RE: [Irvine] "Everyone has to take a job sometime" / NH3

Jim Whitehead (
Wed, 18 Aug 1999 13:07:57 -0700

> The same issue (vol 400) has an interesting essay by Vaclav Smil on
> the importance of synthetic ammonia:
> > What is the most important invention of the twentieth century?
> > Aeroplanes, nuclear energy, space flight, television, and computers
> > will be the most common answers. Yet none of these can match the
> > synthesis of ammonia from its elements. The world might be better
> > off without Microsoft and CNN, and neither nuclear reactors nor
> > space shuttles are critical to human well-being. But the world's
> > population could not have grown from 1.6 billion in 1900 to today's
> > six billion without the Haber-Bosch process.

I guess, presumably, because it can then be used to create various
Nitrogen-providing fertilizers (like ammonium nitrate, which incidentally
has nice explosive powers as demonstrated by a ship exploding in the Texas
City harbor in the late '40s flattening a quarter of the town, and in
Oklahoma City just recently...). This is just perpetuating the "great
person" school of history. Fact is, the large population growth this
century is due to new agricultural practices, along with improvements in
health, such as vaccines that are easily exported to the developing world.

But, truly, there is such a cluster of issues surrounding population growth
this century, it really sounds naive to give such credit to an
infrastructure chemical process.

- Jim