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Submission + - Why Not Utopia? Mark Bittman on basic income and increasing automation->

Paul Fernhout writes: Mark Bittman wrote an op-ed in the New York Times suggesting a basic income as a solution to increasing automation leading to job loss. He concludes: "We have achieved a level of social equality barely imagined by progressives 50 years ago, but economic equality has gotten much worse. No one knows what the world will look like in 50 years, but if we resign ourselves to dystopia — in which capital has full control, as it nearly does now — we'll surely have one. Let's resolve to build something better. In the long run we know that we'll make the transition from capitalism to some less destructive and hopefully more just system. Why not begin that transition now? If there is going to be a global market that will further enrich capitalists, there must be guarantees that the rest of the population can at least afford housing and food. And things can be even better than that: We'll have the robots work for us."
Link to Original Source

Comment Re:Exactly! Recognizing irony is key... (Score 1) 47 47

And a major reason people want to control other people is... getting needed resources. :-)

Of course, since "needed resources" for some people can include specific mates (who need to be impressed or dominated or whatever), there is complexity there. James P. Hogan talks about the issue of achieving status in a post-scarcity economy in his 1982 sci-fi novel "Voyage From Yesteryear".

But, while prestige and status of a country relative to other countries is a cause of war (including to deter aggression), the personal level of status is rarely the reason entire nations are convinced into going to war. That is true even if personal status among leaders may have something to do with why leaders try to convince their countries to foolishly go to war.

For example, in this survey of the causes of war in 2008, every one except the top one of "ideological change" essentially comes down to control of resources.
"Why wars happen"

And I'd suggest even "ideological change" most often has a strong component of access to resources in order to manage them in specific ways (for example, having enough territory to implement some vision of some form of law or politics).

Anyway, this is a complex topic. There are many lists of reasons on why wars happen. I'm trying to say that issues of perceived scarcity drive a lot of them. Also, scarcity-thinking also often keeps people on a treadmill where they never seem to have time to learn about alternative ways of handling conflict than knee-jerk violence. And then further, fighting over perceived scarcity with super powerful tools of abundance (like computer code that can cause billions of potentially useful things to happen all at once across the world) is what creates the biggest current risks (like nuclear war). Without these tools of abundance like computers, communications, nanotech, biotech, nuclear power, advanced materials, rocketry, and so on, we would not be worried about the end of the human race by just some few people in one small area throwing rocks at each other.

Comment Exactly! Recognizing irony is key... (Score 2) 47 47

As I wrote here:
" Military robots like drones are ironic because they are created essentially to force humans to work like robots in an industrialized social order. Why not just create industrial robots to do the work instead?
    Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are about using space age systems to fight over oil and land. Why not just use advanced materials as found in nuclear missiles to make renewable energy sources (like windmills or solar panels) to replace oil, or why not use rocketry to move into space by building space habitats for more land?
    Biological weapons like genetically-engineered plagues are ironic because they are about using advanced life-altering biotechnology to fight over which old-fashioned humans get to occupy the planet. Why not just use advanced biotech to let people pick their skin color, or to create living arkologies and agricultural abundance for everyone everywhere?
    These militaristic socio-economic ironies would be hilarious if they were not so deadly serious. Here is some dark humor I wrote on the topic: A post-scarcity "Downfall" parody remix of the bunker scene. See also a little ironic story I wrote on trying to talk the USA out of collective suicide because it feels "Burdened by Bags of Sand". Or this YouTube video I put together: The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income.
    Likewise, even United States three-letter agencies like the NSA and the CIA, as well as their foreign counterparts, are becoming ironic institutions in many ways. Despite probably having more computing power per square foot than any other place in the world, they seem not to have thought much about the implications of all that computer power and organized information to transform the world into a place of abundance for all. Cheap computing makes possible just about cheap everything else, as does the ability to make better designs through shared computing. I discuss that at length here:
    There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass destruction), a scarcity-based approach to using such technology ultimately is just making us all insecure. Such powerful technologies of abundance, designed, organized, and used from a mindset of scarcity could well ironically doom us all whether through military robots, nukes, plagues, propaganda, or whatever else... Or alternatively, as Bucky Fuller and others have suggested, we could use such technologies to build a world that is abundant and secure for all. ...
      The big problem is that all these new war machines and the surrounding infrastructure are created with the tools of abundance. The irony is that these tools of abundance are being wielded by people still obsessed with fighting over scarcity. So, the scarcity-based political mindset driving the military uses the technologies of abundance to create artificial scarcity. That is a tremendously deep irony that remains so far unappreciated by the mainstream.
    We the people need to redefine security in a sustainable and resilient way. Much current US military doctrine is based around unilateral security ("I'm safe because you are nervous") and extrinsic security ("I'm safe despite long supply lines because I have a bunch of soldiers to defend them"), which both lead to expensive arms races. We need as a society to move to other paradigms like Morton Deutsch's mutual security ("We're all looking out for each other's safety")
and Amory Lovin's intrinsic security ("Our redundant decentralized local systems can take a lot of pounding whether from storm, earthquake, or bombs and would still would keep working").
    There are lots of alternatives I helped organize here for helping transcend an economy based around militarism and artificial scarcity:
    Still, we must accept that there is nothing wrong with wanting some security. The issue is how we go about it in a non-ironic way that works for everyone. The people serving the USA in uniform are some of the most idealistic, brave, and altruistic people around; they just unfortunately are often misled for reasons of profit and power that Major General Butler outlined very clearly in "War is a Racket" decades ago. We need to build a better world where our trusting young people (and the people who give them orders) have more options for helping build a world that works for everyone than "war play". We need to build a better world where some of our most hopeful and trusting citizens are not coming home with PTSD as shattered people (or worse, coming home in body bags) because they were asked to kill and die for an unrecognized irony of using the tools of abundance to create artificial scarcity. ..."

