Edition 2 - January 2011
Bruce Sundquist

Prior Editions: Edition 1 (March 2008)

NOTICE: The Alltel Phone Company has been partially bought out by the Windstream phone company. 
So the URL of this website has been changed to


Overall, the sustainabilities of the world's outputs of food, wood and freshwater are disturbingly low. This is true even when we neglect major peripheral issues such as fossil fuels and climate change (as this document does). Neglecting these implies an overly optimistic bent to this document. But this permits us to analyze the various components of sustainability with greater clarity and thereby serve as a starting point for future more sophisticated (and more realistic) analyses. Research by this author on sustainability issues during the past few decades finds significant differences between different geographic regions of the planet as to how sustainability is viewed. These differences tend to carry over into all the other components of the natural life-support systems on which humans depend. This suggests that sustainabilities are mainly culture-dependent. This observation, coupled with the history of the effects of sustainability issues on human civilizations, suggests that environmental determinism theory decides how each region of the globe deals with sustainability, and how each is affected by its views and public policies toward sustainability. (Recall that environmental determinism theory says that the evolution of human cultures reflects primarily adaptations to changing forms and degrees of environmental stress.) A broad-brush approach finds it useful to divide the world into three regions -(1) the developing world, (2) the older portions of the developed world (mainly Europe and parts of the Far East) and (3) the newer portions of the developed world (mainly North America and Australia). These three regions view sustainability issues in far different ways and for far different reasons -and suffer far different consequences.

Misconceptions: Before we get into the meat of the sustainability issue, it seems worthwhile to briefly note what this author sees as the three most common and most serious misconceptions that all too many people harbor about the sustainability of the global systems that feed mankind. They pertain to the three key developments that, together, are responsible for the rapid increase in global food production over the past 4-5 decades.

A significant fraction of today's global population would not exist were it not for these three key developments. The average person (and a number of cornucopian writers over the past few decades) believe that these three developments will simply continue increasing global food supplies far into the future. This is a tragic misconception on all three counts. Below is a brief explanation of all three counts. More details can be found in the five chapters of this document. (What you are reading now is Chapter 0.)

Chemical (inorganic) fertilizers: Farmers cannot simply increase the dose rate of chemical fertilizers indefinitely (as they once thought). This is because there are serious side effects. The most serious one is the damage done to soil chemistry when dose rates significantly exceed the rate of nutrient-uptake by the plants being fed. Fertile temperate soils can be converted to infertile soils typical of those found in tropical climates as a result of long-term overdosing with chemical fertilizers. Farmers can increase the dose rate beyond this limit by also adding organic fertilizer (manure) in increasingly large doses. In fact, this is what Europeans do today. The US, unfortunately and ultimately tragically, is closing out this option by raising an ever-increasing fraction of its livestock in feedlots and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) instead of in "mixed agriculture" environments. Since this makes it difficult to distribute the manure to farms, the manure (solids and liquids) is dumped into huge lagoons that all too commonly breach and create huge pollution problems for downstream water supplies. A less serious side effect is nitrogen pollution of surface waters and ground waters. Legal limits (about 50 p.p.m.) have been placed on nitrates in drinking water in order to minimize the serious effects on human health. Europeans are pushing hard up against this limit as a result of the very high doses of inorganic and organic fertilizers that farmers apply to their croplands. Problems of the same nature are cropping up in isolated areas of the US. It should also be noted that the marginal productivity of chemical fertilizers declines with increasing dose rates (a simple application of Justus von Leibig's "Law of the Minimum") so the economics of chemical fertilizers get worse as dose rates increase.

The Green Revolution: Most people would assume that plant geneticists will simply go on increasing crop yields with improved strains of grain indefinitely. Those plant geneticists of the mid-20th century have essentially all gone home, having butted up fairly close to the theoretical limits of the Green Revolution. Contrary to common misconceptions, the Green Revolution did not improve on the basic process of photosynthesis. It simply increased the fraction of the plant mass that is seed (grain). The theoretical limit is around 0.6. The Green Revolution increased this fraction from 0.2 to around 0.5.

Genetic Modifications and Pests: Today, people talk more about "genetically modified" (GM) plants as if these will take over where the Green Revolution left off. If you examine GM developments you will note that most, if not all, of them are merely aimed at creating new plant breeds that are immune to the latest GM pests that keep evolving by a process of natural selection. It is far from clear that this race between geneticists and pests will be won by the geneticists. The genetic diversity of the world's food crops is in a state of rapid decline, and the planting of vast monocultures, and the decline of strip cropping and other sound agricultural practices are giving pests an ever-increasing advantage. The ever-increasing doses (and ever-increasing toxicity per dose) of pesticides have failed to put a dent in crop losses to pests. Now pesticides are starting to have serious effects on the humans that work in the fields and gardens where pesticides are used (e.g. Parkinson's disease - logical because most pesticides tend to work on the pest's nervous systems, and Parkinson's disease acts of the nervous systems of humans). The rate of development of GM humans by natural selection is vastly slower than the rate of development of GM pests by natural selection; so it is far from clear whether humans or pests will win in the end. The effect of pesticides on those who only eat the pesticide-laden food is still a matter of debate. So those who insist on "organic" food may or may not be benefiting themselves.

Irrigation: We have all heard of the collapse of ancient irrigation systems that have altered the course of human history over past millennia. We all know that salinization of ancient irrigated plots is what caused the collapses. Some of us have even seen the remains of ancient irrigation systems - still glistening white in the sun as a result of salt crusts. Most of us, unfortunately, assume that the lessons of the past have been well learned by modern-day irrigators, so that such problems will never happen again. So we relax, confident that the 60% of the world's food (in dollar terms) from modern irrigation is being produced sustainably. We need to study that issue a bit more carefully to determine what is actually happening (or not happening). To eliminate salinization we have three choices: (1) locate irrigation systems in monsoon climates (i.e. eliminate a huge percentage of today's irrigation systems) or (2) use drip-irrigation (currently being employed on 1-2% of today's irrigated plots) or (3) underlay irrigation systems by systems of drainage tiles. One might think that research has been done to determine what fraction of today's irrigated land has such tiles. After all, the course of human history depends on the answer. It turns out that such research has apparently never been done. The best this author could find after some decades of study of irrigation system degradation is the opinion of one irrigation expert who surmised that very little of today's irrigated lands have such tiles. This suggests that we have learned little from our ancestors, and that the future of the bulk of today's irrigated lands will be essentially the same as the irrigated plots of millennia past - vast plots of white glistening in the sun. Even the World Bank, when it funds irrigation system developments, does not require that the system include buried drainage tiles.

Regional Attitudes toward Sustainability:

(The Developing World) This world (with about 80% of the world's human population - the poorest 80%) is characterized by median incomes close to subsistence-level. Therefore those cultures are far more concerned about the "here-and-now" than the future. Therefore they place heavy discounts on future harvests of food, wood and freshwater. This translates into sustainability levels that tend to be very low. The developing world is also characterized by a nasty mix of;

(The Older Portions of the Developed World) This region - mainly Europe and part of the Far East - has by far the greatest respect for sustainability concerns of any of the three regions that the Earth has been divided into. They tend to occupy temperate climates and have low population growth rates. This translates into good soils and low demands of financial capital since the needs for infrastructure growth driven by population growth is far less than in the developing world. They also feel constrained by the availability of land, forests, arable land and other natural resources, so they see the importance of conservative use of such resources. They have the financial capital and hence the human capital to invest in sustainability. With human capital they can invest in advanced technologies and earn wages far above subsistence level. This allows for even greater financial capital creation rates and greater investments in the capital required for sustainability. All this easily explains their attitudes and public policies regarding sustainability. As a result:

(The Newer Portion of the Developed World) This region is entirely different from the older region. They too enjoy fertile temperate soils. Also they are able to avoid the high population growth rates of the developing world. However they feel few of the constraints on availability of cropland, forests, grazing lands, and irrigatable land that those in the older portions of the developed world feel. They therefore feel little need to manage such resources conservatively. Hence they seem content to wear off some of this "surplus" natural wealth before investing various forms of capital in sustainability. For example, the Reagan Administration proposed abolishing the Soil Conservation Service and ignoring soil erosion problems. Reagan justified his view by noting that soil erosion does little damage to cropland productivity until topsoil depths are reduced to the thickness of the root zone of plants. So we could just wait until that happens before we invest in soil conservation measures. The US has no problem with subsidizing the largest-sized SUVs, subsidizing 18-wheelers (that do nearly all of the wear-and-tear on roads and bridges), neglecting public transit systems and subsidizing the production of surplus crops on irrigation systems that are draining their aquifers and surface waters dry. The US also subsidizes hard-rock mining, timber production on national forests, grazing on western public grasslands, wasteful uses of irrigation water, and the fishing industry (which enables that industry to economically harvest fish from extremely over-harvested fisheries - something that would not be economical without the subsidy).

(The Newer Portion of the Developed World - Cont.) The US also replaces highly sustainable "mixed agriculture" (typically family farms that produce both crops and livestock) with monoculture-oriented corporate farms, feedlot operations and CAFOs, all of which make it economically difficult to counteract the harmful side effects of heavy applications of chemical fertilizers by using organic fertilizers along with the chemical fertilizers. On the vast grain fields of the plains of the US and Canada (sources of a large portion of the world's grain exports) soil organic matter decreases, and soil salinity problems increase (as in Australia with its low-quality soils -another major grain exporter). In the western US and Canada, softwood forests are being depleted, and in the hardwood forests of the eastern US, chip mills gobble up vast timber tracts at admittedly non-sustainable rates. The politics of the newer portions of the developed world is even more telling on the attitudes and policies regarding sustainability:

(The Developed World in the Changing Global Landscape) The question then arises as to when the newer portions of the developed world are likely to feel compelled to resort to the same sorts of investments in sustainability and public policies related to sustainability as those that characterize the older portion of the developed world. That would appear to depend on when its "surpluses" of natural resources come to an end. The problem with that answer is that, in this age of globalization, the concept of "surplus" takes on a whole new meaning. For example, the marketplace for food and wood is becoming a global market. Developed world consumers can easily outbid developing world consumers for just about everything. Heavily subsidized fishing fleets from the US and Europe can easily buy up the fishing rights of cash-strapped developing world governments at bargain-basement prices. They can further bargain to harvest fish from these fisheries at rates far in excess of sustainable yields. An even if they can't, developing world governments cannot afford to patrol their marine fisheries, so developed world fishing companies can feel free to plunder at will. About 85% of the fish on the global market are bound for the developed world, even though that world has only about 20% of the world's population.

(Timber-Related Issues in Developing Nations) Illegal timber harvests comprise a large fraction of the timber harvests in developing nations. Much of this timber is destined for the developed world, the world that is able to bid higher that anyone else. A huge fraction of the arable land in Latin America (typically tropical rainforests) has been converted to grazing lands producing beef for the world marketplace. The results are less land for local croplands producing for local consumption, less meat consumption by Latin Americans, and abandonment of grazing lands after about seven years due to near-total depletion of soil nutrients from the typically low fertility tropical soils.

(The Developing World) Questions also arises as to when the developing world is likely to feel disposed to public policies more conducive to investments in sustainability of the outputs of its croplands, grazing lands, forests, irrigated lands and fisheries. The answer to that appears to hinge mainly on when that world can eliminate its extreme degree of financial capital scarcity. If one examines this issue carefully (as is done elsewhere on this website), it seems clear that reductions in population growth rates are likely to be the only feasible way of reducing financial capital scarcity. There have been major advances in population growth reduction technologies worldwide. Also virtually the entire developing world now sees the link between financial capital scarcity and population growth. Even the Muslim world (with some of the world's highest population growth rates) is now getting out from under the influence of religious fundamentalist Mullahs and Imans and is now adopting all manner of contraceptive practices. Fertility rates are plummeting in all but a few Muslim nations (07S8).

(Contraceptive Technology - Hope for Sustainability) The technology of contraceptives is in a state of rapid development. The key factor in reducing population growth rates (the cost of averting a birth) has dropped sharply over the past decade or two. The lowest cost is now in the range of a few dollars per birth averted. In addition, there is another technological advancement that has been around for decades but has yet to overcome the resistance of the world's fundamentalist clergy before it can realize its full potential. That technology is quinacrine sterilization, a non-surgical means of female sterilization that will enable even the poorest, most remote woman in the developing world to limit the number of children she has to the number she wants, or to the number she feels she can afford. The current dominant method for achieving this in the developing world is abortion - an extremely dangerous procedure as it is done in much of the developing world. In some nations, the probability of a maternal death during an illegal abortion is about one in three or even one in two. Widespread use of quinacrine sterilization would cause abortion rates worldwide to plummet, especially in nations where abortion is illegal. A relatively new and rapidly growing technology useful in averting births is "social content serial dramas" ("soap operas") or telenovelas. These weave messages promoting small family sizes, female education and other population-related causes into popular radio and TV programming. It has been found that such technologies can avert a birth for under $10 (and avert a case of HIV/AIDS for even less).

NOTE: This abstract does not attempt to summarize all the facts, figures, arguments and analyses related to the sustainability of the world's outputs of food, wood and freshwater. Rather, it attempts to lay out a better understanding of the contexts that determine how different levels of sustainability come about. This makes it easier to understand the data presented in the body of this document.

~ ~ Table of Contents ~
Introductory Chapter ~
Section [A] ~
Introduction ~ [A1]~The meaning of Sustainability, [A2]~The Usefulness Issue, [A3]~Positive Feedback, [A4]~Free Market Assumptions
Section [B] ~
Sustainability-Related Public Attitudes and Politics
Section [C] ~
The Changing Global Context of Sustainability
Section [D] ~
The Price of Food: The Global Marketplace vs. the Local Marketplace,
Section [E] ~
A Historical Perspective on Food/ Wood Sustainability
Section [F] ~
Environmental Deterministic Effects on Food/ Wood Sustainability
~ - - - - - - - ~
Reference List
Appendix - ~
Some Large Data Files that you might find useful ~

The following chapters are found in separate files on this website.
Section [A] ~ Elements of Non-Sustainability ~
[A1]~Overview, [A2]~Sustainability Problems in Africa's Croplands - Some Case Studies, [A3]~How much more can chemical fertilizers contribute to the productivity of the world's croplands? [A4]~How much more can genetically modified plants contribute to the productivity of the world's croplands? [A5]~Could more and better pesticides sustainably enhance global cropland productivity? [A6]~Is there some as-yet-unknown development that could contribute significantly to the productivity of the world's croplands? [A7]~Could typically low-fertility tropical soils be significantly increased on a large scale?
Section [B] ~ Basic Data ~ [B1]~Non-Categorized, [B2]~Hunger- and Food Supply Issues, [B3]~, [B4]~Cumulative Cropland Losses and Cropland Loss Rates, [B5]~Soil Organic Matter Issues,
Section [C] ~ Human Pressures on the Land: Non-Sustainable Cropland Productivity ~ [C1]~Global, [C2]~Central Asia, [C3]~Asian Sub-Continent, [C4]~Southeast Asia, [C5]~Sub-Saharan Africa, [C6]~Latin America, [C7]~Australia and Oceania, [C8]~Far East, [C9]~North America, [C10]~Middle East and North Africa
Section [D] ~ The Controversy over Cropland Reserves ~
Section [E] ~ The Future of Cereal Production ~
Section [G] ~ Cropland Output Sustainability in Summary ~

Section [A] ~ Elements of Non-Sustainability ~
Section [B] ~ Some Basic Data ~
Section [C] ~ Violations of Sustained Yields of Wood ~
[C1]~Global, [C2]~North America, [C3]~Southeast Asia, [C4]~Africa, [C5]~Asian Sub-Continent, ~
Section [D] ~ Sustainability Issues Related to Forest Plantation ~
Section [E] ~ Wood Productivity Problems Related to Globalization ~
Section [F] ~ Conversions of Forest Lands to Other Uses ~
[F1]~Global, [F2]~Africa, [F3]~Latin America, [F4]~Southeast Asia, [F5]~North America, [F6]~Central Asia,
Section [G] ~ Illegal Timber Harvests and Conversions of Forest Lands ~ ~ [G1]~Global, [G2]~Southeast Asia, [G3]~Central Asia, [G4]~Eastern Asia, [G5]~Latin America, [G6]~Oceania, [G7]~Africa, [G8]~Asian Sub-Continent, [G9]~North America,
Section [H] ~ Forest Fire Data and Forest Soil Loss Data ~
Section [I] ~ Climatic and Economic Effects of Converting Forest Lands to Other Uses ~
Section [J] ~ Shifting Cultivation in Tropical Rainforests ~
Section [K] ~ Summary of Key Sustainability Issues Affecting the World's Forests ~

Section [A] ~ Elements of Non-Sustainability ~
Section [B] ~ Some Basics ~
Section [C] ~ Degradation in Riparian Zones ~
Section [D] ~ Rangeland Degradation ~
[D1]~Global, [D2]~Latin America, [D3]~China, [D4]~Middle East and North Africa, [D5]~US, [D6]~Central Asia, [D7]~Asian Sub-Continent, [D8]~Sub-Saharan Africa, [D9]~Oceania,
Section [E] ~ Degradation Related to Microbiotic Soil Crusts ~
Section [F] ~ Degradation in Rangelands Created from Tropical Rainforests ~
Section [G] ~ Consumption of Non-Grass Resources By Livestock ~
Section [H] ~ Shifting Land-Use Patterns ~
Section [I] ~ Desert Expansion ~
[I1]~Global, [I2]~North America, [I3]~Eastern Asia, [I4]~Central Asia, [I5]~Southern Asia, [I6]~Africa, [I7]~Europe, [I8]~Latin America,

Section [A] ~ Elements of Non-Sustainability
Section [B] ~ Basic Facts about the Water-Soil-Salt System ~
Section [C] ~ Basic Facts About Irrigation Systems ~
Section [D] ~ Irrigation System Growth ~
Section [E] ~ Freshwater Supplies and Urbanization Limiting Irrigation
~ [E1]~Global, [E2]~Middle East and North Africa, [E3]~U.S., [E4]~South and Southeast Asia, [E5]~Europe and Northern Asia,
Section [F] ~ Salinity and Water-logging Effects Limiting Irrigation ~ [F1]~Global, [F2]~Asian Sub-Continent, [F3]~North America, [F4]~Middle East -North Africa, [F5]~Central Asia, [F6]~Far East, [F7]~Australia and Oceania, [F8]~Latin America,
Section [G] ~ Irrigation System Abandonment ~
Section [H] ~ Surface Water Problems ~ [H1]~Asian Sub-Continent, [H2]~Eastern Asia, [H3]~Middle East - North Africa, [H4]~North America, [H5]~Central Asia, [H6]~Africa,
Section [I] ~ Aquifer Degradation ~ [I1]~Global, [I2]~Asian Sub-Continent, [I3]~Eastern Asia, [I4]~Middle-East-North Africa, [I5]~Sub-Saharan Africa, [I6]~Southeast Asia, [I7]~North America, [I8]~South America, [I9]~Europe,
Section [J] ~ Global-Scale Freshwater Scarcity ~
Section [K] ~ Global Freshwater Inventory- and Transfer Basics ~

Section [A] ~ Elements of Non-Sustainability ~
Section [B] ~ Theoretical Limits to the Productivity of the world's aquatic Systems and the Effects of Diffusiveness ~
Section [C] ~ Data and Analysis on Fishing at Increasingly Low Trophic Levels ~
Section [D] ~ Over-Fishing Generally ~
[D1]~All Trophic Levels, [D2]~High Trophic-Level Fisheries, [D3]~Low Trophic-Level Fisheries,
Section [E] ~ Excess Fishing Capacity ~
Section [F] ~ Political Issues Threatening Fishery Sustainability ~
Section [G] ~ Fishery Management Problems Faced by Developing Nations that Threaten Fishery Sustainability ~
Section [H] ~ Degradation and Sustainability of Essential Fish Habitats
~ [H1]~General, [H2]~Mangroves, [H3]~Reefs, [H4]~Coastal Estuaries and Wetlands, [H5]~Continental Shelves, [H6]~Sea grasses
Section [I] ~ Sustainability of Aquaculture ~ [I1]~Background, [I2]~Fish ponds, [I3]~Marine Cages, [I4]~Fishmeal and Fish Oil,

Go to Home Page of this website //


Section [A] ~ INTRODUCTION ~ [A1]~The meaning of "Sustainability," [A2]~The Usefulness Issue, [A3]~Positive Feedback, [A4]~Free Market Assumptions ~

The sustainability literature is huge. For a historical review and analysis see Ref. (05C1) and Ref. (06K1). The analysis here makes use of this author's on-going reviews of the global literature on the degradation of the world's soils, croplands, forestlands, grazing lands, irrigated lands (including freshwater supply issues) and fisheries (07S2), (07S3), (07S4), (07S5), (07S6). These on-going reviews were initiated in the mid-1980s. They also compile data on peripheral issues needed to evaluate and understand degradation data. Chapters 1 through 5 of this document each begin by describing the key underlying issues involved in the sustainability pertinent to the resource that chapter deals with. Then it goes more into the specifics of each of these "Elements" in subsequent sections of that Chapter and presents relevant data. These data were pulled from the five above-mentioned literature reviews. Those who would like additional data should refer to these five reviews, since only a small fraction of the data in these reviews is repeated in this sustainability document.

