Why Europe’s method of handling the refugee crisis is dangerous, cruel, unsustainable and ineffective

The problem

The European Union has chosen for an incompetent and unsustainable response to the migration of refugees into the European continent. The idea to distribute refugees equally across European countries is unwise and hugely destructive, for a number of different reasons.

-Cultural clashes don’t disappear as soon as refugees enter Europe. Recent episodes of violence in Bern demonstrate that conflicts between Kurds and Turks persist in Europe. Persecution of Christians is also a common phenomenon in asylum centers. Sadly, even on the way to Europe conflicts emerge, as shown by one incident, where Christians were pushed overboard and left to drown by Muslims.

-The migration of asylum seekers throughout Europe is enormously costly. The border patrols now reinstituted in an attempt to regulate the process increase the time it takes companies to move goods across borders. The Dutch transport sector alone is thought to lose 600 million Euro a year merely from the reinstatement of border controls. The construction and maintenance of borders between different European nations also costs us dearly. European jails are crowded with thousands of people who have smuggled refugees across borders. Keeping someone in a Dutch jail costs an estimated 90,000 Euro a year. It’s often hard to prove whether someone knew he had refugees with him, which complicates the matter further.

-The settlement of refugees in Europe is enormously costly. Every asylum seekers is allowed to go through long legal processes to appeal decisions to cast them out of the country. There is no effective solution to handle rejected asylum seekers. Rejected asylum seekers often have no papers, as they dumped them to improve their chances to be accepted, thus it’s difficult to send them back to their country of origin. Even rejected asylum seekers who want to go back because peace has returned to their region often have difficulty jumping over all the legal hoops to end up back in their homeland. Many end up homeless, squatting or being thrown in jail, all of which poses tremendous costs to society.

-The migration of asylum seekers into Europe provides funds to terrorist organizations and organized crime groups. Stolen printers in Syria seized by rebel gangs are used to produce false passports, that are sold for high prices to people who wish to pass as Syrian. In other cases, Syrian refugees have their passports stolen by smugglers, which are then sold to other migrants. Migration itself turns into a lucrative industry that funds the groups whose activities encourage the mass migration of people in a vicious cycle that depopulates the entire region.

-Not all refugees have the ability to move to Europe. Those who can migrate tend to be those who are strong, bold and healthy, mostly young men. Besides the simple fact that people prefer being with their family members over wondering if they are still alive or not, in tribal cultures the exodus of men could put their female family members at risk of sexual violence. Those who can afford the costs associated with migration also tend to be relatively wealthier and more internationally oriented. The consequence is thus a brain drain, that robs the Middle East of its most promising share of the population.

-The refugees migrate to countries where people speak different languages and have vastly different cultures. As a result, they can not participate in these societies in any meaningful way. Children can’t properly follow education, adults can’t work. People are forced to spend their lives effectively waiting until the civil war ends, which could very well take decades.

-Many refugees end up dying on their way to the “promised land”. Some die in the back of trucks from lack of oxygen, others drown in the Mediterranean sea. As long as we declare that “refugees are welcome”, more refugees will die. For us to encourage these journeys by rewarding them is a form of stupidly cruel altruism.

-The refugee crisis creates enormous internal division in Europe. People lose faith in their leaders, who suddenly decide that asylum centers will be built in their town. Politicians grow angry at each other, as their are told by Germany that they will have to house refugees or face sanctions.

-Two million refugees of the Libyan civil war now live in Tunisia. Four million refugees of the Syrian civil war live outside of Syria. Millions of refugees come from Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan, countless more economic migrants are willing to migrate to Europe too, should they be allowed to. The vast majority of those people will have to handle whatever solution is available to them in their own region. It’s thus more useful to focus on improving the quality of the solution available to them in their own region, than to prove them with shelter in Europe, that might be of slightly higher quality but could never be available to all refugees.

An alternative

What would be the preferable method then of handling the refugee crisis?

