The Green Revolution and subway rats

April 24, 2018 by Joshua
in Nature, Perception

The Green Revolution saved over a billion people from starvation, according to many.

I don’t think that’s the only way to see it. Before describing other ways, first, what is the Green Revolution?

According to Wikipedia,

The Green Revolution, or Third Agricultural Revolution, refers to a set of research and the development of technology transfer initiatives occurring between the 1930s and the late 1960s (with prequels in the work of the agrarian geneticist Nazareno Strampelli in the 1920s and 1930s), that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s. The initiatives resulted in the adoption of new technologies, including:

…new, high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of cereals, especially dwarf wheats and rices, in association with chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals, and with controlled water-supply (usually involving irrigation) and new methods of cultivation, including mechanization. All of these together were seen as a ‘package of practices’ to supersede ‘traditional’ technology and to be adopted as a whole.

Both the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation were heavily involved. One key leader was Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution”, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. He is credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. The basic approach was the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers. Wheat yields in Least Developed Countries

The world population is leveling off now through people having fewer children. To say the changes saved people from starvation assumes that people would have existed to starve, which conflicts with people choosing to have fewer children.


If you leave food out that mice or rats find and they start colonizing your scraps do you say you saved the rats from starvation?

No, you say you bred the rats. Their population grew because you fed it.

Rats don’t seem to have humans’ rationality and ability to predict the future. Since we do, we should be more able to control our population.

Here’s my excuse to show mice and rat videos. Nobody would say that conditions “saved” the rats lives. They grew because they discovered food sources that permitted their growth:



My read

I think one could make the case that the Green Revolution enabled populations to grow that wouldn’t have without it. The world population may well have started leveling off earlier.

I’ve read that we use more fossil fuel energy to create food than we get from the food. In a weird way, you could say we’re turning oil into food.

It’s not obvious the innovations improved or saved lives, as opposed to creating new ones, allowing humans to overpopulate, just at a higher level, making our societies less resilient.

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