abolish Lancaster and Bristol universities. By lunchtime.

18 thoughts on “Cretins on phosphogeddon”

  1. I was looking at the same data this morning, because of that article. Fertilizer use is less than 25% of the total phosphate mining, and existing reserves are good for more than 300 years of mining at the current rate, so even if the reserves were the only supply we’d have time to sort things out.

    I’m getting totally pissed off with all the idiots screaming “Catastrophe! We must do something by Friday week or we’re all doomed!”

  2. There’s one resource we are running short of. Facts.

    Wife had a friend round on Saturday. Friend starts talking about needing to consume less as the world is running out of resources. I asked ‘which ones?’ And only was allowed to challenge the first one (oil) before my wife politely informed me to stop by glaring at me.
    That’s why this rubbish goes unchallenged as it is repeated as fact in the circles certain types move in and not allowed to be challenged by rational people in the room. If it is challenged by outsiders they’ll be branded deniers to avoid actually engaging on the facts.

  3. Bloke in North Dorset

    This growing strain on stocks has raised fears the world will reach “peak phosphorus” in a few years.

    I can remember when they used to wank themselves in to a stupor of delight at the thought of peak oil in the ’70s. There’s no point explaining their ignorance, as they showed then they aren’t interested.

  4. I’m staggered at the ignorance that pervades what used to be places of education.

    You’re point AND phosphate=element.

    I wonder if they’d be cancelled if they dared say “CO2 is essential to life”?

    No CO2 = no plant life. No plant life = no animal life.

    But then if phosphorus = phosphate = element, who knows anymore?

  5. Grist.. At least in the case of Prof Penny Johnes this is clearly a case of Guardianista Journalist “translating” ScienceSpeak into Readership levels of understanding, no doubt helped by his own limited faculties and the need for Narrative.

    Life as we know it is impossible without phosphor. And it’s used in life as Phosphate. With the most important one not even being the backbone of DNA, or use in teeth, but as the literal medium for our energy use. Bit hard to do things without AD/TP…..
    Of course, the phosphate used in that gets 99% recycled, and the shortfall is compensated by volcanoes..

    More general:
    In relation to the usual Panic Attack the article tries to engender, I would implore Our Host to contemplate a yearly Award Ceremony, hosted preferably by the Adam Smith Institute to give it some ..weight.

    The PantyTwister Award, awarded yearly in suitable fields, but at least including Science, Journalism, and Economics. Webcast and publicised through the proper channels.
    Meant to recognise the efforts of people in providing the most Alarmist-but-easily-refuted articles published in that year.
    No doubt a Artist Hobbyist can be found to provide suitable statuettes to go with the Award.

    Could well take off like the igNobel and Razzies, and would provide some much-needed entertainment and discourse.

  6. Most university professors think there are 118 elements but its 119. They always forget about the element of surprise.

  7. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    First they came for the carbon, and I did not speak out.
    Then they came for the nitrogen, and I did not speak out.
    Then they came for the phosphorous, and …

  8. Grikath’s idea for an annual award for needless panicking is brilliant. What do you think Tim, could the ASI be persuaded?

  9. Dunno, all change there on the management front at present. Don;t know the new guy at all. We’ll see….

  10. I really like that award idea. I propose naming them the Malthics – since Malthus and Ehrlich developed the form and it’s a good reminder of the malevolent thicko nature of the peddlars of this guff.

  11. Andrew Again,

    “That’s why this rubbish goes unchallenged as it is repeated as fact in the circles certain types move in and not allowed to be challenged by rational people in the room. If it is challenged by outsiders they’ll be branded deniers to avoid actually engaging on the facts.”

    But also, there’s social stuff. Like, you could have argued the toss about all of these issues, but you value your relationship with your wife over this debate, which is fair enough. Your wife might think it’s a load of toss but she likes her friend generally more.

    And there’s just a ton of social status stuff with this, especially between women. I think men don’t care that much, except they think it helps endear them to women, which misunderstands the game women are playing between themselves.

  12. Fear. And surprise. And a fanatical devotion to the Pope. What’s that? Oh, sorry!

    If we run out of phosphate rock I suppose we could always go back to seagull shit. Eh? Oh, sorry again!

  13. The largest (known) natural gas reserve in Canada is in Northern BC, it was described as a ‘carbon bomb’ recently, it’s considered something dangerous not a potential resource to the net zero crowd

  14. I’d argue that the lack of US reserves is because the US gets its knickers in a knot about the affinity of phosphorus for uranium.

    If they dig up the phosphorus, they then have to dispose of the rest of the dirt as ‘radioactive waste’. Needless to say this doesn’t encourage phosphorus production in the US.

    A similar problem led to the great lithium shortage in the US. The Chinese were the only ones who didn’t give a damn about the thorium associated with lithium ore.

  15. Well, sorta. It’s more like thorium with phosphorous. At least it is in the vast Florida Phosphates industry…….

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