  • Patrol Europe’s external borders and send people back at the earliest available opportunity. If boats are signaled on the sea, pick the passengers up and send them back to their place of origin. Boats that were used to transport refugees have to be destroyed. This creates a financial disincentive to smugglers as well as refugees to come to Europe.
  • End the insane policy of funding rebel groups in an effort to overthrow foreign governments. Stop treating Syria and other nations as pawns on a giant chessboard. Analyze the weapon streams and place sanctions on countries that continue to pour weapons and money into the Syrian conflict. Try to negotiate a ceasefire in Syria that all parties can agree to.
  • Pay Middle Eastern nations to accept refugees and deliver them the goods they need. Send soldiers and aid workers to oversee the refugee camps and ensure that these remain safe zones where refugees can flee. This will be many times cheaper than housing the refugees in Europe.
  • Helping refugees where they live is ultimately a more effective way to increase their quality of life. In a hypothetical example where Lebanon spends a dollar a day per refugee to house ten refugees, for us to spend ten dollars to make two dollar available to every refugee would do more to help refugees, than to draw a lottery among them and spend a budget of ten dollars per day on one winning refugee. This is related to the concept of diminishing returns, which is visible in everything we do. The first 100 mg of Vitamin C you ingest per day do more to improve your health than the next 100 mg. The first 1000 dollars per capita spent on healthcare increase a country’s average life expectancy more than the next 1000 dollar. Similarly, our money is spent most effectively by investing in improving the quality of care of the most impoverished refugee camps.
  • As many of the refugees are not even Syrian, it’s important to invest in birth control and abortion in the third world. Zero population growth is impossible to achieve without legal and easily accessibly abortion. This ends the incentive that people have to pass as Syrian in hopes of fleeing their overpopulated and impoverished nations.

No miracles will come from the above policy changes, but it should be possible for us to address this crisis in a more affordable, less cruel, more sustainable and less destabilizing manner. Alternatively, we can pose as if we are selfless humanitarians who are doing a good thing, while destabilizing our continent and luring people to their deaths in the Mediterranean sea.


The effects of elevated carbon dioxide on our health

We’re familiar with carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, but it is more than just a greenhouse gas. It plays a number of different physiological roles within organisms. Current concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are 100 parts per million higher than at any period in the last one million years. This may play a role in some peculiar problems that affect us today.

For one, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend, where obesity increasingly affects not just humans, but all sorts of animals, including wild animals and lab rats fed a standardized diet.1 This would be suggestive of some sort of environmental factor that is affecting the health of a wide variety of lifeforms. We don’t know what it is that’s causing this, but different theories exist. Some candidates include epigenetic damage and exposure to endocrine disruptors.

One theory however, argues that exposure to carbon dioxide fools our body into believing that our energy consumption is higher than it actually is.2 As a result, our body increases its energy intake. Experiments have shown that long-term exposure to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations lead to a persistent state of acidosis in the body. It is suggested that an increased firing rate of specialized neurons in the hypothalamus leads to increased wakefulness and higher energy consumption. This fits observations that show time spent sleeping has decreased over the past century, even as our work burden has decreased.

We know that four out of five mass extinction periods can be linked to sudden rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. In the ocean, acidification is thought to be a main factor in this, while temperature increases lead to mass extinctions both on land and in the ocean. However, what if carbon dioxide has a direct health effect on animals?

Studies suggest that elevated carbon dioxide concentrations can have detrimental effects on our health. One problem it appears to cause is oxidative stress, which is thought to underlie many of the health problems we face. Carbon dioxide exposure in an office environment at levels above 1000 parts per million leads to elevated levels of urinary 8-OHdG, compared to exposure at levels below 600 parts per million.3 The size of the effect is comparable to that of being a tobacco smoker. Other studies confirm that signs of oxidative stress begin to increase, long before concentrations of 1000 parts per million are reached.4

If carbon dioxide exposure leads to increased urinary 8-OHdG levels, this is very worrying, as 8-OHdG is commonly used as an indicator of a variety of health problems. Elevated levels are indicative of atherosclerosis risk, cancer risk and complications seen in diabetes.5 Elevated levels of this marker of oxidative stress are also found in male patients suffering from low fertility.6 It’s notable that human sperm counts are believed to have decreased by 50% during the 20th century.

