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Biotech Earth

Father of Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, Dies at 95 227

countincognito writes "Norman Borlaug, a genuinely remarkable man and the father of the Green Revolution in agriculture, has died of cancer at his Dallas home aged 95. His life's work on developing high-yield, disease-resistant crops has been credited with having saved an estimated one billion people from famine, and one billion hectares of forest and rainforest from being cleared for agricultural production."
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Father of Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, Dies at 95

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  • by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:29PM (#29406899)

    That's 10,000,000 km^2 or larger than Canada, only Russia is larger [].

    That page mentions this: The total land area of the world is 148,940,000 km2 (57,510,000 sq mi)[3] (about 29.1% of the Earth's surface area).. In other words, what he did prevented the clearing of 6.7 percent of the Earth's surface for agriculture.

    I find that figure a little difficult to believe, but I don't know that much about agriculture or what kind of impact deforestation for agriculture has. I did find this bit on forests [] though:

    These plant communities presently cover approximately 9.4% of the Earth's surface (or 30% of total land area)

    So what he did saved about 20% of the total forested areas from clearing.

    Again, a bit difficult to believe, but whatever.

  • Ok, Chicken Little (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @03:55PM (#29407095) Homepage Journal
    There is no such thing as overpopulation that can't be solved by re-engineering our cities/factories and changing our lifestyles. Yes, other species and ecosystems will be be strained and always have been by growing human populations but the idea that the earth can only sustain a certain amount of humans is both naive and absurd. The biomass during this epoch is far less than the Triassic and Jurassic periods when huge 20 ton monsters roamed the country eating a good part of their body weight per day. This went on for 10's of millions of years. Even Americans aren't that big yet. According to the 1970's chicken littles like yourself we should all be dead by now. Well, um that didn't happen because technology solved many of the problems that were emerging at the time and we will continue solving them contrary to naysayers like yourself.
  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:09PM (#29407199) Homepage

    Malthus argued that we can never rise above subsistence poverty because the population will always expand to consume the resources. He was wrong about that since he didn't foresee people voluntarily controlling birth rates once their children gained the ability to survive with a high likelihood.

  • by MaizeMan ( 1076255 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:22PM (#29407281) Homepage
    His work was funded by the US Government, the Mexican Government, and the Rockefeller foundation among others. Seeds, like software, do more good for more people when they're free. But if we want more Norman Borlaugs, we (the public) need to support their research and their outreach to the farmers who need their help. Otherwise all the new breakthroughs will be made by for-profic companies like Monsanto with the negative intellectual property consequences you mention.

    The best example of this I can think of is golden rice, which would be fighting vitamin A deficiency around the world, but still hasn't been released because of a lack of public funding for safety trials and introgressing the trait into the kinds of rice best adapted to different parts of the world.
  • Re:Public Enemy #1 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:35PM (#29407361) Homepage Journal

    A shame this guy posted as AC.

    I have to admit - this story was published at the Houston Chronicle last night. I saw "green" in the title, and I clicked on it, intending to post some smart ass comments. As I read the story, I realized who was being discussed, and what he had accomplished. I do recall reading about him in the past - Mr. Borlaug was a truly remarkable man, worthy of all our respect.

    That wasn't enough to make him a hero to some of the "green" movement's that are out to scalp you and I of our hard earned money to pay for "carbon credits" and assorted other bullshit.

    Whatever - rest in peace, Mr Gorlaug. You have my respect and gratitude.

  • Re:Public Enemy #1 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 32771 ( 906153 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:50PM (#29407481) Journal

    I don't think so either but I'm forever puzzled about the motives of the greens.

    I think, ultimately we have to make sure we understand how earth is supposed to look like and how we are going to keep it close to that.

    Sometimes the greens are too averse to any human endeavour and often enough use the irrational fears people harbour, for political goals. Granted other parties do so as well, but somehow I have the impression some green groups activities are counter productive.

