Green Revolutionary Norman Borlaug to the Rescue Again

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There are few truer heroes than Norman Borlaug. As the father of the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, Borlaug saved the lives of more people than any other person in history. For his achievement Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and America's highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, earlier this year. 

However, as the new issue of Technology Review reminds us, just as Borlaug's work was being dubbed in 1968 as the "Green Revolution," many experts confidently predicted that massive famines were inevitable. To wit:

Paradoxically, 1968 also saw the genesis of an environmentalist dogma that was pessimistic about humanity's capacity to feed itself. In that year–when the global population growth rate peaked, at 2 percent per year–Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, intoning, "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. … Hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs." The madding crowd of "stinking hot" Delhi was odious to Ehrlich: "My wife and daughter and I … entered a crowded slum area. … People, people, people, people. … [We] were, frankly, frightened." It was a "fantasy," he said, that India would ever feed itself. Yet Borlaug's program delivered such stunning results that India issued a 1968 stamp commemorating the "wheat revolution," and by 1974 it was self-sufficient in all cereals.

Nonetheless, a neo-Malthusian fear of overpopulation became endemic to environmentalist thinking. Science philosopher and Arts and Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton says, "Well-fed Greens flaunt their concern for the planet but are indifferent, even hostile, to the world's poor with whom they share it. Some Greens I knew acted for all the world as though they relished the idea of a coming worldwide famine, much as fundamentalists ghoulishly looked forward to Armageddon." Dutton, who served in the Peace Corps, personally saw the Green Revolution benefit India. "For the catastrophist, India becoming a food exporter was disturbing," he says. "This wasn't supposed to happen. They blame Borlaug for spoiling the fun." 

The Malthusian nightmare didn't come true because Borlaug and his team developed highly productive wheat varieties that were resistant to the devastating wheat rust fungus. Technology Review notes that Borlaug is now working to defeat an outbreak of a new rust fungus that is menacing the world's wheat crop.

Whole Technology Review article here. Reason's 2000 interview with Borlaug here.

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  1. This certainly gives a plausible reason why fairly well-educated environmentalists would be against GM foods.

  2. “The Malthusian nightmare didn’t come true because Borlaug and his team developed highly productive wheat varieties that were resistant to the devastating wheat rust fungus.”

    So you admit that Malthus had a point?

    That said, Puccinia graminis sucks for farmers. However, can’t it be readily excluded from wheat fields by removal of the intermediate host, barberry, from the vicinity of the crop, rather than worrying about resistant varieties of the wheat itself?

  3. Environmentalists just want a people-free environment in which to drive around their Saabs.
    They hate the filthy poor, and they hate the filthy rich (unless they happen to be one of the latter).
    Environmentalists, in short, hate people. And there’s nothing more orgasmic in their minds to think of the stinking masses dying of starvation.
    Fuck them.

  4. Jamie, is it hard to think when the environmentalist in your head keeps shrieking like that?

  5. Norman Borlaug raped me with manufactured over-population!

  6. Gaia,
    So, let them eat cake?

  7. Norman Borlaug raped me with manufactured over-population!

    I thought it was Kobe Bryant that did that to you?

  8. Environmentalists just want a people-free environment in which to drive around their Saabs.

    You mean Volvos. Saabs long ago lost their hoity-toity status. In fact, it can be pretty much traced to the day GM bought the company. As a colleague of mine said, “For every Saab owner, there’s a Saab [sob] story.”

  9. Gaia,
    So, let them eat cake

  10. Environmentalists just want a people-free environment in which to drive around their Saabs.

    You mean Volvos. Saabs long ago lost their hoity-toity status. In fact, it can be pretty much traced to the day GM bought the company. As a colleague of mine said, “For every Saab owner, there’s a Saab [sob] story.”

    You both mean Subarus.
    Ford didn’t ruin the Volvo marque as badly as GM did SAAB but they are more of a safety car than a PC one these days

  11. Gaia is a dirty whore, she loved every minute of it.

  12. No let them starve and their children die so the plants and animals can be free. Too many people hurt the earth.

  13. Gaia,
    Your existence create life… which leads to death. Painful death. Therefore, Gaia must die.

  14. Oughtn’t a good enviro be cruising through the depopulated post-apocalypse on a bicycle?

    And do they really think all those people will just up and die when they realize its hopeless, as opposed to sucking every last stray nutrient out of precious Gaia, and fighting devastating wars to secure said nutrients?

  15. Gaia, humanity is your only worthwhile creation to date. One day we will leave you, a dried up lifeless husk, and create a billion replacements for you.

