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Food – the Ultimate Resource?

Food. The ultimate crucial resource. It’s production is highly dependent on the availability of ecosystems services like water, clean air, biodiversity and a suitable climate. Food scarcity means hunger, too much hunger means people die.

Lester Brown compellingly makes this point, by showing that civilizations have a tendency to collapse when running low on food, and food production is dependent on the natural ecosystems we live in. The following (Matt Damon narrated) documentary sums up his position.

(Watch clips on youtube)

Jared Diamond in his 2005 book Collapse also analyses how population growth and their impact on the environment is worsening ten fundamental and interrelated areas of resource depletion:[1]

  1. destruction of habitats
  2. overfishing
  3. biodiversity loss
  4. soil erosion
  5. energy source shortage
  6. fresh water shortage
  7. photosynthetic ceiling
  8. toxic waste
  9. alien species in ecosystems
  10. global warming

When analysing all of these, they do all relate to food production. Brown explains how seventy percent of fresh water is used for food production. While on average we drink 4 liters a day, the water we ‘drink’ through food intake adds up to over 2000 liters. So it is a problem if fresh water becomes scarce. When it happens on a global scale, food will become scarce,[2] prices will simply rise, people will riot and starve.

Analysis on resource depletion is abundant. Lester Brown in his books Plan B (2009) and World on the Edge (2011) names these as the most important – again in the context of their role in food production: water, soil, climate, energy. Chris Martenson, largely inspired by Brown, let’s it burn down to energy, minerals, soil, water and fish.

We might be approaching tipping points on some or all of these resources. Solutions will be found in chapter 5.


  1. [1]Diamond 2005: 486-500
  2. [2]An index of global food prices can be found here.