Are We Running Out of Omega-3?

Apparently. The obvious source is fish but we are running out of fish:

In 2006, aquaculture production was 51.7 million metric tons, and about 20 million metric tons of wild fish were harvested for the production of fishmeal. “It can take up to 5 pounds of wild fish to produce 1 pound of salmon, and we eat a lot of salmon,” said Naylor, the William Wrigley Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. [via Future Pundit]

This is why Jared Diamond’s Collapse is so unfortunate. Diamond is a good writer and the question he tried to answer in that book is extremely important. But he whiffed. Suppose I write a book about obesity. I give a list of ten reasons people are fat: 1. Too much Food X. 2. Too much Food Y. And so on. (Just as Diamond gave a list of eight-odd reasons societies collapse.) Such a book would be far less helpful than a book with a correct theory about obesity, a theory that explains why Foods X, Y, etc. cause obesity. The theory could be used to find new, better, flexible ways of avoiding obesity. The list of foods to avoid cannot. In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs (whom Diamond doesn’t mention) said that collapse happens for one overarching reason: The society is too resistant to new ways of doing things. The crucial struggle in any society, said Jacobs, isn’t between the rich and the poor or between owners and labor; it’s between those who benefit from the status quo and those who benefit from change.

Thanks to Peter Spero.

11 Replies to “Are We Running Out of Omega-3?”

  1. A couple of random thoughts:
    1. The Jacobs position sounds somewhat like Arnold Toynbee’s theory of ‘challenge and response” from his A Study of History. Does she cite him?
    2. Issues of response to rapidly rising health care costs and global climate change, to name just two current issues, seem to me to illustrate this problem. Entrenched interests and commitments to established ways of doing things seems to prevent needed action to avert looming–perhaps catastrophic– problems.

  2. Steve G., no Jacobs doesn’t mention Toynbee anywhere, as far as I know. I completely agree about health care and global climate change. And I agree about lumping them together: If a society is too status-quo-oriented in one area, it is likely to be the same way in other areas. America’s response to the financial crisis is a third example: the underlying features that caused the crisis are still there because there is a strong bias against change.

  3. I don’t see any reason to dump on Diamond here. Tracing out the paths to destruction of a series of societies is instructive by itself. Speculating on how each might have been saved would not have strengthened his book. Those that didstave off collapse provided examples of what a society must be capable of if it is to survive.

  4. I still think you may be missing a larger point about Diamond: he has lost his confidence in technology (i.e. “new ways of doing things”) as a solution, because of 1) its track record of unintended consequences, and 2) time has run out for it. See Chapter 16 of Collapse. His pessimism seems to go so far as to make any status-quo resistance irrevelant.

  5. Speaking of medical care, does China have Wal-Mart medical clinics? In states that allow them, they are spreading as the low-cost alternative to other sources of care.

    Too bad they are not being discussed in the current debates here in America.

  6. I heard a guy on the radio about a month ago being interviewed about this sort of thing. He had written a book, but I can’t remember his name or the title. The book was about the future of medicine.

    He was very much in favor of the kind of treatment given at urgent care clinics like CareNow and others. They have a list of 35-40 conditions they will treat. When a patient comes in, they make a go/no-go decision of whether the patient has one of those conditions. If he does, he is treated according to a predetermined list of steps.

    He said that these clinics have had zero suits for malpractice. Did I hear that right? Zero? It sounds amazing.

    The author believed that it would be possible for medical knowledge to expand in the next few years so that more and more conditions could be treated like this. It would bring costs down and free up hospitals to treat more difficult cases.

    If anyone knows the name of the book/author, please chime in.

  7. One of my favorite authors, T R Reid, has just published a book called “The Healing of America” which is about health care around the world. However, I don’t think that’s who you mean.

  8. Hey Seth Great Blog!

    The concern with fish oil is they are dealing with toxins and contaminants, not to mention the fish supplies in the world diminishing. Yet Mila is a sustainable resource.

    Fish Oil people have a major concern with Mila from Lifemax because they market that you need the EPA and DHA that are not really essential. Here is the kicker, Mila provides ALA that is essential and supplies what your body doesn’t produce, but your body converts from the ALA…the needed EPA and DHA if that was even a concern, go figure!

    Dr. Wayne Coates has spent the last twenty years of his life researching Mila, perfecting it and finding the optimal growing conditions. Crops can be increased and there is plenty of land with the requirements needed.


    Robert and Sharri Ratcliff

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