NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Get Dense

March 15, 2012

Inherent in the growth of the world's population is the need to produce more staple food items and energy.  However, restrictions imposed by the need to preserve the natural environment require further efforts in this area to focus on producing more with marginally less space.  This lends credence to the expansion of energy density.  The lessons of density can be seen in farmland acreage, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Center for Energy Policy and the Environment at the Manhattan Institute.

  • Across the entire world, there are currently 3.7 billion acres under cultivation.
  • Indur Goklany, a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of the Interior, estimates that if agriculture had remained at its early-1960s level of productivity, feeding the world's population in 1998 would have required nearly 8 billion acres of farmland.
  • This additional 4.3 billion acres is only slightly smaller than South America, which underlines the point that without technological advances augmenting farm density, much of the natural environment would have to have been developed to produce more food.

The need to improve food and energy density, especially with growing demand from developing countries such as China and India, undermines the arguments of many environmentalists, who impose substantial burdens on producers.

  • Organic farming, which has been advocated by the Green Left as an alternative to mass production farming, produces substantially less food per acre.
  • Various recent studies have found that land devoted to organic farming produces 50 percent less wheat, 55 percent less asparagus and lettuce, and 23 percent less corn than conventionally farmed land of the same acreage does.
  • Sales of organic products, which more than doubled to some $51 billion between 2003 and 2008, further constrain food production, contributing to 2011's higher prices that, according to the Food Price Index, are 60 percent higher than 2007.

The lessons of density are also instructional in the production of energy.  President Obama stated in his recent State of the Union speech that America can end its dependence on foreign oil through the use of biofuels.  However, this energy source consumes enormous amounts of edible foods -- 15 percent of global corn production and 5 percent of all the grain grown in the world.

Meanwhile, traditional natural gas and nuclear energy have far greater energy densities that interfere comparably little with the environment.

Source: Robert Bryce, "Get Dense," City Journal, Winter 2012.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues