This is a farm in China,
This is a Mcdonalds in New York,
This is an apartment complex in Mumbai,
And this is a skyscraper in London.
What do all these have in common? Well as it turns out. All of these places’ successes or failures…
Economic booms or collapses…
And even population growth or famines…
Might soon be decided by the nation of Morocco.
And probably not for the reasons that you might think. In fact, this future economic trajectory was likely decided by a tiny little creature a couple centuries ago.
This a bat. In the modern world, we view bats as things that both control insect population, as well as creatures that spread rare diseases.
But a few hundred years ago, bats were discovered to do something else. Something miraculous that would shape our world forever without most people realizing it.
In 1802, the european explorer, alexander von Humboldt, was travelling through the Peruvian lands, when he discovered something strange.
The peruvian lands did not seem like they were suitable for large scale agriculture, yet the peruvian fields were filled with lush, and healthy looking crops.
And he soon discovered, that the peruvian people had been collecting a substance called guano…which is the excretion of bats and some seabirds…and spreading it along their crops for the previous several thousand years.
So, alexander von humboldt ended up bringing this knowledge of guano significantly increasing food production, back to europe, where it would soon become of key interest to the western world.
Soon after the discovery of guano, food production boomed in the united states and europe. And all of a sudden, these western nations went from having a small but significant shortage of food, to having a massive surplus of food, which was more than enough to feed all of its citizens and then some.
In fact, guano’s impact on boosting food production became so important, that several wars were fought over guano, such as the chincha islands war of 1864 and the war of the pacific in 1879.
The united states became so enamored with guano, that it passed the guano islands act, which allowed any american citizen, to claim and annex any island that had any substantial amount of guano on it. And in fact they did lay claim to about 70 of these islands, most of which were in the pacific ocean.
You see, guano became so important to the economic, population, and industrial growth of the western world, that is became one of the most vital resources in the world.
However in 1913, fritz haber would soon discover a way to synthesize an artificial version of guano, that we today call, fertilizer.
And it was this one single event, the discovery of fertilizer, that wold go on to be known as the detonator for the population explosion of the world.
Soon, starvation in nations that used fertilizer became rare. The worlds population grew from 1.6 billion to 7.7 billion over the next 100 years. Food production and yields immediately doubled in many areas. Because of fertilizer. Nations with typically unsuitable locations to grow food like northern european countries like norway, all of a sudden were able to sustainably grow crops in more areas. And soon, every single countries economic and population growth was indirectly caused by the food surplus created from fertilizer.
In fact, it is estimated that roughly 50% of all the nitrogen in your body is directly from fertilizer that farms use to grow food.
Now, that brings us to today.
You see, all of this seems great so far. Fertilizer has allowed many countries to grow and in some cases become superpowers of the world, where nearly all of their citizens are well fed and have very little food insecurity. But in 2010, a few scientists began noticing something a little worrying.
Fertilizer, the compound that is responsible for a ton of the growth that humanity has seen over the last 2 centuries, might actually be running out.
Thats because the fertilizer that the world has used to grow, needs 3 elements. A Nitrogen based compound, a phosphate, and a potassium based compound. And 2 of which, humans cannot create from scratch. Those are phosphate and potassium, or potash.
Potash, is a non-renewable resource that is largely controlled by 4 countries. Canada is by far the world largest producer of potash,with over one third of the worlds potash coming from canada. Russia, Belarus