17 votes

Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic "glitch", boost crop growth 40%

16 comments

  1. [15]
    vakieh Link
    The taboo on the idea of population controls is leading us headfirst into a collision with a reality that doesn't give a fuck about whether we want to talk about it or not. Releasing a natural cap...

    The taboo on the idea of population controls is leading us headfirst into a collision with a reality that doesn't give a fuck about whether we want to talk about it or not. Releasing a natural cap on population (in this case food production) just gives us room to accelerate as we head towards the next one. And not all of them are as friendly as 'nope, any more people are just going to starve', some of them are of the 'you've just tipped this system outside its natural correction tolerance, have some catastrophic collapse'.

    The pursuit of a population plateau until such time as we move off planet (whether that takes 100 years or 100,000) is pretty much the only environmental activism that stands the slightest chance of actually doing anything meaningful in the long term.

    3 votes
    1. [5]
      spctrvl Link Parent
      I don't think food is at all a major factor in restricting population growth today. Actually, I think this discovery would be hugely beneficial to efforts to combat climate change, by opening up...

      I don't think food is at all a major factor in restricting population growth today. Actually, I think this discovery would be hugely beneficial to efforts to combat climate change, by opening up the possibility of reducing the amount of land under cultivation, reducing the amount of fertilizer needed, hell even expanding the growing seasons of crops to reduce shipping.

      13 votes
      1. [4]
        stromm Link Parent
        Except it won't reduce acreage. It will increase yield per acre. People will also think it will lower cost to consumer, but it won't for more than a year, maybe too. Why? Because businesses...

        Except it won't reduce acreage. It will increase yield per acre. People will also think it will lower cost to consumer, but it won't for more than a year, maybe too. Why? Because businesses already know how much people will easily pay and they can claim R&D costs need to be reimbursed.

        More food = more people = more demand for food = more profits for businesses (which is what they want).

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          spctrvl Link Parent
          Thing is, we don't farm at anywhere close to capacity right now, because food is a commodity with (close to) constant demand. Which foods people eat are subject to change, but at the end of the...

          Except it won't reduce acreage. It will increase yield per acre.

          Thing is, we don't farm at anywhere close to capacity right now, because food is a commodity with (close to) constant demand. Which foods people eat are subject to change, but at the end of the day, nobody's really going to be buying more than a few thousand calories worth a day, because that's all they need. So all overproduction accomplishes is crashing the price of food, since demand is (close to) fixed. That's why you get stories about farmers burning their crops or leaving them to rot in the fields. In a market that works like that, where supply overshooting demand brings ruin to the industry, a 40% increase in yield would indeed translate to a 40% decline in acreage.

          More food = more people

          I don't follow. How does more food equate to more people, aside from preventing starvation deaths? Maybe when civilization was agrarian this was the case, but in industrial societies, I don't think the two are really related. The countries with the most abundant and cheap food are almost universally in population decline!

          4 votes
          1. [2]
            stromm Link Parent
            I may be off, but it's always been this way. Civilizations have risen fallen based on available food. More food used to mean less expensive food. That meant people could afford to eat more. Which...

            I may be off, but it's always been this way. Civilizations have risen fallen based on available food.

            More food used to mean less expensive food. That meant people could afford to eat more. Which meant they had more energy and better health. Those equate to more reproduction. Which means more people.

            1. spctrvl Link Parent
              I think the reason is that, historically, nearly all humans were malnourished subsistence farmers. But since the mechanization of agriculture and the green revolution, our productive capacity has...

              I may be off, but it's always been this way. Civilizations have risen fallen based on available food.

              I think the reason is that, historically, nearly all humans were malnourished subsistence farmers. But since the mechanization of agriculture and the green revolution, our productive capacity has outstripped our needs to the point where food scarcity simply doesn't exist, and starvation only occurs due to logistical problems. Since we're nowhere near being up against the limits of our food production capacity population wise, further improvements don't equate to a bigger population.

    2. [6]
      mb3077 (edited ) Link Parent
      Innovations in food production historically did lead to population booms. However I don't think that overpopulation is as much of a problem as overconsumption. The United Nations released an...

      Innovations in food production historically did lead to population booms. However I don't think that overpopulation is as much of a problem as overconsumption. The United Nations released an estimate that the human population might plateau at 10-11 billion by 2100, other predictions go as high as 13 billion. But the thing is, it is possible to maintain this size of population, as long as we don't live in a first-world country lifestyle.
      Currently the developed world is biggest consumer of energy and materials: "the 20 per cent of the population in the highest-income countries accounted for 77 per cent of total private consumption in 2005". With more and more countries moving away from extreme poverty and starvation, and slowly adopting western lifestyles, we will have to drastically change our views and culture on consumerism, or as you said reality will kick the door in.

      So I don't think that people will starve because of overpopulation, I think that the planet will be irreparably fucked because of overconsumption.

