The mineral phosphorus (P) is critical to the creation of bones, teeth and DNA. "P" is also a key component of the fertilizers used to produce our food, as critical to agriculture as water. But is P, like oil, peaking? Natural and social scientists in Europe, Australia, the United States and elsewhere see growing evidence that the answer is yes. But when? That is the question.
Predictions of P scarcity run the gamut, starting as early as 2034 to as late as 2070 or beyond. According to ecologist James Elser of Arizona State University (ASU), most people don't realize that phosphorus is mined and that these mines are a limiting resource.
"Our current use of phosphorus is not sustainable," Elser asserts.
Putting real numbers on predictions for "the biggest problem you've never heard of" has spurred the creation of the "Sustainable P Initiative" at ASU, the first focused effort in the United States to examine growing concerns about "phosphorus, food and our future."
The ASU initiative, to be unveiled on Earth Day, April 22, in partnership with the Arizona Science Center, seeks to bring people in Arizona, the Southwest, and the U.S into alignment with global efforts to find solutions with groups, such as Global Phosphorus Research Initiative, led by a consortium of Swedish and Australian scientists.
Led by Elser, a Regents' Professor in the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Mark Edwards, a professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business; and Daniel Childers, a professor in the School of Sustainability and researcher in the Global Institute of Sustainability, the ASU initiative is aimed at motivating change and advancing the design of new technologies, conservation strategies, recycling measures, and agricultural and wastewater practices to close the human P cycle.
"Globally, farmers use more than 17 million tons of mined P on their fields to produce their crops, at a cost th
|Contact: Margaret Coulombe|
Arizona State University