The focus in this sustainability analysis is on key physical parameters, e.g. cropland areas, aquifer volumes, forest areas, grazing land area, irrigated areas, key fishery habitats, and the limits of our capacity to increase the productivity of these resources within the constraints imposed by sustainability. The issue of sustainability ought to include all environmental services that humans draw upon for survival, not just food, wood and freshwater. Environmental services also encompass fossil fuels, climate, pollination, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, mineral reserves, air quality, water quality, etc. Sustainability constraints should also influence the management of natural resources that provide recreational benefits and aesthetic enjoyment. A major study of time-trends in the use of these environmental services, judged against sustainable levels, is found in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA). In its first report (2005), the MEA finds that most of the environmental services it examined are being degraded or drawn upon in a manner that precludes the possibility of continuing current management practices and productivities indefinitely. This document, however, finds it necessary to focus on a few basic sustainability issues and to make optimistic assumptions, when necessary, about the future of other natural resources.

Part [A1]~The Meaning of "Sustainability" ~

The word "sustainability" means many things to many people, so any document on the subject must first define the operational meaning of the term. One intuitively considers the outputs of a given natural resource under current resource management practices as being "sustainable" if there is good reason for believing that the rate at which the various outputs are produced can be continued indefinitely. Buried within such a definition are some assumptions that need to be stated explicitly as part of the definition. The assumptions used here are the following:

  1. Supplies and prices of fossil fuels (needed for chemical fertilizers etc.) remain roughly constant indefinitely;
  2. Long-term effects of climate change on growing conditions and precipitation are negligible;
  3. Human population growth rates slow to zero by around the year 2050.
  4. Technological advances do not substantively change the basic physical/ chemical process of photosynthesis, the process at the very bottom of the food chain (as has been the case in all of recorded history).

Assumptions (1) and (2) are admittedly optimistic. However they remove all sorts of uncertainties in this document's analysis, making the analysis more tractable. Should one or both of the assumptions prove to be false, the analysis would have to be redone using data reflecting the change(s) in conditions.

Assumption (3) reflects the commonly seen projections of demographers. Admittedly this decreasing population growth rate could relieve the developing world of its extreme scarcity of financial capital and move that world closer to developed world status (06S1). That would make it possible, in theory, for the developing world to afford to engage in all sorts of measures that could greatly increase the sustainability of the developing world's outputs of food, wood, and freshwater. This author ignores this possibility, increasing the level of pessimism of this sustainability analysis. One should note, however, that where there is a way there is not necessarily a "will." The attitude of the newer civilizations of the developed world toward sustainability issues would suggest that the "will" in the developing world will not materialize for centuries, regardless of whether the "way" materializes or not. Thus Assumption (3) seems fairly safe. One should take care to examine with suspicion any analysis of the future of food, wood and freshwater productivity with a time horizon shorter than 2050. If the limits imposed by sustainability constraints allow us to go only to, say 2030, and some analysis concludes that everything will be fine out to 2030, we need to shed any and all complacency generated by that near-sighted report and think long and hard about changes in strategies.

Some may use Assumption (4) to suggest that this author has never heard of the "Green Revolution." That would be false. Also false would be any insinuation that the "Green Revolution" has changed the basic physical/ chemical process of photosynthesis. It has not. (See elsewhere in this document.)

Part [A2]~The Usefulness Issue ~

The issue of usefulness invariably crops up in any sort of sustainability analysis. For example, a given natural resource being managed by a procedure characterized by a given set of parameters might be analyzed and determined to be managed sustainably. Such an analysis might have some usefulness to someone interested in, say, purchasing a farm, woodlot or whatever the operation happens to be. But the analysis is not nearly as useful as a sustainability analysis involving tweaking all the operating parameters to determine the maximum net productivity of the resource that still falls within the constraint called "sustainability." Also the first-mentioned sustainability analysis is almost useless as part of any study aimed at determining, say, the ability of the planet to support a 50% increase in the global population at a given standard of living. This is because one might tweak the operating parameters and discover that the net productivity of the resource could be larger and still fall within the sustainability constraint by, say, increasing the rate of application of pesticide or chemical fertilizer or organic fertilizer or water -- or developing a genetically superior seed. Clearly the usefulness of a sustainability analysis is very limited unless it includes an assessment of the limits of the various operating parameters that a resource manager might consider changing. It is for this reason that this document attempts to evaluate both process limits as well as resource limits.

An Example of the Usefulness Issue: One might point out that sub-Saharan African farmers are "mining" cropland soil nutrients by taking more nutrients out of their cropland soils in the form of food, wood and erosion products than they are replacing in the form of fertilizer. One might therefore conclude that sub-Saharan African agriculture is non-sustainable. Strictly speaking that is true, but it a worthless and deceptive conclusion.

If one examines the issue a bit closer they discover that all that needs to be done is to add more fertilizer to convert "non-sustainable" to "sustainable." So one might conclude that the current levels of production of sub-Saharan Africa's agriculture are actually sustainable - the exact opposite conclusion from the initial shallow sustainability analysis. Strictly speaking the conclusion of this more careful analysis is true, but it is also a worthless and deceptive conclusion. Its fallacy is that it assumes that increasing the rate of application of fertilizer is economically possible.

If one does an even more in-depth analysis of the sustainability of sub-Saharan African agriculture they will discover that the cost of imported chemical fertilizer is 60 times greater than in, for example, the EU (in labor units). Also manure and crop residues must be often be used for cooking food since imported fossil fuel is not affordable. Thus the option of increasing fertilizer inputs is not economically feasible, so one is again forced to conclude that sub-Saharan African agriculture is not sustainable. Strictly speaking that is true. But it is, again, a worthless and deceptive conclusion. Its fallacy is that it assumes that there is no feasible way of bringing the cost of imported fertilizer down to where it is economically feasible to use.

If one does an even more in-depth analysis of the sustainability of sub-Saharan African agriculture they will discover that the reason why imported chemical fertilizer is so expensive is that Africa's transportation infrastructure is so poor that shipping costs of imported fertilizer are extremely high (02F1). If one looks even closer, they discover that all of Africa's infrastructure is extremely inadequate and suffers mainly from an extreme scarcity of financial capital. If one looks even closer, they discover that the financial capital scarcity is due to the extreme demands for financial capital needed to fund the infrastructure that Africa's high population growth rates demands (about $16,000 per each net new arrival - something that those on a subsistence-level median income of $2/ capita/ day cannot afford). If one looks even closer, one discovers that modern-day technologies permit a birth to be averted for only a few dollars - a cost that is readily affordable, especially when there are lots of NGOs eager and willing to help. So once again one is led to the conclusion that sub-Saharan Africa's agriculture is sustainable. But this again is a conclusion that requires closer inspection. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is strongly influenced by religious fundamentalists who take a dim view of contraception, family planning, sterilization, etc. This produces a conclusion that sub-Saharan Africa's agriculture is sustainable in some regions but not in others.

But now a new resource has been discovered - an understanding of the overall agricultural sustainability issue that is sufficiently in-depth as to be able to understand what strategies are likely to be able to convert agricultural non-sustainability to sustainability. This is the real goal that any competent sustainability analysis should strive to achieve. This is the approach that this document attempts to take.

Part [A3] ~ Positive Feedbacks ~

It is important to also recognize that there are other sustainability-related issues that are far more intractable than the issues of population and fossil fuels. Perhaps the most intractable issues of all are those of the countless positive feedbacks that make sustainability analyses for the world's food-, wood- and freshwater-supply systems nearly hopeless. Sustainability analyses tend to assume the absence of positive feedback effects. Thus they should be regarded as optimistic. Positive feedbacks issues are examined in detail in the five major degradation reviews noted near the top of this Introduction.

Part [A4] ~ Free Market Assumptions ~

Equally important, cornucopians often ridicule estimates of sustainable yields that ignore the stabilizing effects of free-market price mechanisms. They would point out that as any given resource becomes scarcer, price increases cause consumers to consume more frugally, and to find substitutes. The problem is that free markets for food, wood and freshwater scarcely, if ever, exist. The real world is dominated by massive subsidies for the production and consumption of these resources that make free-market pricing mechanisms irrelevant. But even worse than that, positive feedbacks cause free-market pricing mechanisms to work in the opposite direction from what economists would expect. The issue is also examined in References (07S2) through (07S6). Below are a few examples.

(Positive Feedbacks) As human pressures upon the land increase, people don't use land more sparingly. Instead they become even more wasteful in their use of land and resort increasingly to near-term expedients at the expense of long-term sustainability. That is part of why soil erosion rates in the "Yellow Crescent" extending from Korea to the Middle East (where human pressures upon the land are the greatest) are the highest in the world. As human pressures on irrigation systems increase, people try to extract ever more output from each drop of freshwater. The result (from a variety of mechanisms) is increasing rates of salinization that cause irrigation systems to be abandoned far sooner than if their managers had taken a more long-term approach. As human pressures on forests increase, people harvest timber at ever-decreasing ages. The result is that timber productivities decrease, not increase.