Comment Re:Yes, Haber's life is an example of that irony (Score 1) 224 224

Interesting read, thanks! So true, you comments reflect the adage "taxes are the price we pay for civilization..." And also, capitalism tends toward privatizing gains and socializing costs...

If you see my other posts above though, I am not concerned about the technology to feed the world even without the Haber process (and perhaps better without it). As at this link, we have the technology through organic farming:
"Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?"

Whether we have the political will is a different issue, with so many vested interests in the current synthetic-chemical-based agricultural system.

Another aspect of this craziness:
"The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has posted an easy-to-understand visual on its site that shows which foods U.S. tax dollars go to support under the nation's farm bill. It's titled "Why Does a Salad Cost More Than a Big Mac?" and depicts two pyramids -- subsidized foods and the old recommended food pyramid. It's interesting to note that the two are almost inversely proportional to each other."

Comment Feeding the world without the Haber process (Score 1) 224 224

Human waste includes urine, which is part of "night soil".

But yes, "night soil" could only be part of a system. But there are other parts, as mentioned in a section quoted at the end.

I don't know about England specifically, or later years, but this says:
"Population and Economy : From Hunger to Modern Economic Growth"
"According to official Chinese statistics, by the middle of the 18 century, population density was already over 500 people per cultivated sq. km (see Liang 1980: 400, 546). While these numbers are undoubtedly exaggerated owning to under-registration of cultivated acreage (ho 1995), the contrast with 18th-cent. Europe, where 1 sq. km of cultivated acreage supported 70 people, is quite extreme (see Braudel 1981a: 56-64)."

Much of China is just not that cultivated because of mountains and deserts and such (especially in the West).

Organic agriculture is indeed information and labor intensive -- which is why robotics will revolutionize it -- including robots to pick specific insects off of plants.

On fertilizer loss, see:
"Between 1960 and 1990, global use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer increased more than sevenfold, while phosphorus use more than tripled. Studies have shown that fertilizers are often applied in excess of crop needs (MA 2005). The excess nutrients are lost through volatilization (when nitrogen vaporizes in the atmosphere in the form of ammonia), surface runoff (Figure 2), and leaching to groundwater. On average, about 20 percent of nitrogen fertilizer is lost through surface runoff or leaching into groundwater (MA 2005). Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and nitrogen in manure that is spread on fields is also subject to volatilization. Under some conditions, up to 60 percent of the nitrogen applied to crops can be lost to the atmosphere by volatilization (University of Delaware Cooperative Extension 2009); more commonly, volatilization losses are 40 percent or less (MA 2005). A portion of the volatilized ammonia is redeposited in waterways through atmospheric deposition. Phosphorus, which binds to the soil, is generally lost through soil erosion from agricultural lands."

Comparisons to medicine... Don't get me started. :-) Doctors typically have only a few hours of education about nutrition over the course of several years of study, yet poor nutrition is the root of most Western disease. So, the whole medical community is (profitably for itself) misdirecting its efforts as far as priorities. Sure there is much alternative medicine that is bogus, but the parts based on nutritional research (e.g. Dr. Fuhrman's work) is quite good overall. Yet it is not mainstream. What is mainstream is stuff like "stents", which studies actually show are mostly worthless. For example:
"The sad thing is surgical interventions and medications are the foundation of modern cardiology and both are relatively ineffective compared to nutritional excellence. My patients routinely reverse their heart disease, and no longer have vulnerable plaque or high blood pressure, so they do not need medical care, hospitals or cardiologists anymore. The problem is that in the real world cardiac patients are not even informed that heart disease is predictably reversed with nutritional excellence. They are not given the opportunity to choose and just corralled into these surgical interventions. Trying to figure out how to pay for ineffective and expensive medicine by politicians will never be a real solution. People need to know they do not have to have heart disease to begin with, and if they get it, aggressive nutrition is the most life-saving intervention. And it is free."

Same for many other aspects of profit-driven science... I collected some examples here, with one example quote:
"The problems I've discussed are not limited to psychiatry, although they reach their most florid form there. Similar conflicts of interest and biases exist in virtually every field of medicine, particularly those that rely heavily on drugs or devices. It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine." (Marcia Angell)"

Why should mainstream agriculture be any different? Monsanto and the like all have huge profits on the line convincing farmers they need the agricultural equivalent of "stents" and so on... That includes heavy influences in political subsidies and control of research at land grant agricultural schools. And agricultural commodity prices are overall so low in the USA that most farmers need to take off-farm day jobs to pay the bills, and selling the farm land at an appreciated value is pretty much just a retirement plan, with farming a way to keep taxes low on the land. It's a crazy business in that sense. And meanwhile the USA has sold off all of its national grain reserves due to free market fundamentalism and a privatization emphasis and such among our legislators... Its just plain madness. Meanwhile the USA spends (or incurrs) about a trillion US dollars a year on "defense", but it does not have any security of the most basics like good food!

