Nixing nitrogen in fertilizer means less food, more hunger
By Editorial Board - The Washington Times
Sunday, August 7, 2022
The state of the planet’s climate is worth pondering, but there are consequences to fixating on fears of rising temperatures. Efforts to halt the heat are beginning to threaten world food supplies. If officials whose policies affect the lives of billions allow their concern with temperature readings to degenerate into obsession, their climate-change pursuits could precipitate widespread starvation.
In an attempt to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases, the nixing of nitrogen is already underway. In July, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enacted regulations to curtail the use of farming fertilizer, which contains nitrogen. A harmless gas that comprises 78% of the atmosphere, nitrogen in fertilizer can waft into the air in the form of nitrous oxide which, like carbon dioxide, is thought to contribute to global warming.
Mr. Trudeau’s goal of reducing nitrous oxide emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030 is set to force Canadian farmers to cut back on fertilizer. Smaller crop yields could cut grain sales by more than $37 billion over the next eight years, according to Canada’s fertilizer industry, and drive up the cost of food for consumers. America’s northern neighbor is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of agricultural products, so skimpier harvests portend tighter food supplies worldwide.
Similar restrictions on emissions are underway within the European Union and could magnify the clampdown on food production many times over.
In recent weeks, fuming farmers in the Netherlands, another agricultural powerhouse, have blocked highways with tractors and set fire to hay while demonstrating their anger toward nitrogen rules that threaten their livelihoods and global food security. In Sri Lanka, a mandated transition to organic farming that included a ban on synthetic fertilizer triggered food shortages and rioting in July that brought down the government.
Apart from the nitrogen issue, post-pandemic fertilizer shortages are widespread elsewhere. In the U.S., Senate Republicans in July asked President Biden to waive duties on fertilizer imports.
In Ukraine, grain production is currently diminished by Russia’s invasion. The World Food Programme has credited Ukraine with providing 40% of the wheat distributed to undernourished nations in the recent past. But the war’s impact on Ukraine’s grain production, combined with the impact of the recent pandemic, has led the United Nations to raise the number of persons affected by hunger worldwide during the past two years by 150 million, to 828 million.
Throughout history, famine, war and disease have combined to uproot peoples and send them searching for relief. Currently, government benefits dangled before the world by Mr. Biden and his European counterparts have already incentivized destabilizing mass migration on the North American and European continents. When policymakers magnify the effect by adopting the extremist worldview that modern farming innovations threaten the natural environment, human suffering looms closer.
Going against the grain with onerous fertilizer restrictions intended to mitigate human impact on the planet’s ever-changing climate could lead to deadly famine or even armed conflict. It represents an act of callousness or, worse, wickedness.