(Discounting the Future) In these examples, people trade reduced long-term productivity for increased near-term productivity. In other words they place increasingly heavy discounts on future harvests of the resource being discounted. Discounting future harvests is what the US timber industry and the US Forest Service do when they make their "Present-Net-Value" analyses. Their alleged logic is that one could, in theory, put the increased profits from increased near-term productivity in a bank so that, when the resources (croplands, irrigation systems, forests etc.) become wastelands, one simply lives off the interest from that theoretical bank account. For those who are struggling to just physically exist, that makes sense. For everyone else, it is a disaster. The error in the future-forest-harvest discount scheme is that those increased near-term profits are not invested in interest-bearing investments as assumed. Statistically only about a third are. The remaining two thirds are spent on current consumption. The result: countless millions of acres of forest are far less productive than they could be were they managed competently. (See Section [F] below for more on discounting the future and its role in sustainability.)

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents // Go to List of References //


The requirement that sources of food, wood, and freshwater be managed for sustainability, whatever its definition, imposes constraints that must be broadly agreed to in order to find their way into public policies and laws. So by examining public attitudes, policies, and laws we can then work backward to make a judgment as to whether any requirements of sustainability are likely to be met now or in the future. We know from all the positive feedbacks found in natural life-support systems that increasing human pressures on these systems reduces the likelihood of sustainability, contrary to free-market theory that says that the issue of sustainability ought to be taken more seriously as such pressures increase. Below is some data on public attitudes, policies and laws that offer insights into whether any natural life-support system is likely to be managed sustainably.

(The New Developed World vs. the Old) The above compilation is strongly weighted toward public opinions and policies in the US. The very negative US views on sustainability should not be taken as typical of even the developed world, although Canada and Australia have views similar to those in the US (as discussed later in this document). The most positive views toward sustainability are found in Europe and other older civilizations of the developed world. There, forests are well managed for sustainability by professional foresters whose management decisions are rarely challenged, soil erosion is well under control; soil chemistry in croplands is well managed (largely by balancing the negative effects of chemical fertilizers by heavy applications of organic fertilizer); strong zoning regulations prevent urban encroachment on agricultural land; local ordinances discourage overgrazing, recycling systems are well-developed, high taxes on automotive fuel encourage fuel-efficient cars and the use of an excellent system of public transportation. Europe's attention to conservative land-use is likely to provide a huge advantage as the price of energy escalates. A 1999 report (00B1) concluded that:

(Subsidizing Non-Sustainability) Meanwhile the US subsidizes hard-rock mining, timber production on national forests, grazing on western public grasslands, wasteful uses of irrigation water and draining of aquifers in the western US, and the purchase of the largest SUVs. It also bestows huge tax breaks on oil companies even in times of record-breaking profits, replaces highly sustainable "mixed agriculture" (typically family farms that produce both crops and livestock) with monoculture-oriented corporate farms, feedlot operations and CAFOs, all of which make it economically difficult to counteract the harmful side effects of heavy applications of chemical fertilizers with organic fertilizers. On the vast grain fields of the plains of the US and Canada (sources of a large portion of the world's grain exports) soil organic matter decreases and soil salinity problems increase (as in Australia - another major grain exporter). In the hardwood forests of the eastern US, chip mills gobble up vast timber tracts at non-sustainable rates. As one should quickly conclude, there is an ocean of difference between public attitudes and policies regarding sustainability issues in the US compared to those in Europe and other older civilizations of the developed world. So one needs to be careful when discussing sustainability issues to specify which context is being discussed. This document attempts to make the context of any analysis clear.

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents // Go to List of References //


(The Bi-polar World in a State of Convergence) Developing world people live much closer to the earth (54% are involved in agriculture (including grazing), forestry and fishing, compared with 7% for people of the developed world (05W1).) This is another way of saying that developing world incomes are close to subsistence level. People there are primarily concerned about their next meal, not their meals a few decades into the future. As a result, they discount future food productivities heavily, and this leads inherently to natural resource management practices that are a long way from sustainable. So it is little wonder that natural resource management practices on developing world farms, ranches, forests and fisheries are, in most regards, far less sustainable than in the developed world.

But there is an ugly flip side to this issue that is growing increasingly apparent. Consumers in the developed world can easily outbid consumers in the developing world for things like food, wood and natural resources. And with ever-increasing mobilities of almost every component of economic activity, they tend to do exactly that, and to ever-increasing degrees. Some examples follow.

(The Rich Robbing the Poor) The upshot of all this is that there is now little reason why those in the developed world should be concerned about sustainability issues. If they need more food or wood they just buy up the best lands in the developing world and use it to grow food and wood for the global marketplace. What little labor is required for their capital intensive agriculture comes cheap since agricultural labor in developing nations works for subsistence level wages. Once the food and wood enters the global marketplace the developed world's 1.25 billion people can easily outbid the developing world's 4.85 billion people. Recall that those in the developing world are too concerned about their next meal to be concerned about sustainability issues. So who is left to be concerned about sustainability issues?

Consider the following:

All this leads one to suspect that an ever-increasing fraction of the ever-increasing fraction of the food and wood involved in world trade will be going to developed nations. This is in spite of the fact that the developing world is where nearly all of the world's population growth is occurring. The implications of this for the future ought to be examined carefully.

(Environmental Convergence as it affects Sustainability) Exploding mobilities of virtually all components of economic activity influence the sustainability of the earth's food- and wood production systems in ways other than those described above. Invasive ("exotic") species of aquatic species are finding their way into fisheries the world over. There they out-compete native species in a variety of ways while offering fishermen little by way of economic value. Worldwide, 38% of freshwater fish populations have been eliminated by exotics, compared to 17% by over-fishing (98U1). Exotic species of grasses are finding their way into the world's grasslands where they displace native species and are often unpalatable or toxic to grazing livestock. In the intermountain West (US), exotic forbs have invaded over 400,000 km2 of rangeland (99G1). Arid portions of the Pacific Northwest have been invaded by over 860 exotic plant species; over 40% of the estimated 2000 exotic plants currently recorded in the entire US. (See Ref. (99G1)) Of these, 115 have been declared "noxious weeds" by one or more states (99G1). The spread of exotic weeds throughout the grasslands, shrublands, woodlands and shrub-steppe of the Intermountain West in the US has been described as one of the greatest environmental threats facing native species and ecosystems of the region (89M1), (90B2), ((98W1) in Ref. (99G1)). Exotic species of funguses, blights, molds and insects are finding their way into the world's forests where they wipe out native tree species. The total cost of the worldwide damage from invasive species ("exotics") is estimated at $400 billion a year (03U1). This cost can only go up as economic mobilities continue to increase.

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents // Go to List of References //


(The Underlying Origins of Trends in Food Prices and Supplies) The more-than-doubling of food supplies and the 40% decrease in food prices in the global marketplace and the 24% increase in per-capita food supplies (consumption) since 1961 came about almost entirely from three developments:

  1. Increases in inorganic (chemical) fertilizer consumption;
  2. Genetic improvements to plants (mainly grains) - the "Green Revolution" (vitally dependent for its success on increases of chemical fertilizer consumption),
  3. Increases in large-scale irrigation (made more economically feasible as a result of the "green revolution" and the major increases in chemical fertilizer consumption).

These three developments have served to largely conceal the degradation of all the major components of the developing world's system for producing food, wood and freshwater - croplands, forests, grasslands, irrigated lands, fisheries, and surface/ ground waters. This concealment process cannot continue indefinitely because these three developments have limitations as described elsewhere in this document. (See Section [A] above and Chapter 4)

(A Closer Look at Food Price Trends in Developing Nations) As a result of these three developments, food supplies since 1961 have increased faster than population growth. Consequently real food prices in the global marketplace have been falling, at least until recently. As noted elsewhere in this document, this does not mean that everyone has been experiencing falling food prices. It also does not mean that the trend in food prices can be expected to continue indefinitely. In the developing world:

As a result of all this, falling food prices in the global marketplace have little to do with reality for the bulk of developing world residents, i.e. for those in the lower economic classes. Reality for them is the migration from labor-intensive farms and fisheries to marginal, non-sustainable, food production systems, to wretched slums ringing most large urban centers of the developing world, and from there to the rapidly growing "informal" economy where survival is a serious challenge. For informal economy wages to increase beyond subsistence level to the point where financial and human capital creation become possible, virtually the entire pool of unskilled labor in the slums ringing urban centers must be emptied. But this would be impossible without disastrously high (and non-sustainable) trade deficits and job losses in developed nations (06S2).

(The Different Faces of Sustainability in our Bi-polar World) The above provides some background for the widely accepted fact that sustainability problems in the developing world are significantly worse than in developed nations. But it also gives reason for believing the food/ wood/ freshwater supply systems of the developed world are not immune from sustainability problems. Converting croplands, grazing lands, fisheries and forests of developing nations from facilities producing mainly for local- and self-consumption to facilities producing mainly for global markets cannot continue indefinitely. But that is not the only source of sustainability problems for the developed world's food-, wood- and freshwater-supply systems. The three developments listed at the top of this section all have sustainability problems of their own. It is important that these be examined in some detail since it appears that the common (and false) assumption is that these developments can be expanded indefinitely. This examination is done elsewhere in this document.

(Food Subsidies) In the global marketplace, i.e. in the marketplace relevant to those of the developed world and to the upper classes of the developing world, per-capita food supplies increased 24%, and real food prices fell 40% since 1961, even as the global population increased from 3 to 6 billion (00W1). Interpret food price data carefully before using the data to draw conclusions about sustainability trends. Parts of these supply increases and price decreases are artifacts of the food-, wood- and freshwater-supply systems of the developed world being heavily subsidized globally. The subsidy option is far less feasible in the developing world because much of that world is burdened with high (and rapidly increasing) external debt, high-risk environments for financial capital, shrinking development/ humanitarian aid from developed nations, capital formation that is heavily burdened with the needs of infrastructure expansion required by population growth, armed-conflict-related expenses, and interest payments on external debt. None of these factors are likely to diminish without reductions in total fertility rates, if not also population. Some examples of subsidies: The EU and its heavily protectionist "Common Agricultural Policy" (CAP) sold grain at heavily subsidized prices starting around 1980, causing a 40% drop in grain prices by 1990 (98D1). This caused a large portion of the 40% drop in food prices over the past four decades. The cornucopian literature however prefers to interpret such price drops as proof that food is virtually a glut on the market. The world's taxpayers pay the fishing industry $1.77 for each dollar's worth of wild fish caught (98M1). Subsidies, virtually worldwide, cover 80-90% of the total cost of irrigation water production and distribution (Ref. 54 of Ref. (90P1)) (01S1). These subsidies result in massive waste of water, reduced apparent food prices, falling water tables, and hence reduced sustainability. These subsidies also render hopeless any effort to determine the true significance of the 40% reduction in food prices since 1960.

