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The Neglected Issue of the Global Change Debate: Food Security
Volume 3, Number 31: 15 November 2000

In the October 2000 issue of Plant Physiology, Norman Borlaug - father of the Green Revolution and 1970 Nobel Prize Laureate for Peace - has an important Editor's Choice article entitled "Ending World Hunger: The Promise of Biotechnology and the Threat of Antiscience Zealotry."  In it, he describes the very real problem of potential food shortages that could be faced by the world in the not too distant future.  He notes, for example, that "it took some 10,000 years to expand food production to the current level of about 5 billion tons per year," and that in order to meet the needs of the growing population of the planet, "by 2025, we will have to nearly double current production again."  Unfortunately, Dr. Borlaug sees some ominous forces at work that could keep us from achieving that goal.

The forces to which Dr. Borlaug refers are those that array themselves against the new techniques of biotechnology, specifically, the genetic engineering of agricultural crops.  "Extremists in the environmental movement," he says, "seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks."  The legendary Peace Prize winner notes, for example, that "the platform of the antibiotechnology extremists, if it were to be adopted, would have grievous consequences for both the environment and humanity."  And he laments that "some scientists, many of whom should or do know better, have also jumped on the extremist environmental bandwagon in search of research funds."

What strikes us most forcefully as we read Dr. Borlaug's words is how they also describe the sad situation we face with respect to the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 concentration.  He talks, for example, about the "unsubstantiated scare mongering done by opponents of genetic engineering," which is amazingly similar to the unsubstantiated scare mongering done by climate alarmists, who would deny the world the incredible agricultural benefits of the aerial fertilization effect of atmospheric CO2 enrichment.  "Nowhere," Dr. Borlaug says, "is it more important for knowledge to confront fear born of ignorance than in the production of food," which is what we have been trying to do on our website from the day it first went public.

In this regard, we note that we have also conducted an analysis of world food security (see our Journal Review Will There Be Enough Food?), wherein we have concluded that by the year 2050, anticipated advancements in agricultural technology and expertise will have only increased food production by about two-thirds of what will be required to feed the human population of the planet at that future date; but we note that the aerial fertilization effect provided by continued increases in the air's CO2 concentration will be able to supply the final third of what is required.  Clearly, however, this latter productivity enhancement will not materialize if the stringent measures advocated by environmental extremists are implemented in a misguided attempt to curtail anthropogenic CO2 emissions (see our Editorial Prudence Misapplied).

It is truly unconscionable that this agricultural aspect of the global change debate is almost never broached.  As Dr. Borlaug rightly states, "agricultural scientists and leaders have a moral obligation to warn political, educational, and religious leaders about the magnitude and seriousness of the arable land, food, and population problems that lie ahead, even with breakthroughs in biotechnology [our italics]."  In fact, "if we fail to do so," he says, "we will be negligent in our duty and inadvertently may be contributing to the pending chaos of incalculable millions of deaths by starvation."

Fortunately, some progress is being made.  Dr. Borlaug notes, for example, that "the most prestigious national academies of science, and now even the Vatican, have come out in support of genetic engineering to improve the quantity, quality, and availability of food supplies."  But even with breakthroughs in biotechnology, a continuing increase in the atmosphere's CO2 concentration will be required if we ever hope to be able to avert the human tragedy that will otherwise occur.

"Global food insecurity will not disappear without new technology," Borlaug concludes; and our analysis suggests it will be next to impossible to meet the challenge of feeding earth's population just a few short decades down the road without a continuation of the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content.  We have got to wake up to this reality and eschew the diabolical doctrine of attempting to bite the hand that feeds us by restricting anthropogenic CO2 emissions.  We need the extra crop productivity provided by atmospheric CO2 enrichment; and that need will only increase as time progresses.

Dr. Craig D. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President

Borlaug, N.E.  2000.  Ending world hunger.  The promise of biotechnology and the threat of antiscience zealotry.  Plant Physiology 124: 487-490.

Idso, C.D. and Idso, K.E.  2000.  Forecasting world food supplies: The impact of the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration.  Technology 7S: 33-55.