BTW, the rest of this quotes from a document on whether organic farming can feed the world (and bear in mind the suggestion that many organic crops are superior in nutritional quality because of the micro-nutrient issue):
The only people who think organic farming can feed the world are delusional hippies, hysterical moms, and self-righteous organic farmers. Right? Actually, no. A fair number of agribusiness executives, agricultural and ecological scientists, and international agriculture experts believe that a large-scale shift to organic farming would not only increase the world's food supply, but might be the only way to eradicate hunger.

There are actually myriad studies from around the world showing that organic farms can produce about as much, and in some settings much more, than conventional farms. Where there is a yield gap, it tends to be widest in wealthy nations, where farmers use copious amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in a perennial attempt to maximize yields. It is true that farmers converting to organic production often encounter lower yields in the first few years, as the soil and surrounding biodiversity recover from years of assault with chemicals. And it may take several seasons for farmers to refine the new approach.

But the long-standing argument that organic farming would yield just one-third or one-half of conventional farming was based on biased assumptions and lack of data. For example, the often-cited statistic that switching to organic farming in the United States would only yield one-quarter of the food currently produced there is based on a U.S. Department of Agriculture study showing that all the manure in the United States could only meet one-quarter of the nation's fertilizer needs-even though organic farmers depend on much more than just manure.

More up-to-date research refutes these arguments. For example, a recent study by scientists at the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture in Switzerland showed that organic farms were only 20 percent less productive than conventional plots over a 21-year period. Looking at more than 200 studies in North America and Europe, Per Pinstrup Andersen (a Cornell professor and winner of the World Food Prize) and colleagues recently concluded that organic yields were about 80 percent of conventional yields. And many studies show an even narrower gap. Reviewing 154 growing seasons' worth of data on various crops grown on rain-fed and irrigated land in the United States, University of California-Davis agricultural scientist Bill Liebhardt found that organic corn yields were 94 percent of conventional yields, organic wheat yields were 97 percent, and organic soybean yields were 94 percent. Organic tomatoes showed no yield difference.

More importantly, in the world's poorer nations where most of the world's hungry live, the yield gaps completely disappear. University of Essex researchers Jules Pretty and Rachel Hine looked at over 200 agricultural projects in the developing world that converted to organic and ecological approaches, and found that for all the projects-involving 9 million farms on nearly 30 million hectares-yields increased an average of 93 percent. A seven-year study from Maikaal District in central India involving 1,000 farmers cultivating 3,200 hectares found that average yields for cotton, wheat, chili, and soy were as much as 20 percent higher on the organic farms than on nearby conventionally managed ones. Farmers and agricultural scientists attributed the higher yields in this dry region to the emphasis on cover crops, compost, manure, and other practices that increased organic matter (which helps retain water) in the soils. A study from Kenya found that while organic farmers in "high-potential areas" (those with above-average rainfall and high soil quality) had lower maize yields than nonorganic farmers, organic farmers in areas with poorer resource endowments consistently outyielded conventional growers. (In both regions, organic farmers had higher net profits, return on capital, and return on labor.)

Contrary to critics who jibe that it's going back to farming like our grandfathers did or that most of Africa already farms organically and it can't do the job, organic farming is a sophisticated combination of old wisdom and modern ecological innovations that help harness the yield-boosting effects of nutrient cycles, beneficial insects, and crop synergies. It's heavily dependent on technology-just not the technology that comes out of a chemical plant.

High-Calorie Farms

So could we make do without the chemical plants? Inspired by a field trip to a nearby organic farm where the farmer reported that he raised an amazing 27 tons of vegetables on six-tenths of a hectare in a relatively short growing season, a team of scientists from the University of Michigan tried to estimate how much food could be raised following a global shift to organic farming. The team combed through the literature for any and all studies comparing crop yields on organic farms with those on nonorganic farms. Based on 293 examples, they came up with a global dataset of yield ratios for the world's major crops for the developed and the developing world. As expected, organic farming yielded less than conventional farming in the developed world for most food categories, while studies from the developing world showed organic farming boosting yields. The team then ran two models. The first was conservative in the sense that it applied the yield ratio for the developed world to the entire planet, i.e., they assumed that every farm regardless of location would get only the lower developed-country yields. The second applied the yield ratio for the developed world to wealthy nations and the yield ratio for the developing world to those countries.

"We were all surprised by what we found," said Catherine Badgley, a Michigan paleoecologist who was one of the lead researchers. The first model yielded 2,641 kilocalories ("calories") per person per day, just under the world's current production of 2,786 calories but significantly higher than the average caloric requirement for a healthy person of between 2,200 and 2,500. The second model yielded 4,381 calories per person per day, 75 percent greater than current availability-and a quantity that could theoretically sustain a much larger human population than is currently supported on the world's farmland. (It also laid to rest another concern about organic agriculture; see sidebar at left.)

