Finite fossil fuels are not only used to produce, transport and process food (agrochemicals are made from fossil fuels). Estimates of the net energy balance of agriculture show that three (in Europe) to ten (in the United States) calories of hydrocarbon energy are required to produce one calorie of food.
But the carbon molecule of the now still abundant fossil fuels is the base feedstock for raw materials of plastics which underpin other large areas of our economy: electronics, music, cars, packaging, cosmetics, textiles, construction, pharmaceuticals to name a few. And then there are all the service jobs that depend upon fossil fuel-based activities – such as dentists, painters, anaesthesiologists, rocket scientist and make-up vendors.
Substituting carbon from the fossil stocks with carbon produced by plants simply means more competition for land on which to grow the fiber when the fossil ones become more expensive to extract, or less available. It’s not a rosy perspective, given that we are running out of top soil and water.
That poses competitive pressure for land to grow food, fiber (including raw material for plastic) and increasingly fuel. Be it for cooking, heating, air-conditioning, transport or to run the machinery in mines or on fields, fuel - whether it is forest wood or diesel oil – is required. Palm oil, which can be used either for cooking or to make soap, to produce biodiesel fuel (or napalm for example) is a great illustration of how the competition between food and fuel and fiber is already showing up.
The new geopolitical experiment of massive acquisitions of land to grow food in other countries may impact migration. The land-buying countries are mostly those whose populations have outrun their own soil and water resources (Israel, China, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the US, India, Egypt, etc), while countries selling or leasing their land are often low-income ones and, more often than not, with a history of chronic malnutrition or, worse, hunger.
Some depend on the World Food Program for part of their food supply. There is rarely idle productive land in such places so the land seizures, whether by direct acquisitions or by the introduction of invasive technology (such as the GM crops for industrial-scale agricultural production) suggest that many local farmers will simply be displaced. It is not just Africa or South America. Europe is also experiencing tremendous and rapid land concentration. Spain already produces 120 000 ha of GM crops. Ten giant agro-holdings now control about 2.8m hectares in Ukraine.