Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The unbearable lightness of being



The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on Norman Borlaug. If you're scratching your head and wondering who that is then join the club. I didn't know about the man who had quietly saved a billion lives either. You see, Norman Borlaug was the architect of the Green Revolution. In 1944 Mexico was teetering on the brink of a famine. Norman Borlaug arrived when a fungus was destroying the native crops and leaving acres of land dry and dying. Norman Borlaug left in 1964 by which time, Mexico was growing an engineered strain of wheat that was durable and resistant to the fungus. In fact, Mexico grew so much that it became a net exporter of wheat. This was the genesis of the green revolution that prevented nearly a billion people from dying of hunger.

What I found interesting was that Greenpeace opposed Borlaug because when people weren't starving to death they would start producing and creating and establishing, horror of horrors, industry. Greenpeace even managed to convince the Ford and Rockefeller institute not to fund Borlaug.

This makes my blood boil. I've had conversations with die-hard environmentalists who have said things like "if they reproduce like cockroaches then they deserve to die." If they only could understand the fundamental immorality of their position. They are willing to kill off people so that a small minority can go camping and enjoy virgin nature. They would put the lives of spotted tree frogs above that of a human being.

The less cynical environmentalists talk about an us vs. them situation - that they will take away our food. Thank goodness that economics is not a zero sum game. An increase in the demand for food leads to increased prices, which means that suppliers have higher profits, which attracts new suppliers or makes existing suppliers more productive who want to produce more to take advantage of higher prices. This leads to increased supply, which leads to a drop in prices. New suppliers means new people attracted to farming because of the higher prices or better technology such as genetically engineered crops. In other words, the markets prevent starvation. Face it guys, Malthus was wrong. (Cases of famine are largely due to other factors than any natural shortage - such as politics and wars).

Today, many African countries refuse to grow genetically modified crops because they are afraid that they can't export to Europe, which has imposed huge restrictions on their sale (thanks to the Greens). Genetically modified crops require less maintenance such as sophisticated irrigation systems and can grow faster and are more resistant to disease. The obvious side effect is that if people aren't starving then they can concentrate on other things such as producing goods to sell that we may actually want.

The radical greens, however, aren't interested in them selling things. It's better that they starve, that taxpayers of rich countries give handouts to them, and that we buy bead bracelets and hemp Mao handbags made by refugee children from Sierra Leone to alleviate our collective guilt.

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