The team's interest in this subject was partly inspired by the concern that a large-scale shift to organic farming would require clearing additional wild areas to compensate for lower yields-an obvious worry for scientists like Badgley, who studies present and past biodiversity. The only problem with the argument, she said, is that much of the world's biodiversity exists in close proximity to farmland, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. "If we simply try to maintain biodiversity in islands around the world, we will lose most of it," she said. "It's very important to make areas between those islands friendly to biodiversity. The idea of those areas being pesticide-drenched fields is just going to be a disaster for biodiversity, especially in the tropics. The world would be able to sustain high levels of biodiversity much better if we could change agriculture on a large scale."

Badgley's team went out of the way to make its assumptions as conservative as possible: most of the studies they used looked at the yields of a single crop, even though many organic farms grow more than one crop in a field at the same time, yielding more total food even if the yield of any given crop may be lower. Skeptics may doubt the team's conclusions-as ecologists, they are likely to be sympathetic to organic farming-but a second recent study of the potential of a global shift to organic farming, led by Niels Halberg of the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, came to very similar conclusions, even though the authors were economists, agronomists, and international development experts. ...

  Sidebar one:

Enough Nitrogen To Go Around?

In addition to looking at raw yields, the University of Michigan scientists also examined the common concern that there aren't enough available sources of non-synthetic nitrogen-compost, manure, and plant residues-in the world to support large-scale organic farming. For instance, in his book Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, Vaclav Smil argues that roughly two-thirds of the world's food harvest depends on the Haber-Bosch process, the technique developed in the early 20th century to synthesize ammonia fertilizer from fossil fuels. (Smil admits that he largely ignored the contribution of nitrogen-fixing crops and assumed that some of them, like soybeans, are net users of nitrogen, although he himself points out that on average half of all the fertilizer applied globally is wasted and not taken up by plants.) Most critics of organic farming as a means to feed the world focus on how much manure-and how much related pastureland and how many head of livestock-would be needed to fertilize the world's organic farms. "The issue of nitrogen is different in different regions," says Don Lotter, an agricultural consultant who has published widely on organic farming and nutrient requirements. "But lots more nitrogen comes in as green manure than animal manure."

Looking at 77 studies from the temperate areas and tropics, the Michigan team found that greater use of nitrogen-fixing crops in the world's major agricultural regions could result in 58 million metric tons more nitrogen than the amount of synthetic nitrogen currently used every year. Research at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania showed that red clover used as a winter cover in an oat/wheat-corn-soy rotation, with no additional fertilizer inputs, achieved yields comparable to those in conventional control fields. Even in arid and semi-arid tropical regions like East Africa, where water availability is limited between periods of crop production, drought-resistant green manures such as pigeon peas or groundnuts could be used to fix nitrogen. In Washington state, organic wheat growers have matched their non-organic neighbor's wheat yields using the same field pea rotation for nitrogen. In Kenya, farmers using leguminous tree crops have doubled or tripled corn yields as well as suppressing certain stubborn weeds and generating additional animal fodder.

The Michigan results imply that no additional land area is required to obtain enough biologically available nitrogen, even without including the potential for intercropping (several crops grown in the same field at the same time), rotation of livestock with annual crops, and inoculation of soil with Azobacter, Azospirillum, and other free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria. ...

Comment Re:Yes, Haber's life is an example of that irony (Score 1) 224 224

"And where does nitrogen in food come from?"

It's in part a cycle -- land to humans to waste to land. Only in part as nitrogen can oxidize to go back to the air, so it needs to get fixed again by bacteria.

"Very little fertilizer is lost in modern agriculture in relative terms."

First, 40% of food in the USA is wasted. So, all that fertilizer is wasted. Food produced closer to home might not incur so much waste.

But that is not what I meant. This is what I meant:
"Fertilizer Runoff Overwhelms Streams and Rivers--Creating Vast "Dead Zones"
The nation's waterways are brimming with excess nitrogen from fertilizer--and plans to boost biofuel production threaten to aggravate an already serious situation"

"Pathogens are not a problem, they are outcompeted by soil bacteria during composting."

Composting doesn't always get everything, as compost piles have edges and heat zones, and all that depends on careful management. Also, compost is contaminated by chemicals people dispose in the waste stream (chemicals from home darkrooms used to be a big issue) and also pharmaceuticals flushed down toilets.

"China's population grew 3 _times_ during the last century virtually without increasing the land use, because of the fertilizers and pesticides."

The fact that China's population may now need more inputs given growth in the last century since the Haber process does nothing to invalidate that they managed large (but not quite so large) populations for 3900 years before that without the Haber process. What that shows is that alternatives have worked. China is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. If they could do it, it shows the US could do it and other countries could do it.

"Still won't work. You'll need livestock for manure (to concentrate nitrogen and other nutrients). "

I agree that much current "organic agriculture" is dependent on livestock manure from conventional farming which is based mostly on feeding conventionally farmed grain (not pasture grass) to animals, and so there is a big nitrogen input there. That said, given a change in land uses patterns (especially away from agriculture), and with more nutrient recycling, and with intercropping and crop rotations and ground up rock dust, likely we could feed the planet well without the Haber process. I'll admit it would be good to back that with more numbers.

"And agricultural robots are a pipe dream."

