We live in the penthouse of Maslow’s pyramid, an in this penthouse we have managed to make food cheaper than ever. Perhaps even too cheap, since we throw away about 40% which doesn’t exactly make it very sustainable. We also take oil from the earth for our energy demand, and to enable large scale food production we extract huge amounts of mineral phosphate (mining) which is then turned into fertilizer. That’s why I don’t like food waste and the call for biofuels. The largest global challenges are 1) too many people, 2) too much use of energy/oil/gas, 3) availability of clean drinking and irrigation water, 4) available farmland, 5) lack of phosphate/fertilizer. Version 4 of this PowerPoint has by now had almost 2000 views.
A first analogy between oil and mineral phosphate: it’s better to turn oil into plastic than to burn it for the benefit of heating or transport (= cars). And it’s better to use sunlight (sun panels), wind and tides as new sustainable energy sources. Analog to this energy case you could state that the global supply of mineral phosphate should be used for feeding the world population instead of creating biofuels. And above all we should return all human and animal manure onto the land again.
There is a possible second analogy concerning ‘our collective global consumption’. The larger the growth of the world population, the larger the average consumption per person – thus increasing the use of oil and phosphate per consumption – the larger the problems become (exponentially).
It is with good reason that a couple of years ago my dear friend Katinka and I made a movie “Save Our Children”, which denounces indirectly the growing world population. Unfortunately in the short term oil and gas will be (too) cheap, resulting in slow progress of the energy transition as well as the phosphate transition. This is why I think our challenge in the 6th Kondratieff Wave will be to be independent of fertilizer or petrol.
- Source: oil, coal and natural gas
- Peak: 2020 – 2030
- Important producers: Middle East, Russia, Norway, …
- Important consumers: Europe, America, China
- Medium / Mode of transport: petrol, diesel, kerosene, electricity and hydrogen
- Objective: transport, heating, technological processes, lighting
- Alternative sources: wind, sun, tides, …, …
- Efficiency improvement: LED, electric cars, better insulation, electrify, batteries, …, …
- Source: (mineral) phosphate
- Peak: 2040 – 2050
- Important producers: Morocco
- Important consumers: Europe, America, China
- Medium / Mode of transport: animal manure, fertilizer, struvite
- Objective: growing plants for humans and production animals
- Alternative sources: algae and seaweed, fermentation of residual flows, humane manure, …, …
- Efficiency improvement: reduce meat consumption, meat substitutes, reduce food waste, bio cascading, …, …
There will be plenty of people – often to the right of the political spectrum – who say: “Your story isn’t quite accurate!” or “I don’t see a problem yet, why should we act not?” or “Each next generation is entitled to its own problems and our children may solve their own problems”. Whether it is because of my upbringing or my study at the Technical University Delft or not: I believe we have the moral duty to act now. And I believe we have the moral duty not to push too many ‘invoices’ onto future generations. It is with good reason my political thinking is to the green-right side of the spectrum. I am pretty liberal and pro free market thinking, but if it comes down to sustainability or environment or the future of our earth, I think we should have a precautionary approach.
People who think just like me want to ‘do something’. Of course, a better environment starts with you, in short with personal lifestyle adjustments. But collectively this won’t be enough. That’s why I think this is the major task for our politics. The solutions are almost always financial tools. By increasing the price of the source (taxing fertilizer, just like oil) and reducing the price of the alternatives (for instance subsidizing digitate reuse from manure-fermentation). I also think the development of new ‘efficiency technology’ can be stimulated. This also calls for government subsidies AND investment capital out of funds.
I’m preparing a article listing all policies to create a sustainable phosphate future.
Finally, I frequently write about our innovation policy. The objective of innovation policy should be in the longer term sufficient employment in companies and organizations in The Netherlands. These future companies compete in a global market and there must be a demand for their products and services. ‘Flat’ trade – NL only as transit country – will not generate the necessary added value. So self-production and using our own technology is the first step. Dutch (government) as ‘launching customer’ is a good start. But it would be even better if we come up with revenue models based on technology (machines, software and high value knowledge-based services). That’s why my advice to political The Hague is: Aim for the phosphate transition and especially aim for new phosphate technology. This subject must and can be positioned. In case new top sectors will be re-invented – to which I oppose – it shouldn’t be an energy top-sector nor a water top-sector. In fact, a phosphate top-sector should be established.