      Great article for Overpopulation vs. Overconsumption : https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/19/not-overpopulation-that-causes-climate-change-but-overconsumption

      Other articles to read:

      5 votes
      1. [5]
        vakieh Link Parent
        Advances in computers and robotics mean it's more likely that a higher percentage of the population will be able to live Western, heavy consumption lifestyles without needing to do so off the back...

        Advances in computers and robotics mean it's more likely that a higher percentage of the population will be able to live Western, heavy consumption lifestyles without needing to do so off the back of exploitation of a 3rd world population - many definitions of a utopia are where that percentage hits 100%. This remains entirely possible so long as the population is low enough that there are sufficient sustainable resources available.

        My preference would absolutely be a low population high consumption existence over a high population low consumption.

        5 votes
        1. [4]
          mb3077 Link Parent
          How so? Sure we can implement clean methods for energy production, but there are certain aspects where technological advancement won't help to mitigate the damage we cause to the environment. One...

          Advances in computers and robotics mean it's more likely that a higher percentage of the population will be able to live Western

          How so? Sure we can implement clean methods for energy production, but there are certain aspects where technological advancement won't help to mitigate the damage we cause to the environment. One case being meat/ livestock consumption; https://www.upc-online.org/environment/livestock_impacts_on_the_environment.pdf

          Large parts of tropical forests are still being deforested today to be replaced by soybean farms. Which are also used to feed livestock. https://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/soy

          I also don't see any technology in the near future somehow preventing micro-plastic from polluting the ocean.

          These problems will not be solved in the near future if we keep consuming at the same excessive rate that we currently do. Especially not if the rest of the developing world joins in.

          ...Unless we start mining asteroids for fresh water and metals, growing meat in a lab cheaply, finding a way to do 'compact' agriculture etc.

          1 vote
          1. [3]
            tesseractcat Link Parent
            This message is written as if growing meat in a lab cheaply is somehow an extremely difficult task on par with asteroid mining. Not only is lab grown meat getting cheaper every year, it's already...

            This message is written as if growing meat in a lab cheaply is somehow an extremely difficult task on par with asteroid mining. Not only is lab grown meat getting cheaper every year, it's already a viable technology that is closer than you might think to consumer availability. Also, you say "finding a way to do 'compact' agriculture", but is this not what this article is all about?

            2 votes
            1. [2]
              mb3077 (edited ) Link Parent
              Those were rhetorical examples made to express how extremely difficult it would be for technological advancements to protect the environment while also allowing us to keep living luxuriously. I...

              Those were rhetorical examples made to express how extremely difficult it would be for technological advancements to protect the environment while also allowing us to keep living luxuriously. I guess the lab grown meat was a bad example.

              By the 'compact agriculture' I meant something more like vertical farming, which is currently impossible to achieve in massive scales.

              1 vote
              1. vakieh Link Parent
                So lower the population? Is this not the same argument I'm making?

                to achieve in massive scales

                So lower the population? Is this not the same argument I'm making?

                1 vote
    3. Spel Link Parent
      I must say that I find this viewpoint hilarious, because usually when I argue with people talking nonsense about overpopulation and population control one of their first arguments is always that...

      I must say that I find this viewpoint hilarious, because usually when I argue with people talking nonsense about overpopulation and population control one of their first arguments is always that if we don't do anything we're shortly going to run into "natural population control" due to lack of food anyway (just like we were supposed to back in the 50s and 60s before that green revolution).

      3 votes
    4. [2]
      SuperGracchiBros Link Parent
      I'm all for population control in the form of free access to contraceptives and abortions worldwide. We've seen in first world countries with those conditions the population naturally levels out...

      I'm all for population control in the form of free access to contraceptives and abortions worldwide. We've seen in first world countries with those conditions the population naturally levels out on it's own. Applied to the whole word would surely stabilise pop growth. But anything else deserves its taboo.

      2 votes
      1. vakieh Link Parent
        Free access to contraceptives and abortions is a small part of what actually causes the population control - there's a serious education gap as well as the need for child labour.

        Free access to contraceptives and abortions is a small part of what actually causes the population control - there's a serious education gap as well as the need for child labour.

        1 vote
  2. patience_limited (edited ) Link
    I guess this is a promising development, but I have the following concerns: Improving photosynthetic efficiency is only part of the problem of increased agricultural productivity. You still need...

    I guess this is a promising development, but I have the following concerns:

    1. Improving photosynthetic efficiency is only part of the problem of increased agricultural productivity. You still need to supply water and soil nutrients in proportion to growth. Water is becoming more scarce in much of the world. High-quality soil and cheap, safe sources of nitrogen or phosphate are also declining.

    2. Plants trade genes across species more promiscuously than in animals. There have already been instances where genes modified for herbicide resistance jumped from crops to weed species, with predictable results. Your super-soybeans could easily become super-kudzu or super-pigweed, and those are already ugly ecological problems. [There's a charming old science fiction satire by Ward Moore, Greener Than You Think (1947), which takes this to its natural, apocalyptic conclusion.]

    Edit, off-topic: I included the Project Gutenberg link for the Ward Moore novel as a lost classic that has timeless relevance.

    3 votes