Did you do the slightest research on them?
"Are agricultural robots ready? 27 companies profiled"

"Unlike you, I actually helped to grow my own food (lean years after the USSR collapse) so I appreciate the amount labor required for that."

I'm sorry you had to go through that involuntarily due to crazy geopolitics and economics that cause that crisis. Still, you can't compare what you presumably had to do with limited tools and limited materials and limited information in a (probably) limited climate on impoverished soils with what is really possible with good tools, abundant materials, abundant information, in a good climate on well prepared soils.

Still, how do you know what foods I've grown or what I've studied?

"And I also worked with the Great Evil (Monsanto) on actual modern agriculture to appreciate the difference."

I see. I'll try not to assume that context might explain a lot. :-) Still, at the very least, it may be something like how someone who works with Microsoft products a lot might never think that open source software is possible or even better sometimes? Have you studied organic agriculture? Have you read Widdowson's book?

Comment Re:Yes, Haber's life is an example of that irony (Score 1) 224 224

Respectfully, I suggest you research these issues further to avoid spreading confusion on them.

For example, while humans don't fix nitrogen, human waste contains a lot of nitrogen from food that is eaten. For example, by one calculation
"Roughly estimated, at least 800 million kg nitrogen, 400 million kg phosphate and 500 million kg potash can be annually acquired from night soil produced in urban areas. This is equivalent to some 4 million tonnes of commercial fertiliser, which is about 4% of all commercial fertiliser used throughout the country."

Considering how much fertilizer is wasted in modern systems, you can see that this was a big deal in China as part of a closed cycle including other techniques to restore soil fertility. Granted there are other issues with pathogens and contamination from "night soil", but nonetheless, China is an example of doing wihout the Haber process for 4000 years and still supporting big populations by other means.

Historically, rotational field cropping has also been used to replenish the soil. Also, intercropping can boost nitrogen levels in intensive agriculture;
"Intercropping with nitrogen-fixing crops leads to increased maize yields, says study"
"Results show that while mono cropping practices produce a high yield crop, it is not the sustainable solution in the long run. Instead, the research suggests that by strategically combining small doses of inorganic fertilizer through an intercropping system, maize yields will be more stable and will not only increase, but will lead to other ecosystem services like soil stability, water storage capacity and overall fertility. "

Integrated agricultural systems such as involving water from fish ponds and such can also increase nitrogen in agriculture..

I've cited sources for my points, including how excessive nitrogen fertilizer causes micronutrient loss. While nitrogen is often a limiting nutrient, the point is that it can displace other nutrients very easily, causing other issues. Beyond clay, organic matter also holds onto micronutrients. This is one reason "organic" farming focuses on building up the organic matter content of soils to increase nutrient holding capacity. "Feed the soil and keep it healthy for healthy plants" is the motto there. By contrast, conventional agriculture essentially uses the soil to prop up plants, and tends to produce lush green growth with excessive nitrogen, but the plants are otherwise weak and unhealthy and susceptible to disease. There are other broader problems from excess nitrogen too:

Please cite sources etc. substantiating your various points especially disagreeing with the loss of micronutrients (which is basic chemistry, if usually ignored in mainstream agriculture which tends to maximize empty calories) in order for this to be a more productive dialog.

Here's the bottom line on at least US agriculture. Almost everything grown just goes to feed animals, and eating too many animal products is bad for people's health, as is eating too many refined grains (another big part of the rest of US agriculture). So really, all this discussion about fertilizer in that sense is besides the point in many ways. See:
"Cropland- About 349 million acres in the U.S. are planted for crops. This is the equivalent of about four states the size of Montana. Four crops -- feeder corn (80 million acres), soybeans (75 million acres), alfalfa hay (61 million acres) and wheat (62 million acres) -- make up 80 percent of total crop acreage. All but wheat are primarily used to feed livestock. The amount of land used to produce all vegetables in the U.S. is less than 3 million acres."

So, one percent is used to grow vegetables, and all the best nutritional advice has us eating a lot more vegetables (see for example Dr. Joel Fuhrman's writings).

If we wanted to do rotational cropping and intercropping to just feed humans, it seems to me it is likely quite feasible, especially with agricultural robots to manage that complexity instead of a lot of manual labor. A great book on how to grow all your own food on a small amount of land (emphasizing a lot of beans):

Comment Re:Yes, Haber's life is an example of that irony (Score 1) 224 224

China has been doing it for Millennia; see:
"In 1909, American agronomist F.H. King toured China, Korea and Japan, studying traditional fertilization, tillage and general farming practices. He wrote his observations and findings in Farmers of Forty Centuries, Or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan (1911, published shortly after his death by his wife, Carrie Baker King; numerous facsimile reprintings, including Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-43609-8, and Rodale Press, ISBN 0-87857-867-6). King lived in an era preceding synthetic nitrogen fertilizer production and before the use of the internal combustion engine for farm machinery, yet he was profoundly interested in the challenge of farming the same soils in a 'permanent' manner, hence his interest in the agricultural practices of ancient cultures. In recent years, his book became an important organic farming reference."

"Night soil" was part of the answer -- recycling human waste back to the fields. We have modern versions of composting toilets like the Clivus Multrum that can do much the same in a more sanitary way.