    I can't rule out that I'm seeing it all wrong either. My greatest problem is not knowing the environmental footprint of whatever I'm doing.
    I sense some educational gap there, that isn't closed by political debates though.

  • Re:Not a great man (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @05:20PM (#29407695)

    The so called green revolution if anything had no net impact on global hunger and starvation as it simply does not address the core cause: overpopulation.

    Your statement is completely incorrect. Famine does not exist to any great extent today, 40 years after Borlaug's seeds went to Pakistan. At the very least Borlaug bought us 40 years to solve the popultion problem, and probably longer since the growth rate of world population has decreased due to improved economic conditions in much of the world.

    As far as pesticides, there is no epidemiological study that backs up your wild claims. And as far as topsoil erosion, that issue has largely been resolved by no or low till farming. And in any case why would Borlaug's work have any negative impact on that at all - in fact by reducing the amount of land in cultivation it has had a remarkable beneficial effect on stopping desertification and soil erosion that we saw so dramatically in the American Midwest in the 1930s, and we still see in the sub-saraha where politics has kept traditional farming techniques and rampant famines ongoing.

    If we were to go back to traditional farming methods we would have to reduce the world population by a factor of 4 in order to keep the amount of cultivated land where it is today.

    Since you seem to feel so strongly about this issue I STRONGLY recommend that you do your personal best to reduce the overpopulation problem immediately.

  • Why not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @06:41PM (#29408263)

    Your assumption is based on the idea that the only energy we can receive is from the sun, and the only land we can populate is Earth. Why is that the case? While we can't currently populate other worlds, it seems pretty stupid to declare we'll never be able to. We have no idea what our future technology will make possible. However, it is fair to say, that it'll be far and above what we have now, including some things that are inconceivable at this point.

    There is no reason that overpopulation will happen. It may, but it is far from certain. There are two major things that could prevent it:

    1) Technology grows at a rate that allows us to produce resources at a greater rate than the population grows. That's what has been happening so far. Our technology has been progressing fast enough that we can produce enough to feed our growth. These days, sadly, the problem with hunger is usually one of politics, not one of production limitations. You have places like Zimbabwe that could produce massive amounts of food, but don't because of the people in power. So far, we haven't started needing more than we can produce, our technology has grown faster.

    2) Voluntary reduction in population growth. Something you discover is that in nations with a high standard of living, growth rate tends to be low or even negative. People voluntarily stop having so many children. As such it stands to reason that if we can bring up the standard of living around the world, over all birth rate will fall. Eventually, we may reach a slow/no growth level, simply by choice, rather than any kind of scarcity forcing it.

    I'm not saying this is how it will go. I have no idea, nor does anyone. What I'm saying is that this idea of overpopulation being inevitable is bunk. No, we may well develop technology that more or less allows us to grow infinitely, we may choose to slow our growth, maybe both.

  • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:21PM (#29408547)

    Their point is simply that people who want to prevent "overpopulation" are being completely unrealistic. Reproduction is something that living creatures do instinctively. It's not going to stop, and it probably won't even slow down of it's own accord unless you are able to educate *everyone* to believe it. You might as well say that we should start offing ourselves as well, because individual survival is only one step up from reproduction on the importance scale. It would also be a more efficient means of dealing with overpopulation since you are getting the problem at the root... assuming you are someone who is someday going to reproduce.

    Let's be clear here, when there was high mortality rates, people didn't stop having kids, they kept having kids until some of them survived long enough. That is what you are facing when you are making the overpopulation argument. People do not *want* to control the population. On a macro scale, they cannot do it, unless repression is employed, and even then, I'm not convinced that it can be maintained.

    That's why "solving" overpopulation is really not where you are going to get much traction on the problem. And that is why it is absurd to cut down the achievements of someone who increased the carrying capacity of the planet to allow for more people to suffer less with less environmental damage.