(Counting Errors Inflate Production Figures of food and wood.) Artisan- and subsistence-level food/ wood production (plus informal firewood gathering and large-scale timber theft) is usually not counted in global output data. So conversions in the developing world of labor-intensive production for self- or local consumption to capital-intensive production for global markets tend to artificially inflate data on food/ wood production. People often argue that wood productivity is sufficient to cover global demand. Had they counted the massive amount of timber theft (50-85% of production) that is occurring throughout the developing world, the opposite conclusion would probably have been drawn.

(Inelasticity Issues) Demand for food is highly inelastic. Small surpluses produce large reductions in price; small shortages produce severe price increases. For example, in 1972, minor global weather problems doubled grain prices over the subsequent few years (98D1). The USDA predicted in May of 2007 that world grain supplies will soon plunge to their lowest level in the 47-year period for which grain supply data exists. The current low supply levels are not the result of a transient weather event or an isolated production problem: low supplies are the result of a persistent draw-down trend (07Q1). Should global weather problems similar to those of 1972 repeat themselves under current supply conditions, the effects on food prices would greatly exceed the mere doubling experienced in the few years following 1972.

(The role of declining peripheral factors in the decline of food prices) Much of the 40% drop in food/ wood prices since 1961 reflect technological advances in planting, harvesting, and distributing food and wood. So the price drop says little about changes in the intrinsic capacity of croplands, forests and fisheries to produce food and wood.

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents // Go to List of References //


(The Role of Cropland Soils) Cropland soils appear to have had a major role in determining how long past civilizations survived as progressive entities in one place before they collapsed (74C1). Historical records of the past 60 centuries show that civilized man, with few exceptions, was never able to continue as a progressive civilization in one locality for more than 30-80 generations (7.5-20 centuries). The 3 notable exceptions: the Nile valley (200 generations), Mesopotamia (160 generations), and the Indus Valley (175 generations) ((74C1), p. 7). These three civilizations (Mesopotamian, Egypt, Indus) are distinguished by the fact that all had large river valleys that replenished the soil and its fertility annually. They lasted over 150 generations. Civilizations that lacked this soil-renewal feature lasted only 50 or so generations. In these three long-lived civilizations, foreign conquerors, high taxes, etc. came and went. Only when the soil replenishment system failed did a progressive civilization end. Below are some more data on ancient civilizations.

Note that the bulk of the civilizations described above had temperate climates. Most soils in tropical climates have much lower organic matter contents (1% carbon vs. 3% carbon in temperate climates) and therefore tend to be far less productive than soils in temperate climates. This may explain why many tropical regions have never hosted progressive civilizations. Note also that the bulk of the developing world is in tropical climates. The only exceptions are regions that hosted many centuries of habitation in which erosion, overgrazing, deforestation, desertification and salinization have taken huge tolls, and present-day occupants will not permit any prolonged periods for recovery. The overwhelming bulk of developed nations, on the other hand, are located in temperate climates where they benefit from typically younger, more fertile soils. The overwhelming bulk of modern-day, temperate climate soils data in this document make it quite apparent, however, that no current developed "civilization" (with the possible exception of the older civilizations of the developed world) will survive as a progressive civilization for 8-20 centuries like the temperate civilizations of millennia past did. All this would suggest that the value of the massive collection of knowledge and technical expertise collected in recent times has little relevance to the issue of the lifetime of modern-day civilizations of the developed world. Cultural values, as shaped by environmental determinism theory, seem like they will be more influential in determining lifetimes of modern-day civilizations in both the developed world and the developing worlds. (See Section [F] below.)

The reasons for the collapse of the above-mentioned civilizations are varied. Deforestation and over-grazing in the Armenian highlands (eastern Turkey) are believed to be the source of the silt loads that the Tigris-Euphrates River carried into Mesopotamia. From there the silt would have clogged the huge system of irrigation canals to such a degree that the task of irrigation system maintenance overwhelmed the Mesopotamians. Piles of dredged silt can still be seen ((74C1), p. 53). A mix of deforestation and overgrazing probably also destroyed the Easter Island civilization. Most other "hydraulic" (irrigation-dependent) civilizations probably collapsed from salinization and/ or waterlogging. The people of that period might not have understood the chemistry or, if they did, they lacked the knowledge or the technology required to prevent such damage. Salinization and water-logging have an element of treachery associated with them. They act slowly over time, giving many civilizations an opportunity to develop to significant size, given their lack of family-planning technology. When irrigators first recognized the problem they changed to increasingly salt-resistant crops, prolonging the civilization's lifetime by some decades or centuries. But eventually they ran out of edible crops that could tolerate the salt concentrations that had built up. People who fly over the locations of these ancient civilizations today note huge areas glistening white as a result of the salt crusts that have survived for millennia. Restoration of these areas would require huge reallocations of water that are impossible because they are currently allocated to food production. This is why one rarely hears of restoration of abandoned irrigation systems.

(Wind Erosion's affects on Sustainability) Wind erosion wiped out the Greenland Norse civilization, the "Okies" that tried to convert semi-arid lands in Oklahoma to cropland, and attempt by the Russians to convert 300,000 km2 of semi-arid lands of Kazakhstan to wheat fields (96G1). Wind erosion has an element of treachery associated with it. Almost nothing bad happens for a while - until the topsoil depth diminishes to the depth of the root zone of the crops being grown. Then, after a huge commitment (investment) has been made, productivities decline rapidly down to the point of zero return on investment. Abandonment happens shortly after that. One might forgive the ancient Norse for their ignorance of the dynamics of wind-soil systems given their semi-humid origins. But the "Okies," the Soviets, and numerous other modern-day sub-civilizations seemingly intent on following in the footsteps of the "Okies" and the Russians have only themselves to blame. Globally, 4.6 million of the world's 12.3 million km2 of rain-fed croplands are classified as dry lands (97C1) and hence at risk of eventual abandonment due to wind erosion. The word "eventual" here does not refer to the 50 or so generations of ancient civilizations, but to a matter of a few decades or a few centuries.

(The Control of Destiny - Then and Now) The above analysis of the causes of the collapse of ancient civilizations would suggest that not having full control of one's destiny (e.g. the Mesopotamians not having control of the deforesting Armenian Highlands) and ancient ignorance of soil chemistry and soil dynamics could explain the bulk of the ancient civilization collapses noted above. However it does not explain the modern-day sub-civilization collapses of either the recent past or the impending future. The dynamics and risks associated with creating croplands on semi-arid lands, or not protecting irrigation systems from salinization and water-logging, or drawing down aquifers, or fishing coral reefs using dynamite, or any of the dozens of other insults to the very concept of sustainability documented throughout this document, are widely known. And no one, today, lacks control of his or her destiny. Something is missing here that was not necessarily missing in ancient times.

(Discount Economics - A Destroyer of Sustainability) As will be seen throughout the remainder of this document, that "missing something" probably has a variety of names in economic circles, e.g. "present net value" analyses in forest management circles. Here we call it "discounting the future" - a routine process familiar to economists, and recommended by most of them. An example illustrates how it works, and what the consequences are. A farmer practicing sustainable agriculture wearied of his low return on investment - probably a result of having to compete with other farmers who are not encumbered with the costs of practicing sustainable agriculture. So, after doing a discount analysis, he pushes his land harder, cuts out all those expenses involved in keeping his land productive over the long run, and puts the extra money he earns and saves by ignoring sustainability issues into a savings account at a bank. Eventually his farm becomes worthless. So he abandons it and lives happily ever after on the interest he makes from his savings account. Soon farmers everywhere notice his relaxed and prosperous lifestyle and follow in his footsteps. Economists forgot one part of their discount analysis - how the price of grain changes as a result of discounting the future of cropland productivity on a global basis instead of on a local basis.

If you check past issues of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation you will be impressed by the all the research by dedicated scientists and researchers purporting to show the all the economic benefits of managing soils and waters on a sustainable basis. Over time however you will keep noticing articles by economics types that clearly show that soil conservation just isn't worth it. If the contradiction puzzles you, check out the articles by economists more carefully. You will find that they are "discount economics." Foresters routinely use such analysis to prove it is best to harvest a forest after its value growth rate falls below the interest rates being offered at financial institutions. If you do the same discount analysis but assume interest rates to be zero, you discover that the forest should be harvest several decades later. If you do an analysis of the returns to be expected from a forest that is older at harvest time, you will discover that the annual value of the timber harvested forever after (after a several decade delay) will greatly exceed the annual value of the timber harvests at the younger timber-harvest age computed at normal interest rates. If that sounds impossible you probably forgot to factor in the several-decade delay before the first harvest begins. What discount analyses prove is that sustainability usually just isn't worth it. Simply degrade all systems for producing food, wood, and freshwater to zero productivity. Then we can all live off the money we saved by ignoring our scruples. Computing the cost of a loaf of bread at the point of zero productivity is impossible, so our economists omit such calculations from their analyses.

In the real world, few people do discount analyses analytically. It's just wired into our intuitive thought processes. We all see a dollar earned today being worth more than a dollar earned a year from now. All the dozens of violations of sustainability that you find throughout this document probably have their origins in the natural human tendency to discount the future. People in the older civilizations of the developed world see all the horrible end results of discounting the future in their history books and have the wherewithal to act accordingly. That is why they put a low discount on the future. Those of a "frontier" mentality who live in the newer civilizations of the developed world see a future full of boundless over-capacity, so they see little value in managing it sustainably - just wear down those surpluses first, i.e. discount the future heavily. To those living in the developing world and surviving on subsistence earnings, the here-and-now is all they can afford - if they can afford even that. The future therefore has no value relative to the present, so they too inherently apply a high discount rate to the future productivities of their natural resources. This might suggest that, over time, the frontiersmen of the newer civilizations of the developed world will wise up and follow in the footsteps of their elders. But this notion has some difficulties associated with it. Section [F] (below) gets into some of them.

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents // Go to List of References //


Section [E] (above) suggests that environmental determinism theory** can explain the essential features of the course of human history over the millennia (as opposed to such often-cited factors as the comings and goings of kings and queens, bad governments, foreign conquerors, high taxes, etc.). This sounds like good news for those concerned about the sustainability of basic life-support systems. Pure survival instincts then ought to give personal behaviors and public policies a pro-sustainability bias, and human civilizations should all last indefinitely in a progressive state. However complicating factors exist for both ancient and modern civilizations. These are examined below.

