What would we eat in the event of global catastrophe? Two researchers have come up with the answers and let's just say that it involves plenty of bacterial slime and rats.
In a new book titled Feeding Everyone No Matter What, risk researchers have imagined eight scenarios where some calamity destroyed our ability to grow crops. The list includes sudden climate change, super-weeds, super-bacteria, super-pests, super-pathogens, super-volcano eruption, asteroid impact, and nuclear winter.
The authors of the book, Joshua Pearce at Michigan Technological University and David Denkenberger at the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, were tired of people imagining apocalyptic scenarios without offering solutions for how we might plausibly feed ourselves after global devastation.
Too often futurists have simply wallowed in the apocalypse porn aspects of how many people might die or where we might live after a given disaster. But figuring out how we'd feed ourselves is obviously one of the most important elements of rebuilding society.
In the event of a super-volcano, asteroid impact or nuclear winter, the sun would be completely blocked out and it could be up to five years of darkness before we might start up agricultural systems again. A five-year supply of food would take up an enormous amount of space and cost about $12,000 for a family of four, according to the researchers. So what will be our options?
"We came up with two primary classes of solutions," Pearce said in a release. "We can convert existing fossil fuels to food by growing bacteria on top of it—then either eat the bacterial slime or feed it to rats and bugs and then eat them."
Rats and bugs can also consume wood products, which would likely be plentiful in a disaster scenario. The researchers also included ideas about creating tea out of pine needles, which they insist would "provide a surprising amount of nutrition."
If none of this sounds terribly delicious, their scenarios aren't all bad. For instance, they imagine that we could still have things like soda and artificial meat products — food luxuries in a post-apocalyptic world.
"We could extract sugar from the bacterial slime and carbonate it for soda pop," Pearce said. "We'd still have food scientists, too, who could make almost anything taste like bacon or tofurkey. It wouldn't be so bad."
The various thought experiments they pose actually leads one to wonder why we can't properly feed every human on the planet today. The researchers insist that it's technically feasible to feed everyone alive on the planet today, even without conventional agriculture.
"The end of the book poses questions that we need to look at quickly," Pearce said. "We can feed everyone if we cooperate and do a little thinking ahead of time—not in the dark when everyone is screaming. Life could continue to go on normally. Just a little dimmer."
Perhaps we could even put some of that cooperative effort and thinking into the food problems of today. Given the dire conditions so many people live in today, aliens visiting Earth would no doubt believe that some catastrophe had already hit.
You can watch video of researcher Joshua Pearce talking about the book below.
Image: Ukrainian students try on gas masks as part of a safety drill in a school in Rudniya, just outside the Chernobyl contamination zone, April 3, 2006 via AP