In rooms that have elevated carbon dioxide levels due to poor ventilation, we tend to feel uncomfortable and suffer from symptoms such as poor breathing, dry eyes and wheezing. Such effects have been observed even in studies where subjects were never even exposed to levels above 1000 parts per million.7 Cognitive performance on tests requiring clear thinking also tends to decrease in such studies.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: What kind of future are we setting ourselves up for? Even our best case scenarios lead to levels above 500 parts per million, before 2100. Shell no longer believes that temperature increase will be kept below two degree Celsius, rather it predicts an increase of four degree Celsius, later rising to six degree Celsius.8

A rise in temperatures by six degree Celsius, also means an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to above 1000 parts per million. In such a world, humans are chronically exposed to high levels that are known to detrimentally affect our mental abilities. We would feel continually uncomfortable and unable to think clearly. If carbon dioxide is responsible for oxidative stress symptoms, a world with such high CO2 concentrations would be one where people age prematurely and chronic disease affects us at ever younger ages. It’s difficult to see how humans could ever survive on such a planet.

1 – Klimentidis Y, et al. “Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics.” Proc R Soc B. linkurl:doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1890;http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/11/19/rspb.2010.1890.abstract

2 – http://www.nature.com/nutd/journal/v2/n3/full/nutd20122a.html

3 – http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/6/5586

4 – https://gra103.aca.ntu.edu.tw/gdoc/94/D89844003a.pdf?origin=publication_detail

5 – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0009898103004534

6 – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030121150200194X

7 – http://www.epa.gov/iaq/base/pdfs/indoorair20-247.pdf

8 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/17/shell-accused-of-strategy-risking-catastrophic-climate-change

In defense of the benevolent virus: A look at some common viruses that promote human health

Although bacteria were until recently seen by most people as harmful to health, increased research on our gut micriobiome made clear that there are many benevolent bacteria on which our health depends and that the use of antibiotics has the potential to carry significant harmful consequences as a result. Far less people realize however, that like bacteria, viruses are also capable of aiding our health, including some of the viruses that no longer infect us as a consequence of vaccination.

The best example to begin with of a benevolent virus would probably be Adenovirus-36. Adenovirus-36 is suspected of causing obesity. Some people now suggest vaccinating against Adenovirus-36 as a solution to the obesity crisis. This would be a bad idea however. More than half the adult population in the United States now suffers either diabetes or prediabetes.

Ad36 however has been shown to have a strong effect on insulin resistance.[1] In an overweight group of study subjects, diabetes was practically non-existent in the minority of subjects who were Ad36 positive, as a consequence of the ability of the virus to increase insulin sensitivity by promoting lipogenesis. Lipogenesis is the process by which the body converts simple sugars into fat, which is important to protect our blood vessels against the consequences of glucose peaks.

Since the virus only increases the conversion of excessive simple sugar intake, it’s clear that the virus is not malignant. It does not cause someone who has a healthy diet to develop obesity, as a healthy diet would not lead to frequent blood glucose peaks. Rather the virus improves the body’s natural coping mechanism in response to a poor diet.

Evidence also exists that suggests that some viruses that are sexually transmitted are important to human health. Cytomegalovirus is a nearly ubiquitous herpes virus, that is known to lead to certain harmful conditions. It was until recently unclear why this virus is so common, but recent studies suggest that Cytomegalovirus actually plays an important role in addressing influenza infections. Young mice infected with CMV were strongly protected against an influenza virus challenge in experimental studies.[2]

An interesting question then becomes to ponder what sort of effect influenza has on our body. Scientists have long attempted to link influenza to lung cancer, but the evidence was controversial. Tissue abnormalities that were seen as pre-cancerous stages were later thought to be part of a normal bodily response to address influenza infection.