  16. Re: Oughtn’t a good enviro be cruising through the depopulated post-apocalypse on a bicycle?

    Actually a good environmentalist will probably behave just like anyone else when faced with scavenging for food and scraps. I don’t know why you would think otherwise, though you seem to think it’s funny to suggest that there is a choice, as if someone who never embraced the ethics of a sustainable lifestyle will be able to cruise through the ruins in a Hummer. I suppose you will also be armed. Good for you. You can easily use that gun against those silly environmentalists who try to use ethics.

  17. All right-wing ideologies run on hate, but anti-environmentalism in the Ford Excursion of right-wing ideologies.

    Yes, that’s the reason environmentalists disagree with you – because they want to see people starve.

  18. Borlaug’s sin was not being a politician. You see, in worldview of media and academia, ONLY government is allowed to save people. Shame on him, for suggesting that we don’t need government to keep people from starving!

  19. Once again (for like the fifth time) I ask Ron Bailey to please address the University of Michigan study which alleges that the world can feed itself with organic agriculture:
    http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936

    The greenie-sphere has been crowing about this for months.

  20. because they want to see people starve

    Not white people.


  21. Yes, that’s the reason environmentalists disagree with you – because they want to see people starve.

    When I think “environmentalist”, I think of Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys. And I love nature and the woods and wild things; I do things like camping out near heron nests to get pictures of the ugly-ass babies, and spending several weeks of each year in the backcountry of some national park or other, far away from fucking computers and fucking stupid fat people who fucking watch fucking Tila Tequila and shit.

    So if I have that sort of reaction to environmentalists, I imagine that your average H3-driving suburbanite prick must have some sort of existential terror at the mention of the word. They tell their fat children stories about how the ALF will get them if they don’t clean their plate at the Chinese buffet, or something along those lines.

  22. “Environmentalist” is like “feminist,” a word that has scary, shrill associations for some people, even though no real person is as nuts as your imaginary tree-hugger or bra-burner.

    I grew up in a city, never went camping, was ten before I saw a star; needless to say I spent my time poring over National Geographics, memorizing species names, and diligently conserving water & paper. I’m convinced a lot of loonier environmentalists got started because they never had access to nature. Think of the Green Party in Germany, where they cut down all the forests centuries ago. A tree is a big deal to them because they haven’t got any.

  23. Think of the Green Party in Germany, where they cut down all the forests centuries ago. A tree is a big deal to them because they haven’t got any.

    Right, like the Black Forest. You know, the one in Baden-W?rttemberg. That Black Forest.

  24. Think of the Green Party in Germany, where they cut down all the forests centuries ago. A tree is a big deal to them because they haven’t got any.

    The Green Party deforested Germany hundreds of years ago? Those bastards! I bet they were behind the Treaty of Versailles too.

    I believe you have confused the country of Germany with a shitty movie from the 70’s starring Bruce Dern. He’s got a German-like last name, so I can see how you would be confused.

  25. All right-wing ideologies run on hate,

    No more than left-wing ideologies do, I suppose, but I can think of one “right-wing” ideology that runs on tolerance of other people, not a hatred-driven desire to control them.

  26. Nature is a resource.

    Environmentalists are anti-humanitarian!

  27. so wheres the tolerance of environmentalists? (i dont consider myself one) what about the marketplace of ideas?

    the green revolution was have been a net good for starving people (altough IMF has fucked over plenty of poor countries by telling them to grow exports), but why some people’s ideology’s blind themselves the fact that any new gm food is potentially good or bad FOR HUMANS just like every other technology is beyond me.

  28. Brandybuck,

    I defy you to find me a single quote from an environmentalist accusing Norman Borlaug of committing a sin.

    Come on, just one.

    I double dog dare you.

  29. Well, this particular knuckle-dragger is too illiterate to know who Norman Borlaug is, but I would say this rant comes pretty close, joe.

    http://www.mindfully.org/Farm/Green-Revolution.htm

    Here, he says the Green Revolution is nothing more than the cardinal sin of greed:

    Not far below its thinly disguised benevolence, the so-called ‘revolution’ was only a way for industry to make a buck without regard to humanity’s long-term well-being.

    Naturally, as a proto-Marxist, he is willfully ignorant of such notions as cardinal sins, but I think the implication is clear.

  30. Environmentalists just want a people-free environment in which to drive around their Saabs.

    You mean Volvos. Saabs long ago lost their hoity-toity status. In fact, it can be pretty much traced to the day GM bought the company. As a colleague of mine said, “For every Saab owner, there’s a Saab [sob] story.”

    You both mean Subarus.
    Ford didn’t ruin the Volvo marque as badly as GM did SAAB but they are more of a safety car than a PC one these days

    You are all wrong…it is the hybrid prius

    But this is funny that we are making fun of environmentalists for the cars they drive…isn’t that their occupation?

