In no other industry today is it more obvious to see the culmination of affects of social, political, economic, and ecological instability than in the global production of food. As a defining characteristic of civilization itself, it is no wonder why scientists today are closely monitoring the industrial agricultural system and its ability (or lack thereof) to meet the demands of an expanding global population.
Amidst soil degradation, resource depletion, rising global temperatures, severe climate disruptions such as floods and droughts, ocean acidification, rapidly decreasing biodiversity, and the threat of irreversible climatic change, food production is perhaps more vulnerable today than ever in our history. Currently, as many as 2 billion people are estimated to be living in hunger – but that number is set to dramatically escalate, creating a reality in which massive starvation, on an inconceivable scale, is inevitable.
With these converging crises, we can readily see within agriculture and food production that our global industrial civilization is experiencing a decline in complexity that it cannot adequately remediate, thus increasing our vulnerability to collapse. Industrial agriculture has reached the point of declining marginal returns – there may be years of fluctuation in global food production but we are unlikely to ever reach peak levels again in the foreseeable future.
While often articulated that technological innovation could present near-term solutions, advocates of this thought tend to forget almost completely the various contributing factors to declining returns that cannot be resolved in such a manner. There is also much evidence, within agriculture’s own history, that a given technology that has the potential to increase yields and production (such as the advent of the plow or discovery of oil) tends to, over time, actually reduce that potential and significantly escalate the problem.