The director of the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Professor Stephen Carpenter has decried the wanted use of artificial fertilizers like phosphorus and nitrogen as going beyond the “planetary boundaries” set to make our Earth inhabitable.

“We’re running up to and beyond the biophysical boundaries that enable human civilization as we know it to exist,” says Carpenter.

The Earth was a much better place to live during the Holocene period, because civilization improved the lot of man and the period was conducive to refined development in social, political and religious aspects. “Everything important to civilisation,” Carpenter contends, took place prior to 1914. “The development of agriculture, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the Industrial Revolution” were some of the best thing that happened to our world – until about 100 years ago when the activities of man began to destroy the earth.

Prof. Carpenter and his team of researchers examined the problems and impact of carbon-driven global warming and how it affects sea level rise and biodiversity loss among others; and they came up with a discovery that “We’ve (people) changed nitrogen and phosphorus cycles vastly more than any other element. (The increase) is on the order of 200 to 300 percent. In contrast, carbon has only been increased 10 to 20 percent and look at all the uproar that has caused in the climate.”

The researchers stated that the use of artificial phosphorus and nitrogen to boost agriculture in the US is unnecessary because the land is already blessed with rich nutrients beneficial for bumpa harvests; he added that the excessive use of these elements in a land already rich with them has an impact on the Earth and pushing the inhabitability of the earth beyond “planetary boundaries.”

Since phosphorus and nitrogen do not have even distribution in the soil, it is richer in the United States than in places like Africa, hence the problem Africans face with growing food without artificial fertilizers. “We’ve got certain parts of the world that are overpolluted with nitrogen and phosphorus, and others where people don’t even have enough to grow the food they need,” he says.

He advised industrial farmers to cut down on the wanton use of phosphorus and nitrogen because it is upsetting the ecosystem. “It might be possible for human civilization to live outside Holocene conditions, but it’s never been tried before,” Carpenter says. “We know civilization can make it in Holocene conditions, so it seems wise to try to maintain them.”

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28 Responses

  1. Regula

    What this researcher didn’t mention is that fertilizer is used so crops don’t have to be rotated. If you rotate crops and let a field lie unused or as grassland for a year, it will restore its fertile properties. This system worked for thousands of years and fed people well. The reason it has been abandoned is today’s large mono cultures make that impractical. Hence the large use of artificial fertilizers despite the fact that they destroy the soil over the long haul.

  2. Jeff L

    Funny thing is, while this article is full of bull-derived natural fertilizer, it refers to the “wanton” use of N and P. I don’t agree with wanton use of them either. Wanton use is wasteful and shouldn’t be done. Nutrients that run off do no one any good, and cause or contribute to problems like algae blooms. Sensible and judicious use saves farmers money and is better for the environment. No down side.

  3. Regula

    The article appears to be a bit too “edited” i.e. abbreviated. But the basic premises, that the wanton use of phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer destroys the earth is valid. Eggplants used to be a delicacy until these fertilizers blew them up into balloons that look and taste like foam rubber and in essence rendered them inedible. Similar things happened to the pear tomato. It is giant, but has lost any taste of tomato. While that may be the fault of GMO techniques that favor long shelf life, it is also caused by over fertilizing. Unfortunately, the more food is blown out of proportion of size with fertilizers and antibiotics/growth hormones, the fatter people get. So: stop over fertilizing. Leave food normal size and eat normal size. It will serve both: longevity, medical costs and the planet. Use the chemical industry to produce something more soothing for the planet – i.e. mosquito poisons which are non-toxic to birds but make mosquitos unwilling to sting.

    Unfortunately, most of the planetary pollution is due to corporate greed. Kill the corporations and use them as fertilizer to heal the planet. Feed the cows with grass and hey, use the manure to fertilize and don’t produce so much meat as to erode the American grasslands. Tax meat and fish highly to reduce their consumption and pay for the environmental cleanup from farm chemical pollution.

  4. richardinmaine

    The extinction of the human species is inevitable, as it is with every species. And we might be the first species to cause its own extinction. Has there ever been in this world a more aggressive, violently and methodically destructive species than homo sapiens? We’re enjoying our time as the dominant species, wrecking our environment, killing off other species as fast as we can, and gleefully slaughtering one another with our endless wars. But someday we’ll all have gone to dust, and it’s a sure thing nobody out there will shed tears at our passing, and the universe will go on without us as though we had never existed. That’s the stark reality of it.

  5. Woodwind

    Artificial phosphorus and nitrogen? Farmers are doing nucleosynthesis now? Totally absurd.

    Phosphorus and nitrogen are naturally occurring atomic elements. While atom smashers can be used to breed certain isotopes artificially, it is a ludicrous assertion that farmers are engaging in wholesale production of such artificial isotopes. Farmers are using 100% natural phosphorus and nitrogen, critical chemicals of life, along with 100% natural carbon, the life chemical, to grow our food and fiber.

    • Regula

      That isn’t entirely true. A lot of fertilizer is produced synthetically, which causes it to contain all kinds of toxic chemicals as i.e. cadmium.

      • hyperzombie

        Well synthetic fertilizers contain no cadmium, the cadmium comes from mined natural phosphorus.

  6. Corey N

    You see, the Earth is like a horse, if you piss it off enough it will stand up and throw you off. Treat it with respect and it will let you ride for a life time.

  7. Timothy Back

    All he had to say was the line about the world being great before 1914 for you to know this guy is worthless. Mass starvation was happening before modern fertilizers. These fertilizers have lowered child mortality rates and raised life expectancies.

    • just saying

      That does not mean he is wrong. There is just too many people on this planet and what ever we do could be wrong anyway.

    • Regula

      Not really in the US. Child mortality was to a large extent erroneous feeding methods, diseases that couldn’t be healed yet with antibiotics or prevented by vaccines.

  8. A Loose Cannon

    What a bunch of morons….phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers will not destroy the earth. The earth will survive. They may destroy us, though. Why don’t our so called “scientists” report the real truth?

    • Regula

      Maybe we need to be destroyed so the natural balance of elements in the planet earth can restore itself. The most likely cause of death of the human species will be Marsification of the planet earth.

      • Regula

        It could be by nuclear war. The US will not exit without taking the rest of the planet with it.

  9. Jack Resiak

    Ridiculous article on its face. The Holocene Period (a warm period) that we’re told started 11,700 years ago, came to a screeching halt in 1914? Compare the deforestation of North America today with what it was in the 19th century when wood burning was king. Who gets to anoint themselves to invent Planetary Boundaries and define them so catastrophe is upon us? So many problems with this article.

  10. R Warren

    What happened to nuclear bombs destroying the earth? What happened to genetically modified corn plants destroying the earth? Amazonian deforestation? Communism? Catholicism? Secret messages that appeared in rock ‘n roll songs when they were played backwards?

    Mother earth just doesn’t stand a chance.

  11. Oh_no!!!the_earth_is_dying!

    I just love how those who live in the world of Academia can predict the fall of our planet. The original premis may have roots in science, but the headline surely does not!

  12. Thomas Freedom

    Remember when the dinosaurs roamed our earth and sulphur and methane gases belched forth. Our earth is far cleaner today.


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