Consider this: we need less than a third of the land to generate the same amount of food today vs. 50 years ago.  

“Transgenic crops are being developed with high yields, lifesaving vitamins, tolerance of drought and salinity, resistance to disease, pests, and spoilage, and reduced need for land, fertilizer, and plowing,” writes Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now.

Incredible. And yet, not everyone is happy about all this progress.

“Like all advances, the Green Revolution came under attack as soon as it began,” writes Steven. “High-tech agriculture, the critics said, consumes fossil fuels and groundwater, uses herbicides and pesticides, disrupts traditional subsistence agriculture, is biologically unnatural, and generates profits for corporations.”

Steven’s conclusion? “Given that it saved a billion lives and helped consign major famines to the dustbin of history, this seems to me like a reasonable price to pay.”

He notes: “Hundreds of studies, every major health and science organization, and more than a hundred Nobel laureates have testified to their safety. . . [yet] traditional environmentalist groups, with what the ecology writer Stewart Brand has called their ‘customary indifference to starvation,’ have prosecuted a fanatical crusade to keep transgenic crops from people—not just from ‘whole-food gourmets’ in rich countries but from poor farmers in developing ones.”

Steven believes environmental groups like these are committed to “the sacred yet meaningless” value of “naturalness,” which leads them to denounce “genetic pollution” and “playing with nature” and to advocate for “real food” based on “ecological agriculture”. 

The real issue? The “scientifically illiterate public” does not understand the actual problem being solved. The consequences are dire. “I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about,” Stewart observes. “We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”

The opposition to transgenic crops has been “perniciously effective in the part of the world that could most benefit from it.” Steven notes. “Sub-Saharan Africa has been cursed by nature with thin soil, capricious rainfall, and a paucity of harbors and navigable rivers, and it never developed an extensive network of roads, rails, or canals.

“Adoption of transgenic crops, both those already in use and ones customized for Africa, grown with other modern practices such as no-till farming and drip irrigation, could allow Africa to leapfrog the more invasive practices of the first Green Revolution and eliminate its remaining undernourishment.”

Hard-core environmentalists seem to fail to consider that innovation does not standstill. We’re not only getting better. We are getting better at getting better. “The beauty of scientific progress is that it never locks us into a technology but can develop new ones with fewer problems than the old ones,” Steven observes.

That’s the genius of innovation.


Reflection: What do I find interesting or compelling about the information above?  

Action: Discuss with a friend or colleague.

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