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Nitrogen Crisis: A neglected threat to Earth’s life support systems

Nitrogen Crisis: A neglected threat to Earth’s life support systems

Planetary Boundaries. Nitrogen and biodiversity are farther out of safe limits than any others (Rockstrom et. al, Nature, 2009)

Part One of a discussion of the disruption of the global nitrogen cycle by an economic system that values profits more than life itself.

Continuing our series on metabolic rifts

Nearly half a century ago, in Scientific American, ecologist C.C. Delwiche warned: “Of all man’s recent interventions in the cycles of nature the industrial fixation of nitrogen far exceeds all the others in magnitude.”[1]

Although that is much more true today, nitrogen pollution is one of the least discussed environmental problems.

If you ask green activists to identify their major concerns, climate change and species extinctions will likely be named first, followed by air pollution, deforestation and maybe population growth. If nitrogen is mentioned, it will be way down the list. Although there are many scientific and technical studies on the nitrogen crisis, few popular books on environmental issues have anything substantial to say about it. Organic farmers are concerned about nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers, but there are no anti-nitrogen demonstrations, no international nitrogen reduction treaties, no politicians defending or denying the science.

As the 2013 report Our Nutrient World says,

“While recent scientific and social debate about the environment has focused especially on CO2 in relation to climate change, we see that this is just one aspect of a much wider and even more complex set of changes occurring to the world’s biogeochemical cycles. In particular, it becomes increasingly clear that alteration of the world’s nitrogen and phosphorus cycles represents a major emerging challenge that has received too little attention.”[2]

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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