The "imminent" phosphorus crisis, an essential element for life on Earth, worries scientists

The “imminent” phosphorus crisis, an essential element for life on Earth, worries scientists


Researchers have recently expressed concern about the depletion of phosphorus, an essential element of life on Earth.It is not renewable, and reserves are running out.This real environmental crisis seems to go unnoticed.

Phosphorus – the chemical element number 15 in the periodic table – is an essential mineral for life on Earth. It is found associated with multiple organic combinations, in the nucleic acids, DNA and RNA of which it constitutes the skeleton. In humans and other animals, it is the most abundant mineral after calcium. It contributes to the formation and strength of bones, teeth, and allows cell multiplication as well as energy transfer. In the plant world, he is involved in the process of photosynthesis, among other properties. It is particularly present in fertilizers, and therefore essential to agriculture.

A silent crisis
We consume a lot, a lot of phosphorus. Over the past 50 years, enriched-based fertilizers have increased five-fold. A demand that should continue to grow until 2050, since we will have more and more mouths to feed.

The problem is that phosphorus is not renewable. There is currently no substitute, and current techniques do not allow recycling. The excesses are leached, causing pollution of water resources on a global scale.

In the end, world reserves are running out, threatening the survival of all living beings on the planet. It is not a question of being alarmist: it is a realistic observation.

Everyone does not agree on the deadline. Some say that we could have exhausted the reserves in 40 or 80 years, when others think we could still hold 300 years. On the other hand, everyone agrees that the phosphorus crisis is imminent and nothing seems to be done to try to change things. Lack of public awareness is also overlooked, a problem that concerns us all.

Learn how to better manage resources
Forty researchers have recently stepped in to warn the authorities. There is no global collaboration or coordination that takes responsibility for governing global phosphorus resources, says Kasper Reitzel, one of the authors of this new report. The current mismanagement of this essential nutrient is an urgent challenge, leading to global pollution of water resources while preventing equitable access to fertilizers to support food production around the world.

Researchers raise the need to reduce our phosphorus consumption as much as possible. They also stress the need to put in place techniques to recycle the element. If we succeed, they ensure that we can reuse phosphates at least 40 times. In parallel with this research, professionals will have to be trained to ensure the international management of phosphorus.

Thus, the future of the next generations does not depend only on the actions that will be taken in the coming years to limit the rise in temperatures. It also depends on our future efforts to better manage this vital element in life.