The Green Revolution saved potentially billions from starving, but it was only meant to be a temporary reprieve. With the threat of a particularly frightening future looming, the United Nations has urged we now embrace an “Evergreen Revolution” – one that is sustainable.
The development of high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties and better agricultural techniques in the 1950’s – 1970’s greatly improved the world’s food security. The period was known as the “green revolution”.
As I wrote in October, the Green Revolution was never really meant to be long-term solution, more a stop-gap measure. The “father” of the Green Revolution, Dr. Norman Borlaug, stated his goal was to provide “a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation” and a breathing space to deal with the “population monster”.
When he made that statement, the world’s population was just 3.7 billion.
We’ve now bypassed 7 billion, so that monster certainly hasn’t been tamed.
A recent report from the UN warns the global population will grow from 7 billion to almost 9 billion by 2040.
An equally frightening figure is the number of middle-class consumers will increase by 3 billion over the next 20 years, meaning the demand for resources will rise exponentially.
We tend to forget (and many of us still aren’t aware) even an average lifestyle in developed nations is often financed by the impoverishment of others and using resources at a rate the planet cannot replenish.
As terrible as it sounds, the way the world currently works means we cannot have everyone living like us. Heck, we can’t even have half the world living like we do. We can’t even have as many people as we do now living in such a way.
It’s these truths that weigh heavily on me, but that knowledge and 2 bucks will get you a cup of coffee (probably not organic, nor Rainforest Alliance certified). I tsk, I stroke my chin in deep thought and contemplation as I grapple with these issues, I nod sagely – but I’m still not consuming at a level that is earth friendly; or at the very least earth-neutral.
Anyhow, the UN says by 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water – and given the planet is already buckling under our load; it makes you wonder how we’ll do it.
In “Resilient People, Resilient Planet – A Future Worth Choosing” (PDF), the UN has made a number of recommendations to ensure a sustainable future. Just briefly touching on a few of them:
– Embracing a new nexus between food, water and energy rather than treating them in different “silos”.
– To strengthen the interface between science and policy.
– Pricing goods and services to reflect the full environmental and social cost of production and consumption
– Addressing social exclusion
It’s the third point that will likely cause the biggest uproar in developed countries – imagine if we had to pay the real cost of coal or the real cost of oil?
There are also some (what I believe to be) veiled references to population management in the report, mainly in relation to addressing gender inequality. Also, lifting living standards often results in a slowdown in births – but we’re in a catch-22 situation in that lifting living standards (as the concept is generally perceived) means more strain on the environment.
Our journey over the next few decades may see us reaching the Evergreen Revolution destination the UN is urging us to move towards, but I think it’s going to be one hell of a bumpy ride.
But then there’s the alternative – and that would be worse.