An engineers take on pragmatic ways of giving us and our environment a better, fairer future
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Could The World Carry 11 Billion People?
If we are going to talk about 11 billion people as the carrying capacity of the earth it is worth bandying around a few figures: For example, if the 11b all lived in Aus, we are talking about a population density of 1430 people per km2 or a bit higher than the current density for Bangladesh ( 1113). 1430 people per km2 allows 699 m2 per person. Tried to find out how much land it takes to support a person but the answers were all over the place, ranging upwards from 8 m2 per person . However, it seems more likely that, given the shortage of land and the need to seriously conserve water, fertilizers etc. the answer is likley to be some form of mini factory farming with the farm and accommodation close together to allow intense recycling of water and nutrients. In this context this article on how NASA-inspired “speed breeding” boosted wheat production threefold.
Developed by scientists at the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland (UQ) and the John Innes Centre, the technique builds on research trialled by NASA more than a decade ago as a way of producing food during space missions. It sees the crops raised here on Earth inside a glasshouse, under continuous low-cost LEDs that emit light at specific wavelengths to boost photosynthesis.
“The far-red spectrum is important for triggering the reproductive growth and also light intensity for healthy robust plants,” study co-author and UQ Senior Research Fellow Lee Hickey tells New Atlas.
Our planet is expected to host an extra two billion people by 2050, but the amount… Using its carefully crafted lighting setup, the team was able to grow six generations of wheat, chickpea and barley plants and four of canola plants in a single year, as opposed to two or three in the glasshouse or a single generation in the field. It says it also works for peanuts, amaranth and lentils, and expects it to work for sunflower, pepper and radish.
“In the glasshouse we currently use high pressure sodium vapor lamps and these are quite expensive in terms of the electricity demand,” says Hickey. “In our paper we demonstrate that wheat and barley populations can be grown at a density of about 900 plants per square meter, thus in combination with LED light systems, this presents an exciting opportunity to scale up the operation for industry use.”
There is a vision involving other types of plants and vertical farms to further boost production per m2. Then there are recycling systems that incorporate fish tanks, edible insect farms etc. 11 billion people in Aus sounds a bit conservative unless you share my love for wild places and plenty of room for people and the environment to thrive together.