Interesting to note however, is that some of these studies actually found that influenza infection prohibits the development of cancer. One study found that influenza prevented both spontaneous and experimentally induced adenoma development in mice.[3]

An earlier study done in 1940 also sought to prove that influenza infection causes lung cancer. Instead, the authors concluded that the opposite must probably be true.[4] Age at which tumors occurred and the number of mice with tumors was much lower in an influenza infected group, and section of the lungs infected with influenza had less tumors.

Of course, more recent research would be interesting, but oftentimes, research into this subject dries up when the benevolent effects of a virus are discovered, as eradication through vaccine development, which initially stimulates such research, become uninteresting as a result when we find that the viruses protect against cancer or have other beneficial effects.

Unfortunately, we tend to be drawn the wrong conclusion, when we find that viral infection is associated with certain conditions. In many cases, it appears that despite being more prevalent in animals suffering a particular condition, the virus actually has a benevolent effect on the condition. A recent example of this problem is the case of Lupus.

Lupus in humans is generally associated with Epstein Barr virus activity, so scientists decided to study mice, to find out whether a related virus used as a model for Epstein Barr in mice has an effect on Lupus.[5] It was found that the virus, gammahervesvirus 68, actually significantly reduces the risk of autoimmunity development in mice. Rather, the virus significantly reduced both tissue damage and the production of antibodies associated with Lupus.

Sexually transmitted diseases have an interest in not harming their host, because for them to reproduce, their host has to remain healthy enough to have sex with other potential carriers. Viruses that are harmful at first would thus be expected to become less harmful over time as they pass through successive hosts. HIV is an example of such a virus that’s harmful because it’s novel. Luckily, other sexually transmitted viruses exist that greatly reduce the harm done by HIV. One such virus, GB virus C, was found to reduce the risk of death by 59% in HIV positive people.[6]

Our war on viruses in the form of vaccination may ultimately come to cost us dearly, because many of the viruses we are in the process of eradicating are likely a net benefit for our population. A natural infection with the measles virus has the ability to preferentially destroy cancer cells. We also understand the causative mechanism behind this.

Natural infection with the mumps virus was associated in one study with a 19% reduced risk of Ovarian cancer. [7] A second study found a 28% reduced risk. [8] The reason is because ovarian cancer cells express higher amounts of MUC1, which the body forms antibodies against after mumps infection. Breast cancer and uterine cancer cells also express far higher maounts of MUC1. [9]

The measles virus is also a potent anti-cancer agent. After media reports elaborated on cases of people suffering cancer treated with measles virus, the UK cancer research institute, tried to downplay these findings, by pointing out that researchers used a genetically modified virus.[10]
However, the fact that the virus was genetically modified is not relevant for its actually effect. The virus was modified to cause cells to take up iodine, which would make it easier for scientists to study the cells using radioactive iodine. The ability to cure cancer is in fact inherent to the measles virus.

In another article, cancer researcher Chris Richardson explains his discovery that many types of cancer cells are in fact covered with measles receptors.[11] Measles receptors are a thousand times more plentiful on many types of cancer cells than they are on normal cells. According to Chris, the measles virus actually kills the cells after infecting them, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. In addition, the virus can make these cells visible to the immune system.

A number of studies confirms the reduced risk of cancer after natural measles infection. In 1970, an infant with advanced Hodgkin’s disease underwent spontaneous regression after natural infection with the measles virus.[12]

A 2012 study found a 15% reduction in risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in those who reported a natural infection with measles or whooping cough.[13] Montella found in 2006 that all childhood diseases are negatively associated with Hodkin lymphoma.[14] The effect appears to be cumulative, as for Hodgkin lymphoma, three or more childhood diseases was associated with an eighty percent reduced risk.

Albonico found that measles infection is associated with 55% reduced odds of non-breast cancers, while chickenpox is associated with 62% reduced odds and rubella with 38% reduced odds.[15] Alexander et al found that a history of natural measles infection is associated with a 47% reduction of hodgkin’s disease.[16]

In conclusion, the evidence demonstrates that the long-term benefits of natural childhood infections exceed the dangers for our population as a whole. In addition, the precautionary principle should be applied in our treatment of viruses as well. For us to decide based on our limited knowledge to eradicate viruses that have infected the human population for hundreds of years is an irresponsible decision, that may come to severely effect the health of future generations.

