One of the great environmental scares of the last 50 years is that of overpopulation. As pointed out in an article I recently wrote, Actual Effects of Global Warming Legislation on Temperature, it wasn’t so long ago that environmentalists predicted that overpopulation would lead to massive deaths from starvation even among Americans by the 1980s.
The solution proposed by those who feared the imminent population explosion was to greatly limit the number of children in each family, by force of government decree if necessary. This never came to pass in the U.S. but has created myriad unforeseen problems for China, which has had such a policy since 1979. The free market solution, as always, was that of innovation, and in that regard was wildly successful.
A shining example of such innovation is Norman Borlaug, a man credited with saving 1 billion lives through his development of high-yield grains and high-yield planting techniques. In conjunction with research that produced new strains of heartier and more productive wheat, he spent decades living among the poor in developing nations, teaching techniques to local farmers to improve their grain yields.
Mr. Borlaug is credited with saving the people of India and Pakistan from mass starvation during famine in the mid-1960s. He is also considered to be behind the growth in food production that has outstripped the growth of population since the development of his techniques.
Though doubted and questioned by environmentalists for much of his career, thanks to his work the grain production of the world increased from 692 million tons in 1950 (for 2.2 billion people) to 1.9 billion tons (for 5.6 billion people) in 1992. Additionally, less land was needed for the increased yields, protecting forests the world over, all while the average calorie intake rose from 2,063 to 2,495 per day.
This stands in stark opposition to the fearmongering employed by many environmentalists. At times throughout his life, Mr. Borlaug’s work was threatened by environmentalists who didn’t support his work of feeding the starving populations of the world, especially as he shifted his focus to the continent of Africa. They claimed that increasing the food supply would simply lead to greater population growth. Allowing Africans to starve was apparently a preferable <a href=”http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jan/borlaug/borlaug.htm”>outcome</a>.
The amazing contradiction in this whole process is that rather than increasing population, the shift from subsistence agriculture to high yield agriculture actually decreases population over time. As knowledge becomes more important in an economy than physical strength, priorities and resources within the family unit shift toward providing better educational opportunities for (fewer) children and away from simply having many children to support the family through labor in the fields. Coming to this understanding, though, would require looking beyond stage one.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Gregg Easterbrook quoted Norman Borlaug as he spoke of the propensity of environmental activists in developed nations to want to dictate their version of a better way of life to those in less-developed nations in ways that keep the poverty-stricken from enjoying the blessings of modern life. He said, “<a href=”http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203917304574411382676924044.html”>Borlaug</a> told me a decade ago that most Western environmentalists ‘have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things.'” Not much has changed.
The debate surrounding global warming is much like the debate that for decades has surrounded the transfer of knowledge to the less-developed countries of the world in order to provide food for their starving masses.
The Norman Borlaug way of doing things: years of research; the development of a life-sustaining product and the knowledge to most efficiently use that product; decades of self-sacrifice and labor for the poor among us – is a far cry from the current “environmentalist” way.
The difference between that life of humble, dedicated service, juxtapositioned with the life of Al Gore and many of his cohorts, is astonishing. We’re all familiar with the excessively high home energy usage, private jet excursions, SUVs, and entourages in oil-spewing buses and jets which typify the lifestyle of many of those preaching global warming armageddon.
To justify such waste and excess, these global warming believers often purchase offsets, many which go to enrich a company owned by Al Gore himself. This enables the wealthy to continue living lifestyles of profligate excess while preaching against such, thus enabling them to avoid any sort of self-analysis or reflection, let alone make any sacrifices.
The difference between these lifestyles is fundamentally one of control: self-control v. control of others. It takes a special level of commitment to change oneself and live a life of service to others while effecting real change, but virtually no commitment at all is required to simply demand change of others while living a life of service to self. The icing on the cake for Al Gore is that he’s actually made potentially hundreds of millions of dollars by implementing this strategy of “other-sacrifice” (as opposed to self-sacrifice).
Fiona Kobusingye, in an article entitled Africa’s Real Climate Crisis, says:
Life in Africa is often nasty, impoverished and short. AIDS kills 2.2 million Africans every year . . . Lung infections cause 1.4 million deaths, malaria 1 million more, intestinal disease 700,000. Diseases that could be prevented with simple vaccines kill an additional 600,000 annually . . .
The average African life span is lower than it was in the United States and Europe 100 years ago. But Africans are being told we shouldn’t develop, or have electricity or cars because, now that those countries are rich beyond anything Africans can imagine, they’re worried about global warming.
Telling Africans they can’t have electricity and economic development – except what can be produced with some wind turbines or little solar panels – is immoral. It is a crime against humanity.
How about all those who tell the rest of the world to sacrifice start living lives of sacrifice themselves. Maybe at some point in that process of self-sacrifice and involvement in the realities of life for the poor of the world, they might come up with some real solutions that could actually start transforming real lives.