Conventional "slow release" fertilizers are generally different than ground up rock dust. See this site for what is possible:

On micronutrients, most people in agriculture don't understand this, so it is not a surprise you don't either. I'd suggest you read Widdowson's book. It is basic chemistry. Essentially, the clay and organic matter in soil has only so much holding capacity for nutrients released by the slow decay of rocks and the faster decay of organic matter. If you flood that capacity with nitrogenous compounds, statistically you end up with a lot of nitrogen and very little of everything else. There is another process that also goes on related to reducing the soil's holding capacity as the pH drops and clay particles change their electric charge. Thus your plants don't have access to micronutrients they need to make plant defense compounds and so they are weak and sickly and need additional protection like by synthetic pesticides and such. If Haber had spent more time studying agricultural chemistry instead of figuring out how to kill people, he might have learned this and then come up with better solutions. See this diagram on page 11 of Widdowson's book for more details:

Comment Germany and the politics of abundance (Score 1) 224 224

True to some extent, but imagination and innovation can create resources where there were none before. Trees grow wood mostly just from CO2 in the air and water. Germany has plenty of those. Many new materials are essentially plastic or carbon fiber. Germany could have invented all that with chemistry instead of going to war. That it did not is a failure of the German imagination back then.

Right now, the state-of-the-art in Germany for a new home is not to even need a furnace:
"No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in 'Passive Houses'"
"DARMSTADT, Germany â" From the outside, there is nothing unusual about the stylish new gray and orange row houses in the Kranichstein District, with wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkling through a freezing drizzle. But these houses are part of a revolution in building design: There are no drafts, no cold tile floors, no snuggling under blankets until the furnace kicks in. There is, in fact, no furnace. "

Other things I've written about that, including another "Downfall" parody where Hitler rails against abundance and open source and productive imaginative engineers: :-)

Granite can be melted into building material and also separated into a variety of elements. Seawater has just about every element in it and Germany has access to the sea. It may be more profitable to get something like aluminum from a specific ore abundant in it, but with the right technology and enough energy (like from fusion power), you can get pretty much any element anywhere on the planet. Ignoring what is possibly now or soon with nanotechnology, here are the basic chemical paths proposed around 1980 for use in turning lunar ore (basically granite) into a variety of materials:
"Flowsheet and process equations for the HF acid-leach process"

So, Germany could (in theory) have done that all instead of launching two world wars for "lebensraum" and access to foreign materials -- if it had invested more in the chemistry of production than the chemistry of destruction.

Germany does have some limited iron production, BTW; but not much. However, Germany probably also has a lot more as-yet-undiscovered ores and such in mountains and underground (like perhaps a mile or two down). They are just harder to find or get to than ones that are obvious from the surface. But if Germany had made more of an effort, including creation of better technologies for prospecting for ores, maybe it would have found various ores at home? Also, while I'm not a big fan of seabed mining for environmental reasons, that is another possibility, and in any case, they show the possibility of finding new resources by looking deep within the earth:
"Mr. Dettweiler has now turned from recovering lost treasures to prospecting for natural ones that litter the seabed: craggy deposits rich in gold and silver, copper and cobalt, lead and zinc. A new understanding of marine geology has led to the discovery of hundreds of these unexpected ore bodies, known as massive sulfides because of their sulfurous nature."

Also, I've read that one reason Germany did so much for so long militarily in WWII (as imports were cut off) was that it put in place an intensive recycling program. Ignoring the holocaust and forced labor parts of it, it showed what was possible (discussed I think in the book "Other Homes and Garbage". As you imply, right now the automotive industry has become a net producer of metal from car recycling. But, even granted the industry needed some metal, again, with better plastics, maybe that whole metal stage could have been skipped? Germany could also have offered to take in all the physical trash of Europe and then recycled it.

Ultimately though, we can't rewrite history. We can't go back to pre-WWI or pre-WWII Germany and tell engineers things like how they could use fiber optics and lasers instead of copper, or carbon fibers instead of steel, or use LED lights to grow food underground powered by Thorium reactors, or how to make CPUs from sand to control industrial robots, or use nanotech to make the steel they have 10X stronger so they need 10X less of it. On the last from a few days ago on Slashdot:

But we can't go back in time to do that (as far as we know). And it also might still be folly to do so, if the German mindset was not changed to focusing on abundance. Since otherwise, Germany might then just make automated carbon-fiber and nanotech-steel tanks powered by nuclear-charged batteries communicating by lasers back to Berlin to roll into the Netherlands to steal all the tulips rather than having agricultural robots grow them locally. But I can hope, really deeply hope, that we could learn a lesson from Germany's failure of imagination about abundance -- and then apply it to our current political thinking. We will likely have both fusion power and dirt cheap solar power in a decade or two, plus many other wonders. That possibility should inform our politics instead of a politics of despair like over global warming or fighting over profits from oil fields in the Middle East. There is lots to go around now, and there will be lots more in the near future. James P. Hogan's 1980s sci-fi book "Voyage From Yesteryear" explores that theme, as does Theodore Sturgeon's 1950s "The Skills of Xanadu". BTW, Theodore Sturgeon wrote that story about abundance about a decade after writing "Thunder and Roses" about the Earth being destroyed by a nuclear war; there is an interesting possible connection that at one point Xanadu had a population of three, down from billions, which echoes what would probably happen in Thunder and Roses. So, he moved to future optimism, even accepting a difficult and pointlessly painful transition time.