[1] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25045929

[2] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25834109

[3] – http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/47/5/1129.short

[4] – http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/10/6/385.full.pdf

[5] – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402162555.htm

[6] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16494631

[7] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951028/
[8] – http://www.dfhcc.harvard.edu/news/news/article/283/?PHPSESSID=384434aea5a51986e0acc2dfebba82f6
[9] – https://www.ovationsforthecure.org/downloads/Lower_Risk.pdf
[10] – http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2014/05/16/could-measles-cure-cancer-uh-not-exactly/
[11] – http://www.iwk.nshealth.ca/sites/default/files/imagefield_thumbs/Measles.pdf
[12] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1589969/pdf/brmedj01557-0065a.pdf
[13] – http://researchdirect.uws.edu.au/islandora/object/uws:16374
[14] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16406019
[15] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9824838
[16] – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2374437/pdf/82-6691049a.pdf

Biointensive food production: A guide to giving most of the world back to nature

Despite having no brain, this humble mussel has come up with a more effective method of addressing climate change, deforestation and hunger than any of our top scientists and politicians

There is some skepticism about the viability of large scale reforestation. People desire to eat, producing food takes up land. People also need a diet with high quality protein, so we could imagine that meat production is perhaps simply the most cost-effective way we have of producing such protein. As I will go on to show however, we could provide our dietary needs using a fraction of the land we use today. The problem in this regard mainly comes down to cultural and political factors.

Let us take for example, the production of meat. The beef cattle industry is estimated to produce 19 kg of protein per acre per year. In Ireland, the rope mussel industry, produces 95 tonnes of mussels per hectare, per year, which is 38.44 tonnes per acre. The meat yield of this is estimated at 28%. Mussels without their shell have a protein content estimated at 17%. The result is that rope mussel farms can produce 1.829744 tonnes of protein per acre, or 1829 kilo, an estimate three orders of magnitude higher than meat production. This is in line with an estimate given here.

If we assume that we have sufficient places to grow mussels, how much land could we give back to nature, simply by replacing all meat production with rope mussel production? A total of 26% (3.4 billion hectares) of the world’s ice free surface is used for grazing. In addition, one third of arable land is used to grow feed crops. Arable land constitutes 9.3% of the world’s land area, a third of which would be 3.1%, meaning that hypothetically, we could give around 30% of the world’s ice-free surface back to nature.

The environmental impact of this would be minimal. Mussels can actually solve a major problem we are dealing with, of eutrophication of our coastal waters. The bigger problem is getting people to swap a steak for a little critter in a shell, or getting the meat industry to pay for the negative externality it imposes on our environment, which would help make the mussel look a lot more attractive to consumers in the local supermarket.

Fermentation: The key to high-quality plant based protein

Of course we are still operating from the underlying assumption here that animal protein in our diet needs to be substituted, rather than simply reduced. A valid argument can also be made that we would benefit simply from reducing our meat intake and increasing our plant food intake. The protein per acre from plant foods is still higher than the protein per acre we can derive from meat. One study estimated that replacing 25-50% of Europe’s meat intake with plant foods could reduce our land use by 23%.

The question that should occupy our minds however, is why people don’t. One factor that appears to attract people to a diet high in meat is because a plant-based diet leaves them feeling unsatisfied. It appears to me that this problem is mainly a consequence of lysine deficiency in the typical plant based diet. The typical limiting amino acid in cereal grains is the amino acid known as Lysine. The RDA for lysine is 38 mg/kg per day. A group of vegan women had an average lysine intake of 30mg/kg per day, thus the average vegan woman was deficient in lysine.

The vegan response to this is to diversify the diet and include more legumes, but there is a better solution, which consists of increasing the protein quality of the diet, through fermentation. Until we began to produce bread using yeast, most of our bread was fermented by naturally ocurring lactobacillus and yeast strains. These same Lactic acid bacteria live in the rumen of a cow, where they produce lysine. We could theoretically see our herds of cattle as a very inefficient method of grain fermentation.