** Environmental determinism theory says that the evolution of human cultures## reflects mainly adaptations to changing forms and degrees of environmental stress. To some extent, environmental determinism theory parallels the theory of the evolution of the species. However that theory has few practical applications. Environmental determinism theory, on the other hand, has numerous important practical applications. It is sometimes instructive to restate environmental determinism theory as: "Environment is destiny. Changing environments change destinies."

## By "human cultures" is meant some sort of aggregate of family structures, social structures, economic system characteristics, government structures, laws and policies, religious structures and beliefs, military structures and policies, etc. (See books by anthropologist Marvin Harris and research documents by anthropologists generally.)

(An Alternative to Environmental Determinism Theory) Another document on this website (See Chapter 4 of Ref. (06S1)) examines the current most popular alternative theory (commonly referred to as "Bad Government" theory). Numerous comparisons with reality find "bad government" theory to be seriously flawed. This comes as no surprise to those in the relevant scientific circles, particularly anthropologists who use environmental determinism theory frequently in their research. In a few political circles however "bad government" theory is rarely questioned, even though it has produced numerous tragic consequences. In a way it is fortunate that environmental determinism theory is the superior theory, because "bad government" theory implies a highly unpredictable (and random) character to the course of civilizations, whereas environmental determinism theory gives a significant degree of predictability to that issue. Without this element of predictability it would be pointless to attempt to examine sustainability issues from a global perspective.

When considering the issue of the sustainability of the productivities of the world's food-, wood-, and freshwater-supply systems, it is instructive to apply environmental determinism theory to an attempt to understand the major differences among regions of the world in terms of how much influence the issue of sustainability has in determining management practices and policies for key natural resource. Below are environmental-determinism-based arguments supporting the generalizations that older civilizations of the developed world (mainly Europe and parts of the Far East) take sustainability issues pertaining to key natural resource outputs seriously. The newer regions of the developed world (mainly North America and Australia) place little importance to those same sustainability issues. The modern-day developing world sees sustainability issues in that same light, but for different reasons. Ancient civilizations saw sustainability issues also in the same light, but for yet another set of reasons.

(Older Civilizations of the Developed World) Europe, a civilization well versed in human history, spends significant effort and expense to keep cropland erosion under control, soil chemistry properly tuned, woodlands well managed and productive in a sustainable sense, and grazing lands protected from overgrazing. (Exceptions to European grazing policies might include Scotland and Ireland.) Large applications of organic fertilizers are used on European croplands to neutralize the harmful side effects of Europe's high rates of chemical fertilizer application. Europe's land-use laws keep urbanization and other reallocations of croplands to a minimum. (US- and Canadian land-use laws are far less strict, if they exist at all.) Developed world croplands in the Far East are often located on steep mountainsides, yet great efforts and expense are devoted to soil conservation measures, explaining why they have lasted for centuries. (In modern-day developing nations, croplands on steep hillsides last only a few decades.) The older civilizations of the developed world did not just place great importance on land-use sustainability. Their attitudes toward energy and materials follow the same pattern. High taxes are imposed on automotive fuels, providing impetus to focus on designing and manufacturing fuel-efficient cars and developing high quality mass-transit systems. Their recycling programs are significantly better than those in the newer civilizations of the developed world, and they have experimented with packaging laws.

(Newer Civilizations of the Developed World) North Americans and Australians have more of a "frontier" culture, so less effort is expended on managing their key renewable natural resources in ways that insure sustainability of outputs. What soil conservation efforts are expended in the US (e.g. "No-till" agriculture and Conservation Reserve programs) are motivated more by factors unrelated to concerns over soil erosion and soil organic matter contents. Thus the major reductions in US soil erosion rates in recent decades are little more than fortunate accidents. Iowa once had a law limiting soil erosion from croplands, but it apparently was never enforced. Extensive use of Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs) and feedlots make it impractical for the US and Canada to maintain the high soil organic matter contents that are essential to counteracting the harmful side effects of large doses of chemical fertilizers. (Chapter 1, Section [B5] describes numerous other important effects of soil organic matter on soil properties generally.) As a result of that problem, and as a result of reduced fallow periods, some of their soils, particularly those in the vast wheat fields of the North American Plains, are degrading over time in terms of falling organic matter contents and salinization problems. Australia, besides having old, low-grade soils, also has serious problems with cropland soil erosion and salinization. These problems, plus high population growth rates, are likely to turn Australia from a major exporter of grain to a net importer of food in a few decades. Even more ominous: Australia's current, devastating 8-year drought (Some say 30-year drought.) has been linked to the effects of global warming. The callous indifference of the newer civilizations of the developed world toward sustainability in land-related issues also extends to energy and materials. They subsidize the purchase of the largest SUVs, focus on designing and manufacturing "gas-guzzling" automobiles, see little importance in developing high quality mass-transit systems, and have inferior recycling programs relative to those in the older civilizations of the developed world.

(Sustained Yield Forestry) The US and Canada never had any respect for sustained yield forestry. However, in the US, the expansion of the forested areas and timber volume per acre of eastern hardwoods, so far, roughly counteracts the loss of area and saw timber volume per acre of western softwoods. Canada once had a law requiring sustained yield forestry. If the law still exists, it is being ignored. The North American timber industry swept from east to west with reckless abandon. When it got to the Pacific Ocean and as the best coastal forests were being eliminated, the US timber industry began moving to the southeastern US where pine plantations had been planted on former croplands that had been devastated by decades of cotton monocultures. As that renewable resource started to deplete, the "chip mill" industry expanded to the Northeast, harvesting immature timber and ignoring any limitations of sustained yield forestry. (The US has been a net importer of wood since 1914 (76B1).) Soon the chip mill industry will start in on the pulpwood woodlands growing on New England's former croplands that had been devastated by decades of potato monocultures.

(Over-grazed Rangelands) US range lands in the semi-arid and arid West are mostly overgrazed -- on public rangelands and, to an even greater degree, on private rangelands. New Zealand and Australia have similar attitudes toward overgrazing. Riparian habitats (source of a large fraction of the productivity of semi-arid and arid grazing lands) have been 80-95% wiped out in the western rangelands of the US. An estimated 95% of the riparian habitats in the US southwest have disappeared (Arizona Republic (9/7/07)). Inedible (even toxic) invasive species are colonizing mainly the bare spots created by overgrazing, and are spreading virtually unchecked across the western range. Overgrazing in forested grasslands in the US has replaced grassy ground covers by dense ground covers of woody brush. So fires that once consumed only the grass, and left the trees intact, now burn both the woody brush ground cover and the trees. This has made it virtually impossible to keep the raging infernos from wiping out human habitation anywhere close to the forested brush lands that once were park-like forested grasslands that hosted easily controllable grass fires. (See Chapter 5, Section C4, of "Grazing Land Degradation: A Global Perspective" in this website for more an elaboration.) Overgrazing of western US rangelands is not just characterized by soil erosion rates far in excess of cropland erosion rates, the wiping out of riparian habitats, and the spread of unpalatable or toxic exotic species. It also caused the destruction of a large fraction of microbiotic (cryptogamic) soil crusts (lichens, mosses, algae and cyanobacteria) that blanket soils in deserts, dry grasslands, and shrub land worldwide. These crusts are crucial in fixing nitrogen in rangeland soils. In most rangeland environments this fixed nitrogen is secondary in importance only to the lack of moisture in controlling biomass productivity. These soil crusts also reduce soil erosion, increase herbaceous productivity, act as mulch in trapping moisture in the soil, stabilize soil surfaces, and reduce weed invasions. (Between 50 and 250 years are required to restore microbiotic crusts once overgrazing destroys them (93B1).)

(Degrading Marine Fisheries) The wild marine fishery policies of both the older and newer major regions of the developed world treat sustainability issues with contempt. This probably reflects the fact that wild marine fisheries tend to be considered as one of the last remaining element of the global commons. Thus they are doomed to degradation and collapse despite what marine wild fishery policies the developed world operates under. The possibility of far more sinister motives behind developed world policies toward wild marine fisheries should also be noted. Developed world fishing industries are heavily subsidized by their respective governments, and developed world people can outbid developing world people in the global marketplace for fish. Thus developed world fishing companies can easily purchase fishing rights to the fisheries of cash-strapped developing nations - often for pennies per dollar's worth of fish harvest. The contracts (poorly enforced) often call for huge increases in fish harvests, even when the fisheries are already badly over-fished. When a developing nation cannot afford to protect its wild marine fisheries (within 200 nautical miles of its coastline) developed world fishing companies can simply plunder. Armed conflicts over fishing rights are quite common on the high seas. For these reasons among others, something on the order of 80-85% of the fish in international commerce are bound for developed nations (about 20% of the global population). This is particularly sad when one realizes that fish were once regarded as the "poor-man's protein." Fish have become another one of the rich man's proteins - protein paid for by government subsidies that exceed the money changing hands at local developed world fish markets. The identity of the "poor man's protein" is now open to question.

(Comparing the Old Developed World to the Current Developing World) There is little likelihood that the respect for sustainability found in the older portion of the developed world might be adopted by the developing world in the foreseeable future. The reason is found in environmental determinism theory. High rates of population growth require that massive sums of financial capital (about $1.2 trillion/ year) be devoted to infrastructure expansion that is needed to accommodate the net new arrivals. This huge drain on financial capital keeps financial capital scarce and people poor and poorly educated. This means that they have nothing to offer the global economy but natural resources and unskilled labor - thus insuring unending poverty, at least until population growth rates decline. Per-capita earnings and living standards tend to be close to, or below, subsistence level. The "here-and-now" is all that such environments allow developing world people to focus their attention on. In the rapidly growing "informal" economies of many developing nations, even the needs of the "here-and-now" require desperate struggles to acquire (06S2). Thus fallow periods cannot be as long as the interests of soil productivity restoration requires. The financial capital needed for "no-till" agriculture, drainage tiles under irrigation systems, erosion control on croplands residing on steep hillsides, "Conservation Reserve" programs, chemical fertilizers, fossil fuels for cooking and heating, the avoidance of cropland development on highly sloped or semi-arid lands, preventing illegal wood harvests, and countless other sustainability-related projects is not available. As struggles for essentials needed for survival become more desperate, they also become bloodier. This explains the strong link between population growth rates and the frequency of armed conflicts (04P1). Such conflicts make financial capital even scarcer, and people even more desperate and hope-deprived. A detailed study (05M1) of why the poorest nations of the developing world are falling ever further behind the rest of the world economically finds that the main reason is the frequency of armed conflicts (which are shown (04P1) to be directly linked to population growth rates).