  31. Right, like the Black Forest. You know, the one in Baden-W?rttemberg. That Black Forest.

    Thank god for Hitler and his environmental thrift…otherwise Germany might not have its forest anymore.

  32. I defy you to find me a single quote from an environmentalist accusing Norman Borlaug of committing a sin.

    R C dean is right…environmentalists poohpooh the green revolution as a disaster every day of the week.

  33. “Yes, that’s the reason environmentalists disagree with you – because they want to see people starve.”

    joe, this is exactly what Gaia wants. And I’ve met other environmentalists who are haters of humanity as well. Of course, not all environmentalists are like Mr. Gaia. Perhaps only a minority are. But don’t pretend a sizeable minority of anti-humanist environmentalist aren’t out there.

  34. joe, this is exactly what Gaia wants. And I’ve met other environmentalists who are haters of humanity as well. Of course, not all environmentalists are like Mr. Gaia. Perhaps only a minority are. But don’t pretend a sizeable minority of anti-humanist environmentalist aren’t out there.

    Why is it important to prescribe a motive to environmentalists at all…isn’t it enough to simply demonstrate that their policies lead to starvation and death? Is it really important to know if they are doing it out of malice or if they are doing it out of ignorance? The result is the same.

  35. joshua,
    A bit of hyperbole and overgeneralization don’t you think? The Clean Air Act had both positive and negative effects. But the negative effects did not lead to starvation and death. The creation of the national parks and forests was mostly a positive – though they haven’t always been well maintained through governmental policies – but ‘starvation and death’? I think not.

  36. “Why is it important to prescribe a motive to environmentalists at all…isn’t it enough to simply demonstrate that their policies lead to starvation and death?”

    Okay, demonstrate as much.

    FTR, mainstream enviro-sites such as Treehugger and Grist don’t apparantly want people to starve and die, nor otherwise be poor and miserable; and they believe their policies will result in the opposite.

    (as a related aside, I believe that the is much unrecognized common ground between mainstream Libertarianism, and mainstream environmentalism. e.g. the massive subsidy structures and protectionist regulations used in our mixed economy in the US is the bane of both aforementioned groups. etc)

  37. RC Dean,

    I disagree with the guy, but noting that actions that bring short-term benefits can produce larger long-term harms for the people you’re trying to help isn’t on its face absurd or despicable. Libertarians do it every time the subject of government aid for the poor comes up.

  38. Runt,

    I gather you don’t spend a great deal of time reading blogs.

    “Gaia” is a troll, of the sub-set of trolls who pose as their political opposite in order to write flagrantly unreasonable things and poison the discourse.

    The fact that you would read the following and think it was a serious expression of someone’s ideas:

    Gaia | December 26, 2007, 5:01pm | #

    Norman Borlaug raped me with manufactured over-population!

    tells us a great deal about your conception of environmentalists, and very little about what environmentalists actually think.

  39. Why is it important to prescribe a motive to environmentalists at all

    Because you can’t demonstrate that their policies lead to starvation and death, so you have to attribute absurd motives in order to make your point, that’s why.

    If Ron Bailey, who makes his living casting environmentalists as the devil, could show that environmentalists’ policies lead to starvation and death, don’t you think he might have done so by now?

  40. Rachel Carson!

    (God, I hate those threads)

  41. joe, Okay, you’re probably right about what Gaia’s motivation really was. Yet, notice that *I* didn’t say *all* environmentalists were anit-humanists – in fact, I even said the anti-humanist crowd was probably in the minority (your response speaks volumes about either your reading skills or your level of honesty). Nevertheless I have met many an earnest anti-humanist environmentalist in my travels. They are definitely out there in abundance even if they are not in the mainstream or representative of environmentalists as a whole.

  42. “Environmentalists, in short, hate people”

    Not quite. Greenies hate people, but they’re not environmentalists. They’re misanthropes who’ve latched onto environmental issues as the basis of their contempt for other people. In earlier times, they would have been witch-hunters or prohibitionists.

    -jcr

  43. so who are these libertarians that insist on setting up environmentalist strawmen and engaging in the same kind of doomsday scenerios they accuse environmentalists of doing?

    what are their motives?

    (i mean besides ron bailey whose motives are obvious)

  44. The madding crowd of “stinking hot” Delhi was odious to Ehrlich: “My wife and daughter and I … entered a crowded slum area. … People, people, people, people. … [We] were, frankly, frightened.”

    You realize that if Erlich were a Republican politician, he’d be lambasted as a racist for saying that…

  45. Borlaug’s rear-guard action against Ug99 reminds us that though we have bested our vertebrate competition, microbes of various kinds remain potent threats – not only to our food supply but even to us.

    Our growing biomass – won by wresting resources from other life forms – presents an increasingly attractive opportunity to looking for food sources of their own.

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