FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Feeding 7.7 billion

When I was born in 1932, the world had 2 billion people. Today, the global population has swelled to 7.7 billion – soon to quadruple in a single lifetime.

How can the planet feed the mushrooming manswarm? Here are some thoughts:

I grew up in a meager farming region of West Virginia. We had no electricity. Small-town families had gaslights, and everyone else used kerosene lamps.

Our valley was mostly a string of dirt farms, horse-operated like in medieval times. My boyhood was during World War II, when most men had gone to combat. My aging uncle ran his farm with two mismatched horses and a crew of granddaughters, plus a scrawny pubescent nephew, me.

We milked cows by hand, plowed and mowed by team, found Indian arrowheads in corn rows, cut creekbank weeds to feed pigs, killed copperhead snakes, straightened bent nails to save money – long days of manual work. It seemed like slavery. Other family farms along the valley were little different.

As soon as I graduated from a little country high school (13 in my senior class), I fled to urban life and a newspaper job. In decades after the war, when I returned home, I found most of those old farms abandoned, overgrown in thickets. I guess parents died and children went to city jobs, as I did.

(When back-to-the-land urbanites came to rural West Virginia farms in the 1960s, I told them they were rushing toward the life I had spurned. Many of them didn’t last long at hoeing and shoveling.)

Most food production shifted away from skimpy family farms to big commercial plantations capable of much greater output. But even those huge farms couldn’t keep pace with the soaring human population.

In the 1960s, alarm spread that the manswarm was exceeding the food supply, and famines were likely. Stanford professor Paul Erlich wrote a 1968 book, The Population Bomb, warning that mass starvation seemed certain in the 1970s. Church groups held public discussions of the impending crisis. Erlich wrote:

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over…. In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

But, out of the spotlight, Norman Bourlag had unleashed the Green Revolution in Mexico, Pakistan and India, using high-yield crops and heavy fertilization. Massive food increases resulted. His technique spread around the world. Bourlag got the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. He was credited with saving a billion lives.

Yet the population upsurge didn’t stop. Before he died in 2009, Bourlag said his Green Revolution had peaked and couldn’t keep up with the worsening need.

So, what’s the future regarding hunger? I’m an ardent believer in science. I hope that genetic engineering will make breakthrough after breakthrough, producing ever-better plants and animals to feed humans.

A technique called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) snips a plant’s own DNA as needed – rather than inserting bits of foreign DNA as in past gene-splicing. The revised genome duplicates itself endlessly as new generations of improved crops ensue. National Geographic says it has potential to “help feed the world.”

Here’s hoping that gene science spawns a second Green Revolution and keeps humanity thriving.

More articles by:

James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 25, 2020
Michael Hudson
The Democrats’ Quandary: In a Struggle Between Oligarchy and Democracy, Something Must Give
Paul Street
The “Liberal” Media’s Propaganda War on Bernie Sanders
Sheldon Richman
The Non-Intervention Principle
Nicholas Levis
The Real Meaning of Red Scare 3.0
John Feffer
Cleaning Up Trump’s Global Mess
David Swanson
How Are We Going to Pay for Saving Trillions of Dollars?
Ralph Nader
Three Major News Stories That Need To Be Exposed
John Eskow
What Will You Do If the Democrats Steal It from Sanders?
Dean Baker
What If Buttigieg Said That He Doesn’t Accept the “Fashionable” View That Climate Change is a Problem?
Jack Rasmus
The Nevada Caucus and the Desperation of Democrat Elites
Howard Lisnoff
The Powerful Are Going After Jane Fonda Again
Binoy Kampmark
Viral Losses: Australian Universities, Coronavirus and Greed
John W. Whitehead
Gun-Toting Cops Endanger Students and Turn Schools into Prisons
Marshall Sahlins
David Brooks, Public Intellectual
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail