In the developed world we grow a lot of crops these days. Each crop is larger, stronger and more plentiful than before, each field and farm produces more. The reason for this is that we protect the crops with pesticides and enhance the crops with genetic modification and fertilisers, mainly nitrates and phosphates. In producing more food we are eating more of it and becoming fatter and in some cases obese. That is the effect of abundance upon some parts of humanity, while other parts of our species starve.
But abundance of food creates other problems of abundance. The farms of the Mid West of America use fertilisers liberally, probably far too liberally. Not all of the nitrates and phosphates are used to feed the crops. Many of them are washed into streams and rivers and what runs off the Mid West usually ends up in the great Mississippi river.
Now nitrates and phosphates do not only feed wheat, corn and beans. They feed virtually all growing plants and in the Mississippi they feed the algae. The Algae grows and blooms and as it blooms it needs oxygen, which it sucks from the great river, emptying the river of fish (who need oxygen) and as the Mississippi inevitably winds through the delta lands into the sea, the algae bloom creates a dead zone, covering an area the size of Connecticut. The fish, who need oxygen, swim away from the dead zone but shrimps, who also need oxygen, cannot swim so far or so fast.
As a result of bloating on one food with higher yields and more luscious crops we have made the shrimp less plentiful and less luscious, for they are rapidly getting smaller. These are real environmental concerns; a great river which is rapidly becoming a river of nitrates and phosphates and a dead sea at the ocean’s edge.
The Mississippi River Collaborative is an environmental group which has started a court action in which t seeks to limit the amount of fertilisers that can be leached into the Mississippi. It is dfor them a question of moderation in everything, including fertiliser use. There is a counter law suit by the Federal Water Coalition, which argues that the US Federal government has not right to legislate for river water quality and that the Mississippi River Collaborative’s approach in limiting fertiliser use is too simplistic.
Eventually fertiliser controls will come, but only after the chemical companies have filled their boots with the money and the law suits have grinded exceeding fine and slow. By then the dead sea zone off the southern United States might well be as big as Texas, rather than mere Connecticut.