It’s out there. It’s a killer like we’ve never known. Warnings from the United Nations are growing more frequent, more insistent, and more dire. But America is not paying attention. And few in Hawaii are even aware.
The killer is world population explosion. It took 2.5 million years from the time the first humans walked on Earth until just before 1940 for the world’s population to reach 2 billion. But in just the next 40 years, world population doubled to 4 billion.
And in the next 37 years, that 4 billion has doubled to nearly 8 billion. We now add more than 1.5 million additional new people every single week. The UN projects that growth will slow, reaching only 9.7 billion instead of 16 in 2050, and 11.2 billion instead of 32 by 2100.
Even if it does slow, the UN states that we must double world food production by 2050. For every bite of food produced in the entire world today, there must be two — in just 30 years. Even if we can achieve that, the UN predicts that we will have 370 million people without food in 2050. That’s more than the entire population of the U.S.
Growing more food takes more ground water. But growing food for just the current population has already decimated world aquifers. NASA satellites have found that 22 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers have passed their sustainable tipping point. They are irreparably below the water needs of all their users, and will only keep shrinking. Meanwhile, global demand for fresh water will be grow by 40 percent by 2050, according to the UN.
Further, a number of countries, particularly in North Africa, the Near East and South Asia have already reached or are about to reach the absolute limits of land available for agriculture. This at a time when the populations of 28 African countries will more than double by 2050.
America will not be spared. With our low birthrate of 1.9 to 2 children per family, we are still the seventh-fastest growing nation in the world. And we have major food problems.
We are no longer a net exporter of foods. That reversed in the 1990s. We now import $11 billion more than we export.
America’s largest aquifers are also beyond their tipping points. The largest, running all the way from North Dakota to Texas, dropped another foot last year alone. It has lost 60 percent of its water in the last 60 years. Many farmers in its shallower areas have completely run out of water.
The other two U.S. aquifers are far worse off. California’s Central Valley Aquifer, underlying the San Joaquin Valley, the most productive area in America, is in desperate shape, with thousands of dry wells.
For every three people in the U.S., there will be an additional 1 ½ Americans to feed in just three decades. With rising temperatures, less rainfall, and receding aquifers militating against increased crop production, Mainland America will be stretched to its limits trying to feed its own people.
Hawaii imports 90 percent of what we eat, and keeps only one week’s supply of food in-state. As food becomes more scarce, prices will skyrocket. It eventually will become too expensive to import most foods. It is also quite possible that by 2050 there will be no outside food available, from anywhere. No wheat, potatoes, rice, beef, pork, chicken, eggs, milk, fresh fruits — none of the basics we import!
We must prepare for this fact or we will die. In just 30 years, we must be totally self-sufficient in food. We need to have 34,000 more acres in farming by 2050. That means doubling our current farmland, and then doubling that larger number of acres, at a minimum.
But today, we are going in exactly the opposite direction. More than half of our active farmland now producing food for the local markets has been surrendered to developers. We must retrieve that land, whatever it takes. We must also open up former farmland and develop new lands on all islands, to grow all of the foods we now import.
We must expand farm education in high schools and colleges with special effort to attract bright students. A very good living can be made farming just a couple of acres. We must develop ranges for cattle, and re-establish our piggeries, chicken and egg farms, dairies, slaughterhouses, and on and on and on. We must have a true agricultural renaissance.
And we need to get started now.
Kioni Dudley, Ph.D., is a retired educator who lives in Makakilo, Oahu.