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Social Injustice: Climate Activists vs. Nitrogen Fertilizers

By Steve Overholt -- June 6, 2023

“Now, climate warriors have arrayed their forces against manmade ‘chemical’ nitrogen fertilizers. The convenient collateral damage in this campaign is the natural gas required to produce this essential plant nutrient.”

Throughout modern history science-based increases in food production and the wealth it generates have brought astonishing reductions in population growth rates. Then came climate alarmism and forced energy transformation.

The farmers toil as many Americans relax and take summer vacations. The agricultural sector today represents only 1.3 percent of our population compared to 30 percent a century ago, producing record harvests through brains, sweat, and science (and CO2 enrichment and longer growing seasons). Yet many of them feel uneasy about the climate-change exaggerators who have them in the government’s crosshairs.

A New Front

It is not only beef from cattle, a methane issue. Climate warriors have now arrayed their forces against manmade “chemical” nitrogen fertilizers. The convenient collateral damage in this campaign is the natural gas required to produce this essential plant nutrient.

All inorganic (“chemical”) nitrogen fertilizer is produced using ammonia as an intermediary compound. The ammonia (NH3) is in turn produced from nitrogen and hydrogen. The nitrogen (N) comes from air and the hydrogen (H) is stripped from natural gas (CH4) molecules.

In late May, U.S. Climate Czar John Kerry blamed farmers for 33 precent of greenhouse gas emissions and stated, “This sector needs innovation now more than ever.” Twenty-seven House Republicans sent a letter telling Biden and USDA Secretary Vilsack to denounce those comments. With Kerry’s powerful unelected Cabinet-level position and National Security Council seat, he can wreck our food production based upon any carefully considered whim or emotion.

It’s altogether fitting that Czar is the Russian version of Caesar–the first of whom usurped a democracy and seized dictatorial power over Rome. Thus ended the 500-year Roman Republic. Our Climate Czar requires no seizing; he already holds dictatorial power via leftist Big Tech, State Media, and bureaucratic hegemony. And he’s set his sights on the science of plant nutrition.

The importance of nitrogen fertilizer is illustrated in an online photo by Professor Deli Chen of the University of Melbourne. It shows a wheat field in which one side has not received “chemical” nitrogen fertilizer and the other has. On the unfertilized side, anemic shoots starve in a mostly dirt-brown field, while the fertilized side is lush with life-giving grain.

In the epic battle of climate justice vs. human sustenance, here’s the issue driving climate activists: Nitrogen in the soil can combine with oxygen to emit nitrous oxide (N2O), an alleged greenhouse gas. Therefore, manmade nitrogen fertilizer is evil. But organic nitrogen fertilizer is still divine.

This message deliberately buries the fact that plants cannot utilize organic nitrogen. Before plants can use nitrogen bound within organic molecules, it must be converted by soil bacteria chemical reactions into the same inorganic chemicals that comprise manmade fertilizers. In addition, manure contains or generates inorganic ammonia, a common manmade “chemical” fertilizer. Also present in manure due to incorporated urine is inorganic urea, which is the most common of the evil “chemical” fertilizers.

This climate craziness has real-world consequences. It of course inflicts its suffering primarily upon vulnerable communities of color and underprivileged women and children.

The Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in 2021 banned “chemical” nitrogen fertilizer and demanded farmers use “organic” alternatives. Rice production plummeted 50% and The Socialist Republic went from self-sufficiency to importing rice at a cost of $450 million. Its already-anemic economy collapsed, sparking riots as food-price inflation reached 93 percent.

In June 2022, 59 percent of Sri Lankan families reported not being able to meet their food needs, according to Save the Children. Last year 5.3 million persons had to reduce or skip meals. At least 65,600 people were rated “severely food insecure,”­ (the worst category) according to World Food Programme and U.N.

Canada–despite the horrifying experience of the Socialist Republic–maintains its “ambitious national target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with fertilizer application to 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.” The Netherlands set its feel-good, eat-bad target at up to 50 percent reduction, spawning massive farmer protests.

Fertilizer is one of the biggest expenses farmers bear. In 2022 it comprised 35 percent of U.S. cost of corn and wheat production. Therefore, farmers already use every means to reduce consumption, including GPS-enabled equipment that varies application according to soil-test data from various parts of their fields.

Historical Context

Global population was growing 2.2 percent per year in 1962. Growth then plateaued for a few years, getting knocked back by Communist China’s Great Leap Forward, in which up to 55 million people slowly starved to death as Mao forced individual farmers onto government-controlled communes. China’s growth rate was around 2 percent in the late 1950s at the start of Mao’s program, then plunged to -1 percent in 1961, finally recovering several years later, according to World Bank figures.

Mao apparently hadn’t learned from results in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the 1930s when up to ten million Ukrainians died as Stalin forced them onto government-controlled farms.

Contrast this with individualistic, capitalistic America, where in the 1960s Norman Borlaug launched the Green Revolution when he introduced genetically modified crops via crossbreeding. This, along with “chemical” nitrogen fertilizer and increasing atmospheric CO2, brought astounding increases in food supplies. The boost brought a distinct inflection point in the trajectory of world population growth.

The global population growth rate had risen five-fold between 1900 and 1965. It then reversed, dropping in half by 2020. The decline accompanied the “chemical” fertilizer-fueled Green Revolution… a frightful fact for climate-science deniers. “Censor that!”

In the underprivileged developing world, the Green Revolution increased crop yield per acre 44 percent between 1965 and 2010. This increased income for the poor and reduced population growth rates, according to a 2021 study by the Journal of Political Economy.

In India, wheat yield per acre increased nearly 4.7X from 1950 to 2010, growing another 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, while per capita income increased nearly 70 percent. In response, India’s soaring population growth eased by two-thirds between 1961 and 2021.

Similar trends played out globally as grain production increased 280 percent from 1961 to 2014 while population increased only 136 percent. And brainy farmers used just 16 percent more land to produce that 280 percent more grain. This was the benefit of “chemical” fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and farmers free to choose.

Regarding organic nitrogen fertilizer: It is impossible to get enough to replace the current “chemicals,” especially since Leftists want to ban methane-belching cows, with their manure also being accused of creating the same nitrous oxide (N2O) greenhouse gas as does manmade nitrogen fertilizer.


Nitrogen and CO2 boost crop yields, especially in combination with genetically modified seeds (another Lefto-fascist nein-nein). Throughout modern history, increased agricultural productivity and the wealth it generates have brought astonishing reductions in population growth rates. A significant reason is that farmers in the developing world no longer need so many children in order to produce enough food to sell for the cash they need to live on.

But how big of a threat is N2O? A recent study by physicists from the Netherlands, U.S., and Canada concluded that at current rates, it would take over 400 years for atmospheric N2O to double, and warming caused by N2O is 0.00036 °F per year. This is well worth starving those Developing World women and children, wouldn’t you agree? (Sarcasm dripping!)

Is it ethical, then, for Lefto-fascists and Climate Czars to attack genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizer, and CO2 emissions when these have delivered a huge easing of population growth, far more efficient land use, massive rise in standard of living, and a glorious decline in death by starvation? To ask the question is to answer it–and demand, by any sane definition, Social Justice.


Steven Overholt has a bachelor of science degree with a double-major in chemistry and biology, holds six U.S. patents, and is author of the book, Mastering Technology Commercialization. His previous post at MasterResource is the two-part Can-Do Petroleum vs. Can’t Do Renewables.

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