The Fate of Phosphate

Phosphate is an essential mineral for all life on Earth. Farmers waste huge quantities of phosphate in fertilizing crops, and in doing so massively pollute terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Now, predictably, a global phosphate shortage looms.

“Phosphorus has no substitute in food production. Mobilizing phosphate rock into the environment at rates vastly faster than the natural cycle has not only polluted many of the world’s freshwater bodies and oceans but has also created a human dependence on a single nonrenewable resource.” ~ Australian resource scientists Dana Cordell & Stuart White

Phosphate use has quadrupled in the last 50 years. Phosphorus mines are rapidly being depleted worldwide.

Over 80% of the phosphorus mined is wasted in application. Recycling and more judicious use would help, but that is not happening.

Phosphate waste mirrors the food it helps produce. Over half of plant food produced is wasted by spoilage and distribution inefficiencies.

Resource efficiency is something men have never been good at. Capitalism has proven the most wasteful and destructive economic system imaginable. Yet this idiotic system is employed worldwide.

Under capitalism, natural resources of all kinds are exploited only with an eye to immediate profit and without consideration of sustainable extraction. Phosphate is exemplary, as is freshwater.

Lacking coordination, capitalism is prone to oversupply. Hence the boom and bust cycles which plague economies. Financial artifice accelerates deterioration of economic cycles after excessive financially driven fertilization.

The ostensible productive purpose of economies is to provide the means for people to enjoy life. Instead, capitalism invariably produces gross inequities: providing for obscene wealth for a very few while the masses struggle.

Phosphate is an acid which, by dint of excess, threatens the integrity of ecosystems everywhere applied. The same may be said of capitalism.


Damian Carrington, “Phosphate fertiliser ‘crisis’ threatens world food supply,” The Guardian (6 September 2019).

Will Steffen et al, “Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet,” Science (13 February 2015).

Sheida Z. Sattari et al, “Residual soil phosphorus as the missing piece in the global phosphorus crisis puzzle,” PNAS (17 April 2012).

Dana Cordell & Stuart White, “Life’s bottleneck: sustaining the world’s phosphorus for a food secure future,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39: 161–188 (October 2014).