(Comparing the Old and the New Developed Worlds) The question we set out to answer in this section was not to explain the difference in attitudes toward sustainability between the older portions of the developed world and the developing world. That is a simple application of environmental determinism theory. (See above.) There is value in answering this question however, since it tells us how poverty, wretchedness, and hope-deprivation might be reduced in the developing world, and how more attention might, in theory, be focused on sustainability issues. The question we set out to answer in this section was to explain the difference in attitudes toward sustainability between the older and the newer portions of the developed world. That is a more challenging application of environmental determinism theory. But this question, too, has answers of significant value and usefulness. The obvious answer is that the newer portion of the developed world simply lacks "maturity." After enduring some centuries of misery, bloodshed, deforestation etc. like that described in the history books on the older portion of the developed world, the newer portion of the developed world, too, will gradually become more "mature," wise up, and start following in the footprints of its parents. Few would regard this answer as a very reassuring one.

Unfortunately there is another, even less reassuring but more likely, answer. The newer developed world sees large excesses in its food-/ wood-/ freshwater-production systems (excesses that the older developed world no longer sees in its systems). So why not use up these "excesses" before enduring the costs of instituting sustainability-oriented policies and practices? In fact, that argument was stated openly during the early months of the Reagan administration. Reagan argued that soil erosion has been found to do little damage to cropland fertility until topsoil depths become less that the root zone of crops growing in it. So there is no point in spending money on soil conservation (e.g. abolish the Soil Conservation Service) until the "excess" topsoil is depleted. Then farmers will have a strong incentive to institute soil conservation measures on their own. Unfortunately the soil conservation literature is full of accounts of farmers ignoring soil erosion right up to the day they abandon their worthless land. But there is not one account of farmers instituting soil conservation measures as soon as topsoil depths fall to the depths of their crops' root zones. This suggests that Reagan's proposed soil policy would be extremely risky at best.

(Environmental Determinism and the Republican Party) It is also interesting to note that, in the early 1980s, the Reagan administration renounced environmental determinism theory by stating that the scale of natural processes vastly exceeds the scale of human processes. Thus concerns over such issues as over-population have no logical basis. To explain the ills of the developing world, the Reagan administration was then forced to devise an alternative to environmental determinism theory - the "Bad Government" Theory. This theory persists as part of the bedrock of US Republican Party ideology to this day, and has formed much of the basis of its policies toward population issues, environmental issues, and foreign policy. It is also of interest to note that, globally, the primary antagonist opposing environmental determinism theory was (and still is) the Vatican. Reagan's top advisors were nearly all Irish Catholic.

(The Role of Globalization in Fishery Sustainability Issues) The answer above raises an important question. What do we mean by "excess" system capacity? That answer has become increasingly apparent in recent decades. Consider wild marine fisheries as an example. When wild marine fisheries degrade, and as the fishing industry fishes ever lower on the marine food chain ("trophic level") when do we conclude that it is time to get more serious about marine fishery sustainability issues. The answer is clear: not for quite a while, since those in the developed world can easily outbid those in developing world in the highly globalized fish market. It's made even easier by having the heavily subsidized fishing fleets of the developed world purchase fishing rights from cash-starved developing world nations, often at fire-sale prices. If virtually all of the world's wild marine fish harvest is consumed by the developed world, does it then become the time to start thinking sustainability? Possibly not. The only consequence is that the real price of fish in the developed world's fish markets rises (as it has been doing for some decades now despite numerous advances in marine fish-harvest technology that have drastically cut labor requirements). Price increases merely price those in the developing world out of the fish market, thereby eliminating any shortfall in fish harvests. Thus the developing world and even the poor of the developed world serve as a huge "buffer" and as long as some residual capacity of that buffer remains, there is little need for those of the developed world (at least those who set public policy) to be concerned with marine wild fisheries and sustainability issues.

(The Role of Globalization in Fishery Sustainability Issues) The same process is seen in the issue of forest outputs. Consumers in the developed world can easily outbid those of the developing world in the highly globalized wood market place. Also, when developing nations start to worry about their vanishing forests and limit exports, developed nations find eager alternative suppliers in the form of illegal timber-harvesting operations that developing world governments are too weak (or too corrupt) to control. Illegal timber harvesters in the developing world now produce a significant fraction, if not most, of the developing world's wood exports. As long as such sources of imported wood can keep developed world wood consumers reasonably satisfied, there is no need for them to be concerned about sustainability issues.

(The Role of Globalization in Grazing Land Issues) The same process is seen in the issue of grazing lands outputs. Some 50% of Central America was cattle pasture around 1990. Two thirds of Central America's arable land was devoted to cattle production around 1990 (p. 356 of Ref. (91J1)). Trends suggest that these fractions are significantly greater today. Even as these trends continue, per-capita beef consumption has been falling significantly in Central America. This is because large portions of these cattle pastures are producing for export to developed nations. Labor requirements per unit area for managing pastures are a tiny fraction of the labor required per unit area for cropland management, the primary alternative use of arable land in Central America. Developed world consumers essentially outbid Central Americans for the outputs of a huge fraction of Central America's arable land, and with the same stone, contribute to Central America's unemployment, poverty, and wretchedness. Central Americans have essentially been relegated to the status of buffers, whose purpose is to shield developed world consumers from protein shortages. The only benefit of this to the developed world is temporary. It postpones the day when developed nations must endure the extra expense associated with sustainably managing their land and water resources.

(The Buffer Concept Runs Amok) The developed world's view of the developing world as a buffer protecting the developed world from its short-sighted views of sustainability is sinister. It also has dangerous side effects. It also builds up deep-seated resentments that are likely to grow increasingly costly. For example: (1) huge (and growing) fluxes of developing nation people into the developed world; (2) the Muslim world's increasingly antagonistic attitudes toward the developed world, and the use of these attitudes by fundamentalist Muslim mullahs and Imams to generate terroristic acts against the West; and (3) the strong and growing leftward drift of Latin American politics.

To make matters even worse for everyone, the "Structural Adjustment Programs" (SAPs) imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization on many parts of the developing world, particularly Latin America and Africa, created huge and growing "informal" economies throughout these regions. These pushed developing world people into even greater depths of wretchedness, poverty and hope-deprivation. The actions of the above three agencies were apparently motivated by "bad government" theory. The thinking was that SAPs would make these developing world governments more "efficient" and thereby would improve the economies involved. The ideological error was tragic for the developing world and expensive for the developed world because it made it less likely that the multi-trillion dollar external debt of the developing world to the developed world will ever be repaid. Had the IMF, World Bank and WTO used environmental determinism theory, they would have provided family planning aid to the developing world and relieved a major part of the extreme scarcity of financial capital that plagues the developing world and makes sustainability measures unaffordable. More information on the "informal" economies of the developing world is found in Ref. (08S1).

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents //


Notes on Reference Citation Nomenclature and the Location of Reference Lists:
Reference citations throughout this document take a 4-character form enclosed in parentheses and is to be interpreted as shown by the following example. The citation (04M7) refers to a reference published in 2004. The lead-author's last name begins with the letter "M" and the citation is the seventh one in the list of all reference citations with 04M as the first three characters. The List of References for this introductory chapter is found below. The Reference Lists for the remaining five chapters of this document are in separate files. Each of these reference lists is the same list as those used by the reviews of the global literature on the degradation of the natural resource being examined (soils, forests, grazing lands, irrigated lands and fisheries).

74C1 Vernon Gill Carter, Tom Dale, Topsoil and Civilization, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman Oklahoma (1974) 292 pp.
76B1 J. S. Bethel, G. F. Schreuder, "Forest Resources: An Overview", Science, 191 (1976) pp. 747-752.
81S1 Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ (1981).
86M1 Stephen D. Mumford, The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning, Center for Research on Population and Security (1986) 82 pp.
87B1 Steven Budiansky, "The Trees Fell - and so did the People", US News and World Report (2/9/87).
87N2 Thomas J. Nimbos, Carlos Ortiz-Solario, "Tepetate: The Rock Mat", Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 42 (1987) pp. 83-86.
87V1 Horst Vogel, "Terrace Farming in Yemen", Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 42 (1987) pp.18-21.

89M1 Mack, R. N., "Temperate Grasslands Vulnerable to Plant Invasions: Characteristics and Consequences". Pp.155-179 in J. A. Drake, H. A. Mooney, F. Di Castri, R. H. Groves, F. J. Kruger, M. Rejmanek, and M. Williamson, editors Biological Invasions: A Global Perspective. John Wiley and Sons, Chinchester, Great Britain. (1989).
90B2 W. D. Billings, "Bromus Tectorum, a Biotic Cause of Ecosystem Impoverishment in the Great Basin", in G. M. Woodwell (editor), The Earth in Transition: Patterns and Processes of Biotic Impoverishment, Cambridge University Press, N.Y. (1990) 530 pp.
90P1 Sandra Postel, "Saving Water for Agriculture", Linda Starke, editor, State of the World 1990, W.W. Norton and Co., New York (1990) pp. 39-58.

91J1 Lynn Jacobs, Waste of the West: Public Lands Grazing, P.O. Box 5784, Tucson, AZ 85703 602 pp. (1991).
93B1 Belnap, Jayne, "Recovery Rates of Cryptobiotic Crusts: Inoculant Use and Assessment Methods", Great Basin Naturalist, 53(1) (March 31, 1993) pp. 89-95.
94C1 Charles Chatfield and Ruzanna Ilukhina, editors, "Peace/ Mir: An Anthology of Historic Alternatives to War", Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University (1994).
94W1 Peter Weber, "Safeguarding Oceans", in Linda Starke, editor, State of the World 1994, W. W. Norton and Co., New York (1994) pp. 40-60.

