Ghosts In The Machine

Richard (Rick) Mills
Ahead of the Herd

Page 1 of 2

 

As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information

 

In 1798 32 year-old British economist Malthus anonymously published “An Essay on the Principle of Population” and in it he argued that human population’s increase geometrically (1, 2, 4, 16 etc.) while their food supply can only increase arithmetically (1, 2, 3, 4 etc.). Since food is obviously necessary for us to survive, unchecked population growth in any one area or involving the whole planet would lead to individual pockets of humanity starving or even mass worldwide starvation.

 

"The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” Thomas Robert Malthus

 

Facts - Our topsoil is turning to dust and disappearing while at the same time we’re draining  our fresh water aquifers faster than they can be recharged. Our atmosphere, the very air we breathe and earth’s armor against cosmic radiation is being poisoned and destroyed.

 

Viva the revolution

 

The second half of the 20th century saw the biggest increase in the world’s population in human history. Our population surged because of:

  • Medical advances lessened the mortality rate in many countries 
  • Massive increases in agricultural productivity caused by the “Green Revolution”

The global death rate has dropped almost continuously since the start of the industrial revolution – personal hygiene, improved methods of sanitation and the development of antibiotics have all played a major role.

 

The term Green Revolution refers to a series of research, development, and technology transfers that happened between the 1940s and the late 1970s. The initiatives involved:

  • Development of high yielding varieties of cereal grains
  • Expansion of irrigation infrastructure
  • Modernization of management techniques
  • Mechanization
  • Distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers

Tractors with gasoline powered internal combustion engines (versus steam) became the norm in the 1920s after Henry Ford developed his Fordson in 1917 – the first mass produced tractor. This new technology was available only to relatively affluent farmers and it was not until the 1940s tractor use became widespread.

 

Electric motors and irrigation pumps made farming and ranching more efficient. Major innovations in animal husbandry – modern milking parlors, grain elevators, and confined animal feeding operations  -  were all made possible by electricity.

 

Advances in fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and antibiotics all led to better weed, insect and disease control.

 

There were major advances in plant and animal breeding – crop hybridization, artificial insemination of livestock, growth hormones and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

 

Further down the food chain came innovations in food processing and distribution.

 

All these new technologies increased global agriculture production with the full effects starting to be felt in the 1960s.

 

Cereal production more than doubled in developing nations – yields of rice, maize, and wheat increased steadily. Between 1950 and 1984 world grain production increased by over 250% - and the world added a couple billion people more to the dinner table.

 

The modernization and industrialization of our global agricultural industry led to the single greatest explosion in food production in history. The agricultural reforms and resulting production increases fostered by the Green Revolution are responsible for avoiding widespread famine in developing countries and for feeding billions more people since. The Green Revolution also helped kick start the greatest explosion in human population in our history - it took only 40 years (starting in 1950) for the population to double from 2.5 billion to five billion people.

 

We goosed agra machine’s growth and at the same time, through better sanitation and the use of antibiotics, we saved a billion people who birthed a billion and more.

 

The Revolution is dead

 

Unfortunately the effects of the green revolution are fast wearing off and the true cost to our environment is only now becoming apparent.

 

The production advances of the Green Revolution were real. But by any yardstick the Green Revolution, while a true, almost global agricultural revolution, was not as green as many think - there was heavy collateral damage:

  • Agricultural output did increase as a result of the Green Revolution, but the energy input to produce a crop increased faster - the ratio of crops produced to energy input has decreased. This is because High Yielding Varieties (HYVs) of seeds only outperform traditional varieties when adequate irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers are used
  • Green Revolution agriculture produces monocultures of cereal grains. This type of agriculture relies on the extensive use of pesticides because monoculture systems - with their lack of genetic variation - are particularly sensitive to bug infestations
  • The transition from traditional agriculture to GR agricultural meant farmers became dependent on industrial inputs - not made on the farm inputs. Farmers faced severely increased costs because they now had to purchase such items as farming machinery, fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation equipment and seeds
  • The increased level of mechanization on larger farms removed a large source of employment from the rural economy. New machinery – mass produced gas tractors, large self propelled combines and mechanical cotton pickers – all combined to sharply reduce labor requirements
  • Less people were affected by hunger and died from starvation - but many more are affected by malnutrition such as iron or Vitamin A deficiencies. Green Revolution grains do not have the same nutritional values as traditional varieties. The switch from heavily rotated multiple crops to mono cropping or dual cropping reduces total soil fertility and the nutritional value of our food
  • The Green Revolution reduced agricultural biodiversity by relying on just a few varieties of each crop. The food supply could be susceptible to pathogens that cannot be controlled by agrochemicals
  • Many valuable genetic traits, bred into traditional varieties over thousands of years, are now lost
  • Wild plant and animal biodiversity was hurt because the Green Revolution expanded agricultural development into new areas where it was once unprofitable or too arid to farm
  • The 20/80 phenomenon - the rapid increase in farm size and the concentration of production among large producers means 20% of producers generate 80% of the agricultural output
  • As a result of modern irrigation practices, aquifers in places like India and the US mid west have become depleted.  There are two types of aquifers: replenish able, most of the aquifers in India and the shallow aquifer under the North China Plain are replenish able – depletion means the maximum rate of pumping is automatically reduced to the rate of recharge. For fossil, or non-replenish able aquifers - like the U.S. Ogallala aquifer, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain, or the Saudi aquifer - depletion brings pumping to an end. In the more arid regions like the southwestern United States or the Middle East the loss of irrigation water could mean the end of agriculture in these areas
  • Green Revolution techniques rely heavily on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, some of these are developed from fossil fuels which makes today’s agriculture regime much more reliant on petroleum products
  • Farming methods that depend heavily on chemical fertilizers do not maintain the soil's natural fertility and because pesticides generate resistant pests, farmers need ever more fertilizers and pesticides just to achieve the same results
  • The increased amount of food production led to overpopulation worldwide

By 2050, the world's population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people. Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, is on record stating he believed that 100% adoption of  Green Revolution practices (and adaptation of well advanced research in the pipeline), could feed 10 billion people on a sustainable basis.

 

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