When we ferment our grains, producing sourdough bread in the process, the lysine content of our food increases tremendously! Lysine content in wheat quadruples upon natural fermentation, as humans used to practice for generations. This process works in maize and rice as well. We have to wonder whether it is coincidence that animal protein as a portion of the Western diet began to grow as sourdough bread simultaneously disappeared from the diet.

Hemp as a source of food

When we feed our cattle, we tend to feed them soybeans, the reason being that soybeans produce large amounts of protein per hectare, at 263 lbs per acre, compared to 75 lbs for wheat. Soybeans are somewhat controversial as a bulk part of the diet for humans, because of their high phytoestrogen content. It’s unclear what the effect is of exposing humans to high amounts of phytoestrogens. Fermentation can be used to reduce the phytoestrogen content. Historically, soybeans do not appear to have been a large portion of the Eastern diet.

There’s another crop out there however, that has the potential to drastically increase our food production per unit of land. This crop is known as hemp. It has been used for thousands of years, since the start of the Neolithic revolution. It’s still used today on a wide scale in North Korea. Besides producing large amounts of seeds that are high in protein, hemp has traditionally been used for its fiber.

The main reason it is hardly used for this purpose today appears to be because although it produces large amounts of useful fiber, the fiber is only found in the bark, which makes the process of producing paper and other products using hemp relatively labor-intensive. Innovations may be possible that make hemp cost-effective in more domains, but sadly, these innovations were prevented by hemp’s status in the 20th century as a forbidden crop, due to the efforts of William Randolph Hearst, who owned newspapers as well as having an interest in forestry industry.

How much potential does hemp have to feed the world? Unrealistic estimates can be found on the internet, of 8 tons of seed per acre. A more realistic estimate seems to be given here, of 873 lbs per acre globally. Taking our 873 lbs per acre estimate of seed production and assuming a 23% protein content for our seeds leaves us with 201 lbs of protein per acre. This compares favorable with wheat, but not with soy.

Of course it has to be pointed out that hemp and soy are not grown on similar fields, as hemp can grow in relatively high latitudes, where soy can not. Most hemp is grown in China, where yields are estimated at 1,606 pounds per acre, which would be 369 lbs of protein per acre, easily beating soy. If we then consider that seed hemp delivers secondary products that could be utilized, hemp begins to look like a very interesting option.

The main problem we have is that our societies are averse to labor-intensive methods of agriculture. If land ownership were adequately taxed, more labor intensive use of a comparatively smaller amounts of land would become more economically competitive, which would probably benefit crops like Hemp at the cost of crops that have a relatively low yield, but require very few workers. Interesting to note here in my personal opinion is that our society has a fetish for “job creation” which serves as an justification for a variety of polluting industries, but the fetish for job creation typically ends as soon as we talk about agricultural reform and decentralization.

Scalability of a mussel based diet

Some estimates for the carbon footprint of mussels can be found here. It is estimated that the suspended mussel has a carbon footprint of 252 kilograms of CO2, to produce one tonne of mussels. This is ridiculously little, when we compare it to the conventional meat industry. Producing one tonne (1000 kg) of red meat will release 22.000 kilograms of CO2. In other words, the humble mussel has a carbon footprint estimated at about 1% of red meat.

Important to note is that shellfish are capable of sequestering carbon dioxide. The shell of the mussel is made of calcium carbonate, which features one atom of carbon per molecule. It is estimated that the mussel sequesters 192 kilograms of carbon dioxide per tonne of harvested mussel, out of which 12 kilo fall into the ocean. In the UK, a large number of these shells end up on landfill sites, where the carbon thus remains locked in the shells. About a quarter of the mussel shells will end up incinerated as waste, which can be considered renewable energy.

The question we should ask ourselves is: How much carbon could we theoretically sequester using mussels? Globally, 308 million tonnes of meat are produced per year. Because the meat yield of a mussel is 28%, 1100 million tonnes of mussels would have to be harvested per year, to produce the equivalent amount of meat. This means that mussels would sequester 211 million ton of carbon dioxide per year, which is slightly less than one percent of yearly global emissions.