  • by Yuuki Dasu ( 1416345 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @09:28PM (#29409329)

    In conclusion, you seem to know nothing about these topics (food and agriculture and genetic engineering). If you're interested, educate yourself, I wish more people were engaged. Otherwise don't be surprised if no one takes you seriously.

    I'm not the GP, but I'm just about smart enough to know that I know nothing on the topic, and I would, in fact, like to educate myself. You seem to be quite knowledgeable on the subject. Would you recommend any books or web sites in particular to get a start on this? If you have any advice other than the standard "wikipedia + google search", I, as well as many others, I'm sure, are all ears.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:24AM (#29410535)

    Statisticians have calculated the "mortality rate" for the world to be roughly .883 percent. This means that 1 out of every 113 people in the world died last year.

    Based on this rate, here is an estimate of the incidence of death among people now living in the world:

            * 1.78 deaths per second
            * 107 deaths per minute
            * 6,390 deaths per hour
            * 153,000 deaths per day
            * 56.0 million deaths per year
            * 3.9 billion deaths per average lifetime (70 years)

    But of course, the population growth rate is 1.157 % at the moment, i.e. more being born than dieing, hence, ever increasing population strain on a CLOSED, FINITE system, i.e. the earth, linzeal you idiot! We will, if we haven't already, reach many limits in this CLOSED, FINITE system. For someone purporting that 're-engineering' will solve the problems, I await to see how much your magic 'solutions' decrease these ever-increasing strains in a CLOSED, FINITE system! We need zero population growth ASAP if we are going to have long term survival, decent life for a majority, etc. Hell, we aren't even looking after the 6 billion we have now! Hell, just do some googling on water problems alone, and you'll hopefully realize we are long past a 'wakeup' call. [] []

    And that's just water problems...anyone who thinks we can just 're-engineer' the 'solutions' is either living in a dream world of fantasy, or delusional. So, which are you, linzeal?

  • Re:Ok Malthus Jr (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eravnrekaree ( 467752 ) on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:59PM (#29416367)

    Well, Borlaug didnt invent running water, electricity and so forth. So I wouldnt thank him for any of those things. The fact I think we need to do what works to prevent poverty, that is zero population growth, I dont know how you connected that to an idea that I am against technology. I am for technology. Overpopulation itself will actually lead to such resource depletion that there will be people who will never be able to enjoy such technologies. If anything the man totally ignored the real causes of poverty, which cuases the very situation where people do not have running water, and then made it seem like his green revolution was the answer when it was not, and probably even added to the problem. It created a false sense of security and the idea that the problem had been solved so people went back to their old arrogant, selfish, overpopulating ways without thinking about how the world will feed 5 billion extra people. Thus, we are where we are now and we are set to break all old records on starvation and poverty. Poverty will get worse on the present track and no amount of green revolution will stop it. We have to address the fact that overpopulation will simply overrun any attempt to increase yeild and it already has. 2 billion living in poverty is pretty substantial proof. it is also substaintial that you would need 5 more of these planets if everyone lived like an american does with their running water, TVs, and cars.

    GMO evidence is scientifically backed up. Its proven it is toxic poison. It also carries intrinsic risk and danger the the planets environment as a whole when things do go wrong, if we accidently create a poisonous food since it can breed with critical food crops, it could unleash a devastating global plague as this toxic variety could reproduce uncontrollably throughout the global environment. GMOs are too risky, we dont need them, and we can solve the worlds problems without them. GMOs actually in most cases actually all they do is increase dependance on pesticide since the GMO species is actually often less suited to a particular environment than one of the thousands of specialised breeds. Many GMOs are designed to be used with toxic pesticide and the FDA actually increased pesticide residue limits 3 times so GMOs could be used. Some GMOs have the pesticide directly in every cell in the plant as with Bt toxin. Not only what will this do to humans, but other species? Its a total disaster waiting to happen.

    I am not against selective breeding.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.