A Harvest for 9.2 Billion

The number of people on Earth is expected to shoot up from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. How will we feed them? If we continue with current farming practices, vast amounts of wilderness will be lost, millions of birds and billions of insects will die, and farm workers will be exposed to more and more chemicals. And still, we will not have enough food. Clearly, there must be a better way.

Some scientists and policymakers suggest that genetic engineering, a modern form of crop modification, will dramatically reduce our dependence on pesticides, enhance the health of our agricultural systems and increase the nutritional content of food. They believe these genetically engineered crops will help agriculture end decades of dangerous overuse of pesticides and toxic herbicides, leading us to a more ecological way of farming.

Will it? The organic farming community has been particularly vocal in its skepticism, viewing GE crops as unnatural, potentially unsafe to eat and environmentally disruptive. For these reasons, the National Organic Program standards currently do not permit their farmers to grow GE crops.

Last month the National Research Council weighed in, publishing a comprehensive overview of the environmental, economic and social impacts of GE crops — the three essential pillars of sustainable agriculture. Their report supports the growing consensus that GE crops and ecological farming practices can coexist — and if we are serious about building a future sustainable agriculture, they must.

The NRC found that the use of GE crops over the last 14 years has led to improved soil quality, reduced erosion, massive reduction in insecticide use, higher yields, lower production costs and increased worker safety due to reduced exposure to harsh chemicals. Previous reports have noted that GE crops have not caused instance of harm to human health or the environment.

So are GE crops enough to feed the world?

A premise basic to almost every agricultural system (e.g., conventional and organic) is that seed can only take us so far. The farming practices used to cultivate the seed are equally important. That is why NRC scientists also outlined some of the pitfalls encountered when ecological farming practices are not integrated into the production of GE crops. For instance, one of the most environmentally benign and highly valued herbicides, glyphosate (sold as Roundup), is no longer effective in controlling some weeds because of an over-reliance on that single herbicide. The herbicide resistance that the NRC report documents is not due to the GE crop; it’s due to repeated applications of glyphosate without integration of other weed-management tactics, a problem that has to be managed in all crops.

To understand how improved seeds and farming practices work together, you need only look at transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops, which are genetically engineered to resist insect pests.

It has long been known that using just one resistant plant variety can spur natural selection for insects that overcome the resistance. Armed with this knowledge, Bt crops in the U.S. were deployed using a “refuge” strategy whereby farmers planted a certain percentage of their cotton acreage in non Bt-producing cultivars. This would provide pests a refuge where they could feed on plants lacking toxins, thereby maintaining Bt susceptible resistance alleles within the insect population.

It worked.

Today, Bt cotton farmers in Arizona spray half the insecticide as their neighbors who grow conventional crops yet harvest the same amount of cotton. At the same time, these Bt croplands harbor a higher diversity of beneficial insects (as measured by ant and beetle biodiversity) compared to conventional farms because there are fewer insecticides sprayed that would kill them. In other parts of the world where an integrated approach was not implemented in Bt croplands, insect resistance has already evolved.

Another management problem associated with Bt crops has recently emerged in northern China where Bt cotton has been adopted by 95 percent of cotton growers. It controls the pest cotton boll worm so effectively that farmers dramatically reduced their insecticide applications. So much so, that other pests, called mirid bugs, normally controlled by these sprays, have emerged. As a consequence, farmers are again spraying some insecticides to control the mirids (although still a third less than before the introduction of Bt crops).

Ecologically based farming systems and GE crops alone won’t provide all the changes needed in agriculture. Other farming systems and technological changes, as well as modified government policies, undoubtedly are also required. Yet it is hard to avoid the sense that ecological farming practices using genetically engineered seed will play an increasingly important role.

We need to use all the best tools to achieve sustainable agriculture that will feed the world. Accomplishing this task will require globally coordinated efforts to integrate ecologically sound, but highly productive, agricultural practices, including many of the ideas promoted by organic farmers, such as crop rotation and crop diversity to global agricultural production.