Using our earlier figure of 95 tonnes of mussel per hectare, we know that growing 1100 million tonnes of mussels would require 11.5 million hectare. How much land is that? The world has a total land area of 51.000 million hectare. So, we could theoretically replace all meat consumption in the world using 0.02% of the Earth’s surface. Feeding the whole world would take more surface area, but not a whole lot.

There are obviously some constraints that limit how much of the world’s surface we could turn into mussel farms. We need to use areas near the coastline, as areas far away from the coastline will have a higher carbon footprint. Toxic algae blooms may prohibit us from growing mussels in warm water, while very cold waters may have low productivity. Some areas may be too polluted by industrial activity. We’re generally only used to eating salt-water mussels, but fresh-water mussels are actually edible as well. Still, finding 0.02% of the Earth’s surface should not be overly challenging.

Practical consequences

In theory we should be capable of significantly increasing our food production, simply through more efficient resource use. Resources are currently misallocated, both through entrenched cultural practices and our failure to properly account for negative and positive externalities imposed by different methods of food production on our environment.

As long as a boost in our food production would not be accompanied by a boost in population, it would be desirable to radically change the nature of our food supply. People would eat a plant based diet, with fermented cereal grains as a bulk portion of their diet and farmed mussels as their main source of animal protein. This would allow us to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions, reforest most farmland and thereby begin drawing down significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and create habitat for endangered species. It would even cut our healthcare expenses as an unintended benefit.

Of course I’m perfectly aware that the above isn’t going to happen anytime soon. There are political factors here that pose a problem, one of which is the emphasis we place on individual rights. People don’t particularly like to be told what to eat. In addition, politicians, who are typically given a mandate for four years, don’t have an interest in radically changing our standard of living in the coming years, to prevent a disaster that may unfold decades from now.

To illustrate the problem of individual rights, consider the hypothetical case of a society that believes that no child should go hungry, nor that anyone should be told they’re not allowed to have children. Such a society would continue to witness population growth until it faces a classical Malthusian catastrophe. After all, even if 90% of the population refuses to have any children because of their recognition of the concept of carrying capacity, the remaining 10% who through genetic predisposition, religious persuasion or any other factor tend to have many children would grow to become the majority of the population.

In the Western world, we greatly value what we perceive as human rights, because our culture places great emphasis on the individual and his desires. In other cultures, collective punishments and seemingly arbitrary taboos help address some types of problems that we have no effective way of responding to. An example would be China’s one child policy, a policy that’s politically unacceptable in the Western world but an effective method of addressing some of our problems. This isn’t going to change anytime soon. If anything, the Western concept of individual rights is spreading to non-Western societies, rather than the reverse.

An argument can be made that China’s one child policy merely delays the inevitable point where we burn all fossil carbon we can exploit, but even if this is true, delaying the inevitable would already be a significant success. Oceanic organisms would have more generations to genetically adapt to ocean acidification. The current rate of ocean acidification is thought to be faster than any previous episode during the past 300 million years. Organisms on land would have more time to migrate away from the equator.

The big problem we face is that it’s difficult for us to escape the maximum power principle, the phenomenon whereby the principle of natural selection favors systems that continue to grow and utilize ever more resources, even if such short-term growth were to lead to their long-term demise. This is a problem, because technology allows us to utilize resources that other organisms can’t access, or to utilize resources in ways that are profoundly damaging to the ecosystems we inhabit.

Thus although it should be physically possible to give most of the world back to nature while feeding seven billion people, it’s probably politically impossible. However, if discussing this topic leads some policymakers to shift agricultural subsidies more towards mussel production, or if individuals respond by eating a diet that’s high in mussels and fermented grains yet low in red meat, that would already represent a potential improvement of our situation.

It seems to me that someone on a vegan or a vegetarian diet out of environmental considerations could already further reduce the portion of the world’s land he uses, simply by incorporating farmed mussels into his diet. Personally, I practice a vegetarian diet that includes mussels and sourdough bread.