Is the Green Revolution sustainable?

Andrew Leonard:

There can be no doubt: Dr. Borlaug’s signal contribution: breeding varieties of wheat and rice that could absorb the extra nitrogen provided by chemical fertilizer vastly expanded grain production in Latin America and Asia, saving hundreds of millions of people from starvation. It is an astonishing accomplishment, one of the great achievements of science in the twentieth century.

But as we plunge into the 21st century, we must ask ourselves, again and again: Is the Green Revolution sustainable? Borlaug himself noted that “If the world population continues to increase at the same rate, we will destroy the species.” It is one of modern science’s great paradoxes that the population growth that made his breakthroughs such life-savers, also ensured even more population growth. And even putting aside the question of how many human life forms the planet can support, there’s also the problem that the production of key components of synthetic fertilizer requires significant fossil fuel consumption. How long can that go on?


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