Meat trends

by on September 23, 2009 at 11:51 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

For every newly converted vegetarian, four poor humans start earning enough money to put beef on the table.  In the past three decades, the earth's dominant carnivores have tripled our average per capita consumption; in the next four decades global meat production will double to 465 million tons.

That is from the new book Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought, by James G. Workman.

In Bayesian terms, how should I evaluate this book?  I cracked it open to one page (never start with the table of contents) and found something interesting and blogworthy.  For the random review copy I am sent, the odds of that happening for a single page sample are below 1 in 50.

Matt September 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Once again, the conservative, sandwich-heavy portfolio pays off for the hungry investor.

david September 23, 2009 at 12:21 pm

But surely meat consumption is a vital dimension of human welfare!

More on-topic, I wonder how much of the increased per-capita meat consumption is due to increased wealth, and how much is due to subsidies on meat.

fmb September 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Bottom line: I’d say expect triple the normal rate of ideas, and a 10x chance of being very interesting. Detail follows…

This is not quite enough info for the bayesian. At one extreme, if 1/50 of books has something interesting every page and all others have nothing interesting, then it’s 100% that you have a fascinating book. At the other, if books are homogenous you have no new information.

Say half are interesting 1/100 and half 3/100, then the odds of having a book in the latter category triple for each positive sample, from 1:1 to 3:1 to 9:1 etc.

A more realistic distribution would be something like: half the books are 0/50, half the rest 1/50, half the rest 2/50 and so forth. Initially a random page from a random book has a 1/50 chance of being interesting. Once you sample such a page, though, you should expect 3 interesting pages per 50 (and maybe a 10x chance of being very interesting).

Tuttle September 23, 2009 at 12:55 pm

For every fifty times that you randomly “crack open” a book, you would expect to instantly find something blogworthy once.

How many books have you cracked open in the last two months?

Brock September 23, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Permanent drought? Is there going to be less rain in the future?

Or does he just mean there will be more competition for water as usage approaches capacity? If only we had some mechanism for efficiently utilizing scarce resources!

One of the trends of the 21st century will be the market pricing (as opposed to political pricing) of commodities that Nature used to provide in such abundance they used to be free (or auctioned off for political profits) – fishery access, potable water, clean air, etc. etc.

anonymous September 23, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Before predicting permanent drought, never underestimate the possibility of game-changing technology. For instance, Dean Kamen is busily working on a water purifier that should sell for a couple thousand dollars within a few years.

Anonymous Coward September 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm

“Permanent drought? My guess is that fresh water is just going to get more pricey. A shrewd investor will not buy gold; she will buy shares in the Great Lakes.”

Baloney, water is way cheap, even desalinated water is relatively cheap.

Jim Bouman September 23, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Diversity @3:18

There are no shares of the Great Lakes for sale. The only way to get Great Lakes action is to move to the Great Lakes Basin and become part of it; and drink, swim, fish, sail, etc, to your heart’s content. Also be prepared to resist the coming pressure to send some of the Great Lakes to Arizona or Las Vegas.

TMLutas September 23, 2009 at 5:13 pm

The ceiling price of water is the cost to desalinate plus transport from your nearest ocean. Any long term price above that can only come from political intervention. In other words, the entire book’s a crock because even at 0″ precipitation, there will be water. You just have to be rich enough to afford it.

It’s a wealth problem, not a resource problem.

doctorpat September 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Half the major cities in Australia are in the process of installing desalination.

Of course all the major cities in Australia are on the coast, and Australia is a major source of cheap energy (coal, gas, uranium) so that helps.

AaronB September 24, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Comments about water desalination creating a ceiling price for water are interesting, but they don’t really address the problem at hand, for several reasons.

First, desalination is a tiny percentage of current capacity. The increase in demand for water from population growth alone (64 billion gallons per year) is four times the TOTAL CAPACITY for desalinization, around 16 billion gallons.

Second, the cost and viability of desalination drops rapidly when you get outside of developed countries, flat countries, and small countries. Outside the extremely expensive facilities themselves, transporting the water across large interior spaces, especially with significant elevation changes, is no small task. The infrastructure required adds substantially to the cost of production, which is not a reliable indicator of the final cost to the consumer.

Third, desalination is extremely energy-intensive, placing a much greater burden on existing energy resources, thwarting attempts to replace capacity with renewables, and just generally making the transition to a low-carbon economy harder (which all increase in energy usage does). Beyond that, dumping concentrated seawater back into the oceans is one of the largest forms of marine pollution, increasing salinity past reasonable levels and killing off local marine ecosystems.

Fourth and most importantly, even if we could supply all six-and-a-half-ish billion people with desalinated water, depleting natural aquifers still rapidly accelerates droughts and desertification, interferes with the water cycle, and dries up streams. Even if humans make out okay, which is a big if, essentially any ecosystem that relies on natural water sources other than precipitation (which is essentially all climate types except for taiga, tundra, and desert) will be well and truly fucked, and without the biosphere, we’re all dead anyway. This is not one of those things we can just use up and move on, which is what water crisis people are saying.

The problem is not of depleting the aquifer and then finding other sources, like how the oil economy works. For most of these regions, THERE IS NO PLAN B. Once the water is used up, they have zero desalination capacity, and there is no infrastructure for transporting water from one place to another. Even if the problem weren’t permanent, and my claims about the dependence of ecosystems on natural water sources indicate that it would be, it would still cause decades of instability, drought, and famine.

This is serious business, kids. Now move over and let the adults talk.

AaronB September 24, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I don’t care HOW much you hate tofurkey. The facts are that not eating meat (seafood is a different story, but cow, pig, and chicken all falls into this category, cows especially) is the single best thing you, as an individual, can to do stop climate change. It’s a question of priorities. And if you think “ewwww, soy” is a good enough reason to laugh and dismiss that argument, well, that’s your problem.

Except it’s actually all of our problem, and it’s getting more severe every day now.

Michael B September 25, 2009 at 1:37 pm

FWIW, your sample size is *WAY* too small to make that prediction at any level of confidence.

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