No. 59 (May 2002)
Feeding the World
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
For the past few decades the real problem has been that of distribution. Even in this country, where food is plentiful and cheap, millions go hungry and malnourished.
The unthinking and the social darwinists may easily dismiss the case of the adults, but the children? The as-yet blameless children who, if their brains, minds and bodies were appropriately nourished, could later be contributing to our culture and civilization as well as any of us? And when we look around the world and see or don't see! millions of human beings dying each year of malnourishment and of the diseases which attend that miserable condition....
The main problem is distribution, an issue we will address here at another time. But sometimes (and in the near future, as world population heaves and bulges up toward six billion and as our ecology totters toward ruin), supply does pinch a bit. With our topsoil mostly gone and its remainder chemically challenged; with our oceans mostly fished out; with treatment-resistant diseases starting to appear not only in people but in our crops and livestock; and with global warming disrupting local climates upon which our agriculture depends supply is about to start pinching a lot more than just a bit.
Indus Valley Civilization, the first wave of Mayans, Babylonian Civilization various major civilizations on record mismanaged their natural resources to the point where they starved and collapsed. Had you suggested to any of them even the possibility of such an outcome beforehand, they would have been too helpless with laughter at the absurdity of the notion to even put a spear in you, which would have been their next response. I expect the equivalent response here, but for those readers who remain at this point, I'm about to suggest here a fairly easy way to increase healthful food supply in the world ten-fold, a hundred times; if need be a thousand times!
Source of Supply
Not only is the ocean mostly fished out, its most productive areas like the St. Georges' Banks off Newfoundland are pretty well ruined, either forever or for at least many years to come. Many of the varieties of foodfish we've come to rely on, overfished, are near extinction. Yet, I think it is the sea that we can look to for vast expansion of the world's food supply....
Bay of Bengal:
The simple, easy, inexpensive way to accomplish all this and to accomplish the other, far greater way to increase world food production which we'll describe several paragraphs below is in effect "written on the wind."
Air pumped by air compressor through hose or pipe.
Air pumped through hose or pipe which is perforated so that the air can escape from it in small bubbles.
Bubbles whose release below water trips up waves or currents sediment-laden waves or currents which then lose their momentum and drop their load of sediment or sand on the spot, piling up beach, shoreline, island.....
Next time you see snow around a snowfence, set to protect a highway from snowdrifts, notice how the snow piles up downwind of the fence, on the same principle applied to moving air instead of moving water.
You can find much more information of how to use this arrangement, of perforated hose or pipe and air compressor, to protect and even build shorelines, beaches and islands, in the "Inventions" exhibit on this site, in our Beachbuilder article.
Almost the same equipment, but with all release of air at greater depth, at the deep end of the pipe or at least deep underwater along the sea bottom, provides us a simple, easy, inexpensive way to feed the world many times over.
Oceanic Fish Ranching
Sometimes there is a zone of high productivity at some distance around the mouth of a river flowing into the sea, but with so many poisons in our rivers and streams this is much rarer than it used to be.
The solution is to pump air down to the sea bottom especially in areas less than a thousand feet deep. Release the air at the bottom of the sea to bubble up. This will not only oxygenate the waters but stir up and bring up bottom nutrients to create a new, artificial, St. George's Bank-equivalent fish ranch.
This effect can be wrought on almost any scale, in hundreds if not thousands of different locations where the bubble curtain doesn't intersect or interrupt an important ocean current. Each one of these hundreds or thousands of fish ranch locations can, by itself, feed a significant portion of the world's population.
We don't have a good read yet on unit cost of fish produced by this method, but even conventional fish farming has been so economical as to now constitute a majority of the seafood we find in our restaurants. The equipment already exists, ready to be taken down "from the shelf," and is very inexpensive, and would allow fish production on a grand scale with far lower unit costs than what we now put on our plates. Costs would be low enough to even become the basis of a new industry providing chemicals-free organic fertilizer to land-based produce farms, enriching our land-based dining as well as our seafood dining.
Even the containment "fences" surrounding these fish ranches can be with much the same equipment at least the same equipment as in "Beachbuilder," only used differently. The layout would suspend, with anchors and buoys, a set of perforated hose or pipe suspended far enough underwater not to entangle with any ships passing by. Its purpose would be to create a bubble curtain which would keep most of the fish within the contained region of the "ranch," so most of your assets don't swim away. Thus, you get to harvest the result of your own investment in "fertilizing" or "ranchifying" a portion of the ocean.
Other scientific developments in agriculture bear limited promise a few percentage points increase here, a few more there, and these do add up, but nowhere nearly on the scale before us as with fish farming and fish ranching. We won't get into the vegetarian issue here except to observe that while engaging our dietary habits further down the food chain does indeed make more food available, that gain is nowhere in the same ballpark as would be the gains from sea farming, and further is unlikely to become the preferred response of a majority of people any time soon.
Nor will we get here into the issue of artificial gene manipulation another case of gaining a few percentage points here and there except to observe that genetics has turned out to be a lot more complex than anything we were led to expect a generation ago, and we now have many strange floating gene bundles and gene fragments flooding wild across the landscape which never had to go through nature's sieve or "safety net."
In many, perhaps all, regards, sea farming and sea ranching are not only an easier and more productive, less expensive way to greatly expand world food supply, but arguably the safest way as well.
Please pass this information along to where you think it may do the best good. Please feel free to reprint this article, in whole but not in part, including its copyright notice, to share with people whom you care about.
UPDATE! August 20, 2007 Scientist unveils plan on climate change.
A New Mexico Tech scientist believes he has found a way to head off dangerous climate change. Oliver Wingenter said the idea is simple — fertilize the ocean so that more plankton can grow. Read his full article.
Win Wenger comments:
Until now I was sadly convinced that conservation measures regarding CO2 would be too little and too late to meaningfully affect the outcome. Wingenter's observations regarding production of dimethyl sulfide by plankton changes my mind on this. My system for oceanic fish farming also, necessarily, very much enhances conditions for plankton to flourish, and has the advantage that we don't have to dump chemicals and substances into the ocean in order to fertilize the plankton. The dead waters offshore of Texas and Louisiana could be similarly treated and brought into plankton productivity, without being used to fishfarm because of the chemicals which killed all life there in the first place.
In other words, the combination of my proposal for fish farming, with Wingenter's proposal to boost production of plankton and therefore the Earth-shading effects of dimethyl sulfide, with even fairly mild versions of the proposed CO2-conservation measures, may be enough to restabilize Earth's climate and food supply, even while boosting food supply for billions now starving.
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