The Man Who Fought Green Imperialism

There is a great post over at the Newton Blog on RealClearScience about Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, the agronomist who was the Father of the Green Revolution. It demonstrates the difference between the Green Revolution and Green Imperialism. Starting in Mexico, he toiled “for endless hours in the lab and in the fields to breed a wheat plant that was resistant to disease, thick-stemmed, and enormously productive.” Mexico’s wheat yield was six times higher in 1963, sixteen years after Borlaug’s arrival. Ninety-five percent of Mexico’s wheat was of “Borlaug’s dwarf variety.” Developing nations began sowing Borlaug’s crop. The results? “Global yields skyrocketed. Starvation rates decreased. Doom was postponed.”

Yet, environmental lobbyists attempted to block Borlaug’s expansion into Africa. They even convinced the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation to cut funding. While Borlaug was able to boost Ethiopia’s wheat yield to record levels, Africa is still steeped in starvation.

“Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists…” he told The Atlantic. “If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

But the post doesn’t stop there. It captures perfectly what is often wrong with environmental debates:

As with most debates, this one comes down to intrinsic values. From our lofty position in the developed world, we have the luxury to value the fallacious image of pristine, untouched nature over feeding ourselves. Hunger simply isn’t something that most of us are familiar with.

“These people have never been around hungry people,” Borlaug says of people like this. “They’re Utopians. They sit and philosophize. They don’t live in the real world.”

Proselytizing is easy. But try doing it when you’re starving.

2 thoughts on “The Man Who Fought Green Imperialism”

  1. These two points of view clash everywhere. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who, like many members of the Church, have a 3-months supply of foods we normally eat, and a 1 year’s supply of staples, including buckets of hard white wheat. I’ve become sensitive to modern wheat, with it’s high gluten content, as are many people in the developed world. I’ve taken to using Einkorn wheat (also called Emmer and Farro wheat), which is the wheat used anciently in the fertile crescent, Egypt, etc. It’s much different than modern wheat, and the flour is dense and low gluten, tricky to use in bread and dessert recipes. Modern wheat seems to have been bred not only for yield and drought and pest resistance, but to concoct the modern desserts and breads we savor. However, should calamities occur, and starvation set in, you can bet your life, I’ll happily eat the modern wheat we have stored.

  2. This article reminds me of “How the Other California Lives” in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. California is suffering from the worst drought it’s experienced in years, with thousands of acres of farmland laying fallow from lack of water. Though central California is the ‘Salad Bowl of the Nation’, farmers are taking a half million farm acres out of production this year.
    Environmentalists, also called Obstructionists, have convinced Gov. Brown, Senator Feinstein and others, that nothing is as important as the 3″ Smelt fish , and the reintroduced Salmon. So millions of acre feet of water (one acre foot of water is 396, 000 gallons) are diverted from the fertile fields to these fish. Never mind that much of our food stuff will be imported from Mexico and Chile this coming year because of the lack of agricultural water.. (While the govt./obstructionists blame the water shortage on climate change, the truth is that water deliveries have been diverted (stolen) during the last eight years from the farmers. They are being left high and dry…)
    When we had a heaven sent rain happen in California more than a week ago, Brown and Feinstein quickly had 95,000 acre feet of water diverted away from the channels where the Smelt are, to pour into the ocean. Did any Environmentalist complain about what could happen to the salt water fish when the flood of fresh water hit their environs?
    Not a one.

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