96G1 Gary Gardner, "Shrinking Fields: Cropland Loss in a World of Eight Billion", World Watch Paper #131 (July 1996) 56 pp.
96M1 Stephen D. Mumford, "The Life and Death of NSSM 200", Center for Research on Population and Security. P. O. Box 13067, Research Triangle Park NC 27709; 919-933-7491 (1996).
97C1 Pierre Crosson, "Will Erosion Threaten Agricultural Productivity?", Environment (October 1997) 39(8) pp. 4-31.
97P1 David Poindexter, "Population Realities and Economic Growth," Population Press, 4(2), (November/ December 1997).
98D1 Tim Dyson, "World Food Trends and Prospects to 2025", National Academy of Sciences Colloquium, "Plants and population: is there time?" UC Irvine, (12/5-6/98)
98M1 Ann Platt McGinn, "Promoting Sustainable Fisheries", in Linda Starke, Editor, State of the World, 1998, W.W. Norton and Co., New York (1998) pp. 59-78.
98U1 (Unknown), "Invasive Specie Threatens Great Lakes", Watershed Currents- 2(12) (August 5, 1998), Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (
98W1 Wilcove, David S., David Rothstein, Jason Dubow, Ali Phillips and Elizabeth Losos. "Quantifying Threats to Imperiled Species in the US", BioScience, 48(8) (August, 1998) pp. 607- 615.

J. L. Gelbard and the late A. J. Belsky, "Livestock Grazing Facilitates Invasions by Non-indigenous Plants into Arid and Semi-arid Communities of the American West", Oregon Natural Desert Association, 732 SW 3rd Ave., Suite 407, Portland OR 97204 (Submitted to Conservation Biology, 12/99).
99N1 NRC (National Research Council), Our Common Journey: A Transition toward Sustainability. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, (1999).
99R1 Michael Renner, "Ending Violent Conflict", Worldwatch Paper 146 (April 1999) p. 25.
00B1 Martin P. Brockerhoff , "An Urbanizing World," Population Bulletin 55(3) (September 2000). Section 9.
00W1 Stanley Wood, Kate Sebastian, Sara J. Scherr, PILOT Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Agroecosystems, International Food Policy Research Institute and World Resources Institute, Washington DC (2000) 94 pp.
01S1 Bruce Sundquist, "The Earth's Carrying Capacity - Some Literature Reviews", (January 2001), 3.3 MB.

02F1 Heidi Fritschel, "Nurturing the Soil in Sub-Saharan Africa", IFPRI, 2020 News and Views (July 2002).
03B1 Jelle Bruinsma, editor, World Agriculture: Towards 2015/ 2030, UNFAO (2003) Earthscan Publications, London, 432 pages.
03M1 Marine Fish Conservation Network, "Coalition Charges: Fish Management Appointments Reflect Continued Bias", Marine Fish Conservation Network News Release of 6/27/03.
03S1 Henning Steinfeld, Joachim Otte, "Livestock Production", Chapter 5, pp.158-176 in Jelle Bruinsma, editor, World Agriculture: Towards 2015/ 2030, UNFAO (2003) Earthscan Publications, London, 432 pages.
03U1 (Author Unknown) "Alien Species 'Cost Africa Billions' - Water Hyacinth Forms Vast Green Mats" BBC News (2/5/03).

04D1 Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Viking (2004) 576 pp.
04G1 Alan Guebert' (, "USA no longer the "breadbasket of the world", Peoria Journal Star (12/7/04).
04P1 Population Action International, "How Demographic Transition Reduces Countries' Vulnerability to Civil Conflict" in PAI's publication The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict After the Cold War (2/11/04)
05C1 Clark, William C., Paul J. Crutzen, and Hans J. Schellnhuber, "Science for Global Sustainability: Toward a New Paradigm." CID Working Paper No. 120. Cambridge, MA: Science, Environment and Development Group, Center for International Development, Harvard University; also published as Chapter 1 in Earth System Analysis for Sustainability. Edited by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Paul J. Crutzen, William C. Clark, Martin Claussen, and Hermann Held. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (2005).
05L1 Jean-David Levitte (France's ambassador to the US), "France Ready to Compete with Third World Farmers", Wall Street Journal (10/29/05), p. A11.
05M1 Branko Milanovic, "Why did the Poorest Countries Fail To Catch Up?" Carnegie Papers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Number 62 (November 2005) 31 pages.
05M2 Geoffrey McNicholl, "Population and Sustainability," Population Council, New York (2005) Publication No.205. See (205.pdf).
05W1 World Resources Institute, World Resources 2005 (2005) p.10 (14.6 MB, 228 pp.)).
06K1 Marco Keiner (editor), "The Future of Sustainability: An Anthology," Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich (2006).
06S1 Bruce Sundquist, "The Controversy over U.S. Support for International Family Planning - An Analysis," 7th Edition (June 2006) 90 pp.
06S2 Bruce Sundquist, "Globalization: The Convergence Issue," Edition 15 (November, 2006).

07Q1 Darrin Qualman, NFU Director of Research, "Lowest Food Supplies in 50 or 100 Years: Global Food Crisis Emerging," NFU news release re: food supply crisis - grain stocks use ratio, (5/11/2007) NFU National Office, 2717 Wentz Ave. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan., S7K 4B6 Tel 306-652-9465.
07S1 Bruce Sundquist, "Strategies for Funding Family Planning, Maternal Health Care, and Battles Against HIV/AIDS in Developing Nations as Options Expand, Political Environments Shift and Needs Grow: A Critique," Edition 4, August 2007,
07S2 Bruce Sundquist, "Topsoil Loss - Causes, effects and Implications: A Global Perspective", Edition 7 (July 2007) (in this website)
07S3 Bruce Sundquist, "Irrigated Lands Degradation: A Global Perspective", Edition 5 (July 2007) (in this website).
07S4 Bruce Sundquist, "Grazing Lands Degradation: A Global Perspective", Edition 6 (July, 2007) (in this website).
07S5 Bruce Sundquist, "Forest Lands Degradation: A Global Perspective", Edition 6 (July 2007) (in this website).
07S6 Bruce Sundquist, "Fishery Degradation: A Global Perspective", Edition 8 (July 2007) (in this website).
07S7 Bruce Sundquist, "Could Family Planning Cure Terrorism?" Edition 6 (August 2007) 23 pp. (in this website).
07S8 Bruce Sundquist, "The Muslim World's Changing Views toward Family Planning and Contraception," Edition 1 (August 2007) (in this website).

08S1 Bruce Sundquist, "The Informal Economy of the Developing World: The Context, the Prognosis and A Broader Perspective" Edition 2.

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents //

Appendix: ~ Some Large Data Files that you might find useful ~

Jakob Skoet, Kostas Stamoulis, "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2006," Agricultural and Development Economics Division, UN FAO, (2006) 44 pages. (Tables are *.pdf files.)

Table 1: (tabulated by region and nation in 1990-1992 and 2001-2003) (Pages 34-36)
Total population
Number of people who are undernourished
Proportion of undernourished people in the total population
Table 2: (tabulated by region and nation in 1990-1992 and 2001-2003) (Pages 37-39)
Dietary Energy Supply (kcal/ person/ day) (DES)
Poverty (population with incomes below US$1/ person/ day)
Food aid received (expressed as a share of DES (%))
Capital Stock in Agriculture (in constant 1995 US$/ worker)
External Assistance to Agriculture (in constant 1995 US$/ worker)
Gross Domestic Product per capita (in constant 2000 US$/ capita)
Agriculture Value Added per Worker (in constant 2000 US$/ worker)

The FAO online AQUASTAT database provides information on water and agriculture (with some data on population and land degradation) by countries organized by categories such as land use, water use, land under irrigation, sources of irrigation, techniques, drainage, crops and intensification, and more. (2/11/05) A massive amount of easy-to-use, tabular, global and national data is given on this website. Below is a list of the tables and their column headings found on this website.
TABLE 1 - Land-Use Data
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3 - Area of the Country (ha)
Col.4 - Area of arable land and of permanent crops (ha)
Col.5 - Arable Area (ha)
Col.6 - Area in permanent crops (ha)

TABLE 2 - Water Resources Data
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3 - Average Precipitation (1961-1990) (mm./ year)
Col.4 - Average Precipitation (1961-1990) (km3/ year)
Col.5 - Total renewable water Resources (km3/ year)
Col.6 - Groundwater produced internally (km3/ year)
Col.7 - Surface water produced internally (km3/ year)
Col.8 - Overlap in Surface- and Groundwater (km3/ year)

TABLE 3 - Land Under Irrigation
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3 - Irrigation Potential (ha)
Col.4 - Year of Irrigation Data
Col.5 - Full/ Partial Control of Irrigation (ha)
Col.6 - Spate Irrigation (ha)
Col.7 - Equipped Wetlands (ha)
Col.8 - Total Irrigation (ha)
Col.9 - Other Cultivated Wetlands (ha)
Col.10 - Deep Water/ Flood Recession Cropping Area (ha)
Col.11 - Water-Managed Area (ha) (sum of previous 4 columns)

TABLE 4 - Source of Irrigation Water
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3 - Full/ Partial Control of irrigation area irrigated with surface waters (%)
Col.4 - Full/ Partial Control of Irrigation area irrigated with ground water (%)
Col.5 - Full/ Partial Control of Irrigation area irrigated with non-conventional sources (%)

TABLE 5 - Irrigated Crops and Intensification
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3 - Part of equipped area actually being irrigated (%)
Col.4 - Irrigated Crops (ha)
Col.5 - Portion of grain production that is irrigated (%)

TABLE 6 - Population (2000)
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3/4/5 - Total Population, Rural Population, Urban Population

TABLE 7 - Water Use (FAO Estimates for the Year 2000)
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3/4 - Agricultural Water Use (in km3/ year and %)
Col.5/6 - Domestic Water Use (km3/ year and %)
Col.7/8 - Industrial Water Use (km3/ year and %)
Col.9 - Total Water Used (in km3/ year)

TABLE 8 - Irrigation Techniques
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3/4/5 - Surface Irrigation (ha), Sprinkler Irrigation (ha), Micro-irrigation (ha)

TABLE 9 - Environment - Drainage
Col.1 - Continent
Col.2 - Country
Col.3 - Area subject to salinization as a result of irrigation (ha)
Col.4 - Total Drained Area (ha)

Go to Home Page of this website // Go to Table of Contents // Go to List of References //