Peak Phosphorous

Five things you may not know about phosphorus (but probably should): 1) It’s an essential element to all life on Earth – so it’s a critical ingredient for industrial fertilizers. 2) The vast majority of our phosphorus supply comes from phosphate rock, mined from geologic deposits. 3) Those geologic deposits are concentrated in just 5 countries, and Morocco alone controls 75% of known reserves. 4) The rate at which we’re consuming phosphorus is flat out unsustainable, to say the least. Experts warn that at current rates we may run out of it this century. 5) If all that weren’t enough, many commercial farms over-apply phosphorus-rich fertilizers, which has catastrophic consequences for freshwater and coastal ecosystems around the world. So, wow, right?! Who knew phosphorus was so important? And given that pretty much no one is talking about the issue of peak phosphorus, what are we going to do? Will we be able to better manage the world’s phosphorus supply before we run out and cause widespread environmental damage, all while continuing to feed the billions of people on the planet?

Image credit: Alexandra Pugachevsky

THIS EPISODE WAS PRODUCED BY LESLIE CHANG, MIKE OSBORNE, AND MILES TRAER.