Well, I might as well put a version of my Downfall Parody inline here: :-)
Dialog of alternatively a military officer and Hitler:
"It looks like there are now local digital fabrication facilities here, here, and here."
"But we still have the rockets we need to take them out?"
"The rockets have all been used to launch seed automated machine shops for self-replicating space habitats for more living space in space."
"What about the nuclear bombs?"
"All turned into battery-style nuclear power plants for island cities in the oceans."
"What about the tanks?"
"The diesel engines have been remade to run biodiesel and are powering the internet hubs supplying technical education to the rest of the world."
"I can't believe this. What about the weaponized plagues?"
"The gene engineers turned them into antidotes for most major diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, cancer, and river blindness."
"Well, send in the Daleks."
"The Daleks have been re-outfitted to terraform Mars. There all gone with the rockets."
"Well, use the 3D printers to print out some more grenades."
"We tried that, but they only are printing toys, food, clothes, shelters, solar panels, and more 3D printers, for some reason."
"But what about the Samsung automated machine guns?"
"They were all reprogrammed into automated bird watching platforms. The guns were taken out and melted down into parts for agricultural robots."
"I just can't believe this. We've developed the most amazing technology the world has ever known in order to create artificial scarcity so we could rule the world through managing scarcity. Where is the scarcity?"
"Gone, Mein Fuhrer, all gone. All the technologies we developed for weapons to enforce scarcity have all been used to make abundance."
"How can we rule without scarcity? Where did it all go so wrong? ... Everyone with an engineering degree leave the room ... now!"
[Cue long tirade on the general incompetence of engineers. :-) Then cue long tirade on how could engineers seriously wanted to help the German workers to not have to work so hard when the whole Nazi party platform was based on providing full employment using fiat dollars. Then cue long tirade on how could engineers have taken the socialism part seriously and shared the wealth of nature and technology with everyone globally.]
"So how are the common people paying for all this?"
"Much is free, and there is a basic income given to everyone for the rest. There is so much to go around with the robots and 3D printers and solar panels and so on, that most of the old work no longer needs to be done."
"You mean people get money without working at jobs? But nobody would work?"
"Everyone does what they love. And they are producing so much just as gifts."
"Oh, so you mean people are producing so much for free that the economic system has failed?"
"Yes, the old pyramid scheme one, anyway. There is a new post-scarcity economy, where between automation and a a gift economy the income-through-jobs link is almost completely broken. Everyone also gets income as a right of citizenship as a share of all our resources for the few things that still need to be rationed. Even you."
"Really? How much is this basic income?"
"Two thousand a month."
"Two thousand a month? Just for being me?"
"Well, with a basic income like that, maybe I can finally have the time and resources to get back to my painting..."

Comment Basic income different from minimum wage (Score 3, Informative) 224 224

A basic income is like social security payments every month regardless of your age or whether you work. A minimum wage is the smallest amount an employer can pay you if you work. The two are completely different things, even though both benefit the poor in different ways. A basic income benefits (almost) everyone though, regardless of your wage.

Despite the AC post that is a sibling of this suggesting both a basic income and a minimum wage are needed, I tend to agree with the grandparent poster who suggests that with a basic income we can dispense with a minimum wage and other similar protections in exchange. A basic income is far, far better than a minimum wage. Economically, a minimum wage is only going to accelerate the automation of most jobs as well. That may not be a bad thing by itself, but automation is bad for many people without a basic income when people need a job to survive in our society.

That's one of the appeals of a basic to conservatives, and a reason something like a basic income was passed by the US House (but failed barely in the Senate) around 1970 in the USA. It was defeated in part by some liberal Senators thinking the proposal was not good enough (also with some conservative opposition), and sadly it has not come up again significantly since. Senator Daniel Moynihan wrote a book about the politics of a basic income back then.

With a basic income, most people can be more choosy about where they work, which is going to put pressure on companies to voluntarily adhere to better labor standards. Should that be a problem in practice, other labor protections could be revisited -- and a working populace with a basic income would have more time for political engagement about all that. Frankly, the benefits of the basic income politically for most people are probably one reason it has been back-burnered for so long.

However, that said, I also feel universal health care (at a minimum, Medicare for all) should also be part of any basic income program -- along with other health care reforms (like Andrew Weil or Joel Fuhrman or Blue Zones talk about) to focus more on prevention especially through good nutrition as well as things like promoting exercise, social interactions, music, meditation or similar, yoga or similar, and so on.

The reason why these questions of economics and a basic income and jobs and health care and so forth all matter in the context of chemical weapons of mass destruction is that whether countries go to war often hinges on all these factors. Socio-economic factors often drive war, for multiple reasons, including war is a convenient way to get a populace distracted from focusing on other domestic economic failings of leadership. A populace that is reasonably happy as-is may be less likely to support war for things like "lebensraum" or "oil profits" or whatever. And if citizens are not kept busy with make work, they would have more time to participate in the democratic process as well as educate themselves about current issues including war profiteering and the true cost of war. Citizens would also have more time to invent the next breakthrough to further prosperity, whether hot or cold fusion, useful domestic robots powered by free and open source software, new information management tools, innovative new products and materials by observing nature like how we got Velcro, and so on. They of course also would have more money on a regular basis (regardless of the ups and down of "employment") to actually purchase products produced locally. That might mean business (guided by steady-state non-expansive economic theory based on reliable demand given a basic income) might have less incentive to look abroad for "markets" and so to foster a militarism that enforces the openness of such markets at gunpoint (as with, say, the Opium war of the USA and Britain and such again China to force acceptance of Western-supplied narcotics into China, or with various more recent US interventions abroad related to oil profits or natural gas profits).

