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In Des Moines, Iowa there is a beautiful old building classical architecture, a former public library built 1903...now converted to the World Food Prize Building. It celebrates Norman Borlaug (isn't that his name?), Nobel Peace Prize 1970, as most responsible for bringing in all the new plant strains, improved pesticides/chemical fertilizers - all in all, this GREEN REVOLUTION saved the lives of one billion people. People still come from China, India, and tiptoe around this building in awe...

However, there is also a huge backlash of protest in Iowa, because apparently the ecological cost of all these innovations was very high. Severe damage to the environment, crashing several decades later like NOW...

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How close are we to a Malthusian Catastrophe, and how many people can we ultimately welcome into the world with nourishment for healthy body and spirit too? (It's the Des Moines River...runs through town, so lovely there)



2 Answers


Yes, the Malthusian catastrophe was averted for now, since it is impossible to predict what innovations might stave off a given catastrophe. Similar predictions (starting about 100 years ago) about running out of fossil fuels have not materialized on schedule either.

One factor in the climate change debate that is closely related to population increases is deforestation for agricultural (food or biofuel) purposes. It is estimated that this adds as much as 1/3 the CO2 to the atmosphere as the burning of fossil fuels does, though, like everything else in climate estimates, it is uncertain to within a factor of 2 or 3.


And yes, the picture of Des Moines you posted is beautiful... it looks like Paris along the Seine.

Virginia TheOtherTink

O'Tink...what amazes me here, is the fact that the Earth was actually that close to the catastrophe...Malthusian debates, I have looked at over the years, as 'experts' consider the various factors in play...

But if the Green Revolution truly prevented one billion deaths, well, mid-twentieth century that would have been one in six people...there is no way you could have called that anything other than a Malthusian Catastrophe. 

It's happening...no longer just a 'theory'...we were within a hair's breadth...but in the process of saving those human lives, apparently the land was severely degraded...

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And Iowa? Totally unexpectedly, I fell totally in love with it.

TheOtherTink TheOtherTink

@ Virginia,

But even with the Green Revolution, still today about 9 million people die of starvation every year. Over 50 years, that would add up to close to half a billion people.

And it is not because there isn't enough food. I think I read world food production is about 2800 Calories per capita per day.  It's mostly politics, distribution and economics that stand in the way.

Virginia TheOtherTink

I believe your comments are just right-on the mark, Sister O-Tink...for example, these are from the links Marianne found, below...

"Famine has not been eliminated, but its root cause has been political instability, not global food shortage." And, "Ehrlich's (THE POPULATION BOMB) prediction about famines were found to be false, although food security is an issue in India. However, most epidemiologists, public health physicians and demographers identify corruption as the chief cause of malnutrition, not 'overpopulation'."

...and I DO get your point that these deaths are thus not Malthusian, as such...

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Oh...and one other related point, as one of my UK correspondents on Blurt would strongly defend British colonialism in India; here is another quote from Marianne's links: "As Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen noted, India frequently had famines during British colonial rule. However, since India became a democracy, there have been no recorded famines."


I am wondering, as Borlaug's innovative, high yielding, genetically crossbred seeds were developed about sixty years ago.

For his time and the predominant mentalities by then, he was a remarkable scientist, and he certainly meant well, but by then, they did not dispose of all the know-how, experience, and information about future perspectives and probabilities, collected since these times. The aim was to fight hunger and to improve agronomy, and development was, of course, a priority. Who would have thought of overpopulation by then and insufficient policies, all the more in emergency situations and temporary relief?

And like with the former missionaries in new territories or less "developed" countries, who improved health care and food supply, in certain regions, Borlaug's programmes allowed to save many people, of course, but their dependence on aid from outside continued, as their political, cultural and/or religious systems, authorities and mentalities were (and still are) inhibiting progress into self-sustainment and population control.

Yet, with more food and better health care population growth tended (still tends) to increase, as having many children was and still is, in many countries, tradition, religious and social duty, and the old age insurance ...


"Borlaug's work has been criticized for bringing large-scale monoculture, input-intensive farming techniques to countries that had previously relied on subsistence farming.[37] These farming techniques often reap large profits for U.S. agribusiness and agrochemical corporations and have been criticized for widening social inequality in the countries owing to uneven food distribution while forcing a capitalist agenda of U.S. corporations onto countries that had undergone land reform.[38]"



Real concerns about overpopulation, started in the fifties / sixties, and with that, about ecology, as illustrated by Prof. Ehrlich in:



(although, scientific groups were aware of overpopulation and ecological problems long before, but the large majorities, i.e. the common people, were kept in their ignorance.)


Virginia Marianne

Marianne, I find your comments as well as your collection of references very valuable, relevant...for example, "he (Norman Borlaug) was a remarkable scientist, and he certainly meant well, but by then, they did not dispose of all the know-how, experience, and information about future perspectives and probabilities, collected since these times."

...and then back to the capitalism stuff, those pesticide companies became wealthy from the Green Revolution, so they still have a huge  investment NOT to bring in lessons and experience collected...in our current capitalism, money is worth more than human lives!

It was fascinating to read about THE POPULATION BOMB, and the Green Revolution and the history since then, thank you...putting the possibilities together, maybe the book helped spur support for the Green Revolution...?

Marianne Marianne

Yes, Virginia, I agree with you, literature, like "The Population Bomb" and scientific findings certainly helped to spread the Green Revolution, and with it big agroindustries. 

Virginia Marianne

:sick:  :sick:  !!!

Marianne Marianne

Yes, Virginia, I agree, it is sickening; that is the problem with big and fast profit systems; it is the system of oligarchies.

And you remember probably all the disasters caused by gross neglect, for instance:



Virginia Marianne

Marianne I did not remember that until you mentioned it...now, yes I recall...

Marianne Marianne

Dear Virginia, I am also remembering forgotten things when you mention them; actually, didn't we all say repeatedly that we are learning from each other? <3:)