I would say bigger and more malevolent. It's a direct consequence of the war on fossil fuels. There are those in the environmental movement who want to kill off the vast majority of humanity, from 95% of humans on the planet to almost completely depopulating the planet. Even if they don't intend to harm a single person, if they slash natural gas or crude oil production they inevitably will create shortages of the many products that come from those two fields from simple compounds like urea fertilizers to complex drugs. The world is far more complicated than the simple visions they have, far more interconnected in vast webs of production than the "net zero carbon" people can possibly understand.
To explain this could take a lot of detours and explanations, but the topic
showed up on Watts Up With That today in a short post, “How the War on Fossil Fuels Will Kill People… Urea Edition.” Urea, yes the same compound in urine, is at the bottom of this
story. While the urea we excrete is produced in our livers, not our
kidneys, the urea that's used to create fertilizer is produced through a
century old process that turns natural gas into ammonia which is then used to
synthesize urea. A hundred years ago, German chemists
Fritz Haber and Otto Bosch
developed a way to produce ammonia from nitrogen (80% of the atmosphere and in
billions of chemical compounds so available in virtually any quantity needed)
with natural gas (methane, CH4), stripping the hydrogen from the methane to bond with the nitrogen.
To say this is an important achievement is massive understatement. Both Haber and Bosch were awarded Nobel prizes in chemistry for the process. The first was given in 1918, to Fritz Haber, who developed the process in the laboratory. The second was given to Carl Bosch over a decade later, 1931, for his brilliant engineering skills that made the process viable on a massive scale.
It has been said that Haber-Bosch has fed half the world. Compare the solid black line at the top of this plot to the dashed dark red line, an estimate of the population that could be fed without Haber Bosch nitrogen. The world with that fertilizer has almost twice the population.
Trends in human population and nitrogen use throughout the twentieth century. Of the total world population (solid line), an estimate is made of the number of people that could be sustained without reactive nitrogen from the Haber–Bosch process (long dashed line), also expressed as a percentage of the global population (short dashed line). The recorded increase in average fertilizer use per hectare of agricultural land (blue symbols) and the increase in per capita meat production (green symbols) is also shown. From "How a Century of Ammonia Synthesis Changed the World", Nature Geoscience, 2008.
The War on Fossil Fuels has largely been fought by attempting to deprive fossil fuel producers of capital and force the replacement of fossil fuels with unreliable renewable resources (wind & solar). This strategy was best summed up by Saule Omarova, whose nomination as Comptroller of the Currency was scuttled by at least five Senate Democrats.
Her nomination was withdrawn but the important quote from my earlier post was:
In the clip, Omarova, who was born in the Soviet Union and is not a native English speaker, is seen discussing “troubled industries and firms that are in transitioning.” She continues: “And here what I’m thinking about is primarily coal industry and oil and gas industry. A lot of the smaller players in that industry are, uh, going to probably, uh, go bankrupt in, in, in short order, at least we want them to go bankrupt if we want to tackle climate change, right?”
Combine the pushing of the anti-carbon activists with pressure from the investment sector’s demands “to cut back investment in favor of dividends” have caused the inability to ramp up production fast enough to keep up with surging demand. And this is why we suddenly have a synthetic fertilizer crisis. They're blaming this on Covid, but reality is that it's only coincidence.
Final words to Watts Up With That author David Middleton:
The wholesale destruction of our coal-fired power plant infrastructure and an unjustified fear of nuclear power, coupled with the low capacity factors of wind and solar power has made the world increasingly reliant on natural gas for power generations. Efforts to defund the oil & gas industry and the investment community’s demands that we focus on investor returns rather than growth, while also reducing the carbon intensity of our operations have driven natural gas prices through the roof in areas of the world dependent on imported LNG. This has left us in a situation where many nations will have to choose between freezing in the dark this winter or facing food shortages come spring.