Comment Meshworks & Hierarchies even among "brothers" (Score 2) 224 224

That song, "Peter Paul and Mary: Because All Men Are Brothers", reminds me of the new movie "Senn" which we watched last night. Specifically, the PPM lyrics of: "My brother's fears are my fears, yellow white and brown. My brother's tears are my tears the whole wide world around."

"Senn" is an impressive movie, especially considering it was produced supposedly for only US$15000. That goes to show what modern technology and an internet-connected gift economy can do nowadays.

This is a bit of a spoiler, but the connection is because of a key aspect of the movie's plot relates to humans' feeling each others emotions and how that changes how they behave, especially in a corporate context.

Which also reminds me of:
"In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy."

And some people labelled sociopaths or psychopaths may not have much of these feelings or may feel them more selectively.
"Psychopathic criminals have empathy switch"

Yet many of our corporate and political leaders at these point may fit that description...

And what do you do with various criminals who often engage in psychopathic behavior? And by whose definitions? Put your "brother" in jail?

And in a big city, given out current economic paradigm, people may also need to learn to switch off or decrease empathy in some way just to survive thousands of interpersonal encounters an hour when walking down the street...

On this plane of existence, there seems to be a complexity of human (and other) life existing in practice at a middle ground between chaos and stasis, competition and cooperation, fire and ice, meshwork and hierarchy, and so on.

The Lathe of Heaven (as another spoiler) has a section where the protagonist wishes for "world peace", and it is accomplished by the appearance of an alien invasion of the moon, which unites all humanity in opposition...

So, while we should be careful what we wish for, and things are complex, still, there are so many possible environmental menaces that more cooperation is in order, IMHO. But it is never quite so simple as "all men are brothers". After all, sadly, even "brothers" sometimes fight each other like in the US Civil War.

Still, our culture may shape how competition or aggression is expressed or channeled into more positive directions. Like Mr. Fred Rogers' sings: "What do you do with the mad that you feel?" As with Haber, a chemist can figure out a way to feed billions of people with nitrogenous fertilizer, or they can figure out how to kill large numbers of people with poison gas, or, in Haber's case, a chemist can even do both. The irony is that Haber's doing the first (to feed people) made doing the second (to kill people) unnecessary -- except that politics has taken a century to catch up with the potential of his (and others') inventions.

Likewise, even now, imagine what we could have had if the USA had invested three trillion US dollars on fusion energy research and better batteries and solar panels and energy efficiency -- instead of incurring that much and more on the Iraq war. Carter had the right idea, but he was not re-elected, even though (or perhaps because) he said:
"We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure. All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem. Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny."

Instead, the USA chose the wrong path, and the Bush family and friends have made a bunch of money from oil profits in various ways, and many in the USA (and many in other countries) have suffered for decades due to this choice and similar ones year after year. Just like Germany took the wrong path in WWI and WWII, and Haber took the wrong path with creating poison gas then (and he also paid a personal price for it with the loss of his wife). Alternatives are possible. Although in Carter's case, it did not help that some other related policies he suggested were problematical.

Other recent posts by me on those themes:

Comment Yes, Haber's life is an example of that irony (Score 1) 224 224

Haber created a way to feed billions of people via nitrogen fertilizers(*), but then Haber supports a war based in large part on the idea there is not enough to go around and people need to steal each others land...

Sad to read Haber's first wife, who disapproved of Haber's poison gas work, committed suicide right after the first use of her husband's poison gas in war. Guess when something like that happens you either change or you embrace cognitive dissonance and dig in even further... See:
"Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts"
"Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell? Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception -- how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it."

(*) This is ignoring we now know ground-up rock dust and legumes etc. can do that too -- see: Also, excess nitrogen displaces other vital micronutrients which is why organic farming practices using things like slow-acting rock dust produce healthier plants and probably healthier people. See:
"Towards Holistic Agriculture: A Scientific Approach"
"This book explains the use of an ecological way of farming, with modern practical applications, to make the fullest use of land resources and the best utilization of available capital and labour. In analyzing the vital relationship between soil, plant, animal and man, the author discusses the best care of land itself, its components, grassland management and the most efficient use of crops to maximize yield, food quality and profitability without the extensive use of chemicals and without damaging the ecology. Widdowson also covers the holistic approach to animal farming, the welfare and health of poultry, cattle, sheep and goats, their nutritional needs through the various stages of their lives, and the best way to balance their diets."

That is why I feel the point in my sig is so essential for everyone to understand it the 21st century (although it has always been important, but gets increasingly important as our technology gets increasingly powerful): "The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity."

% APL is a natural extension of assembler language programming; ...and is best for educational purposes. -- A. Perlis