Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Save the earth, have less babies?

September 18, 2009

Andrew Leonard:

I’m not sure I buy the basic premise of the Optimum Population Trust’s argument, however. Countries with lower birthrates tend to be richer and boast far higher per-capita greenhouse gas emissions than countries with high birthrates. Indeed, one of the factors that holds back development in many extremely poor countries is that the rate of population growth criples the  chances for the kind of economic growth that would raise individual living standards. If you successfully manage to reduce the rate at which the population is increasing, you might end up incidentally kicking off  sustained economic growth that turns the existing population into bigger consumers than ever before. It seems to me that the Trust’s approach only works if you keep women poor, barefoot, and not pregnant.

Is the Green Revolution sustainable?

September 17, 2009

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?