Here first is NYT science reporter John Tierney posting at his blog Tierney's Lab on "Greens and Hunger." Then I offer a few comments below the star line.Tierney begins - - -
Farmers and consumers in poor countries are now paying the price now for decisions made by well-fed Westerners, as reported by my colleagues Keith Bradsher and Andrew Martin in their front-page article on cutbacks in financing for agricultural research.
They explain how the Green Revolution faltered after Western governments and agencies slashed funds for agricultural research, partly to shift money to other areas, like environmental projects, and partly because of opposition to high-yield agriculture from advocacy groups.
If you find it hard to imagine how anyone could be opposed to growing more food for poor people, read Gregg Easterbrook’s 1997 Atlantic Monthly article on Norman Borlaug, the agronomist whose achievements through the Green Revolution may have saved a billion lives. Mr. Easterbrook wrote:
The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the World Bank, once sponsors of his work, have recently given Borlaug the cold shoulder. Funding institutions have also cut support for the International Maize and Wheat Center — located in Mexico and known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT — where Borlaug helped to develop the high-yield, low-pesticide dwarf wheat upon which a substantial portion of the world’s population now depends for sustenance.
And though Borlaug’s achievements are arguably the greatest that Ford or Rockefeller has ever funded, both foundations have retreated from the last effort of Borlaug’s long life: the attempt to bring high-yield agriculture to Africa.
Pressure from environmentalists was the chief reason for these cutbacks, Mr. Easterbrook reported:
[By]the 1980s finding fault with high-yield agriculture had become fashionable. Environmentalists began to tell the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and Western governments that high-yield techniques would despoil the developing world.
As Borlaug turned his attention to high-yield projects for Africa, where mass starvation still seemed a plausible threat, some green organizations became determined to stop him there.
“The environmental community in the 1980s went crazy pressuring the donor countries and the big foundations not to support ideas like inorganic fertilizers for Africa,” says David Seckler, the director of the International Irrigation Management Institute.
Environmental lobbyists persuaded the Ford Foundation and the World Bank to back off from most African agriculture projects. The Rockefeller Foundation largely backed away too — though it might have in any case, because it was shifting toward an emphasis on biotechnological agricultural research.
“World Bank fear of green political pressure in Washington became the single biggest obstacle to feeding Africa,” Borlaug says. The green parties of Western Europe persuaded most of their governments to stop supplying fertilizer to Africa; an exception was Norway, which has a large crown corporation that makes fertilizer and avidly promotes its use.
Borlaug, once an honored presence at the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, became, he says, “a tar baby to them politically, because all the ideas the greenies couldn’t stand were sticking to me.”
Dr. Borlaug didn’t disguise his anger in summarizing his feelings about greens to Mr. Easterbrook:
“Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve 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 fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”
This issue is timely today not just because of the current food shortages but because greens are calling for vast sums of money to be spent off future climate change. And just as money was diverted from agricultural research for environmental projects in the 1980s, there’s a danger that immediate problems in poor countries will be shortchanged by pursuing the long-term agenda of wealthy Westerners, as Bjorn Lomborg has been arguing.
When I wrote about Dr. Lomborg’s proposal to focus less on climate change and more on problems like malnutrition and disease, he told me: “I don’t think our descendants will thank us for leaving them poorer and less healthy just so we could do a little bit to slow global warming. I’d rather we were remembered for solving the other problems first.”
What do you think? Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1980s when it comes to financing research?
And does the current hostility in Europe to genetically modified crops seem reminiscent of the 1980s opposition to high-yield agriculture — an ideological stance that appeals to the wealthy but hurts the poor?
If you've spent any time in Western Europe, you know about the warlike hostility of many Greens to genetically modified crop research.
Greens have verbally and, on occasion, on occasion even physically attacked scientists and government officials connected with the research.
They've burned and sprayed poisons in fields where experimental crops are being grown.
But their actions and the effects of those actions receive very little attention from America's MSM which typically portrays Greens as really nice people just looking for a tree to hug and an Polar bear to protect.Tierney's post helps refute that false image.
On the other hand, the NYT article he cites goes really goes soft on the Greens.