We also need improved seed. This includes not only conventional tools for seed improvement, such as pollination, tissue culture, mutagenesis and grafting (mixing two species to create a new variety), but also modern molecular tools such as marker-assisted breeding and genetic engineering.

It is by looking beyond the ideologies that we will approach the shared goal of a sustainable agriculture that will feed the world.

This article first published in Zester Daily

Comments

  1. #1 Nancy Reyes
    May 23, 2010

    Ironically, the stress on “organic” here in the Philippines leads to people eating cheaper imports from China and SEAsia…full of chemicals and insectasides, yet last year, the “green” organizations opposed giving out US rice to the poor in a disaster, because it might include GM rice.

    It’s even worse in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, where there is no alternative… US donated food sent by SA churches was refused.

    We grow organic rice, but use locally produced hybrids.

  2. #2 Norm
    May 23, 2010

    Does anyone have a comprehensive list of GM crops that have made it past field trials and are currently growing. Also it would be useful to know if they are in the public domain or not. Maybe a list that shows all GM crops and where they are in development from still in the lab to field trials to deployed and which are corporate and which public.

  3. #3 Ewan R
    May 22, 2010

    What other evidence – an article I was reading earlier today (where I ripped the 10mph legislation from) had reported incidence of damage by roundup drift somewhere in the 100 range for the US with a downwards trend year on year – the tone of the article suggested that while roundup drift could be damaging, this hasn’t been the case, and the reason this hasn’t been the case is that farmers, on the whole, tend not to be mindless asshats when it comes to spraying herbicides and pesticides.

    I’m not particularly shutting my eyes to the issue, I just don’t see it as a big issue, particularly when looking at the comparitive benefits of using roundup as compared to other herbicide systems (as highlighted in the 2nd paper I cited above) – it’s not a perfect system to be sure, but it appears at present to be the best system that we have when you look at the environmental impact and the economics of modern farming – although I must say that based on the little bit of scientific evidence I’ve seen around the potential for glufosinate resistant crops and their comparitive environmental impact the roundup system may be outdone in terms of reduced impact farming.

    one of the most unscrupulous corporations in existence

    I’d argue that Monsanto isn’t even close to being one of the most unscrupulous corporations in existence, particularly modern Monsanto, (BP, Enron and Goldman Sachs would in my mind top the living crap out of even the imagined evils of Monsanto), and whether they’re run by scheming evildoers or the greatest people ever has utterly no bearing on the truth of the statement that Roundup is one of the safest and most environmentally benign weed control systems utilized in conventional agriculture.

    In hindsight I guess using silly, as opposed to some other word, was a tad uneccesary however, I don’t feel it is a particularly important aspect of roundup safety and benignity if dealt with properly (as it appears farmers are using it) – hopefully thats a tad less combative and whatnot than simply calling the assertion silly.

  4. #4 JG
    May 22, 2010

    Oops: “does not conveniently annihilate” should of course be “do not conveniently annihilate”. It’s been a long day at the keyboard . . .

  5. #5 JG
    May 22, 2010

    Yes, but the other herbicides, when they drift, if applied to the version of Food Crop A that has been genetically engineered and patented by one of the most unscrupulous corporations in existence, does not conveniently annihilate non-GE versions of Food Crop A. There is a difference and, with respect, I think you’re being rather silly (to borrow your term) to shut your eyes to it.

    Further, despite your blithe assumption that drift is something that can be very efficiently controlled, all the evidence would seem to suggest otherwise.

    This is, of course, straying from the topic of whether or not Roundup is safe and environmentally benign . . .

  6. #6 Ewan R
    May 22, 2010

    It’d be a valid concern if it applied just to roundup. But herbicides kill plants, its what they do – so in the grand scheme of things I do find the concern rather silly, particularly as managing drift is something farmers do and something which can be legislated around (ie forbidding spraying if winds are more than 10mph) – in terms of environmental benignity, drift should certainly be taken into account, but I’m pretty convinved that even when it is, Roundup will still be more benign than the conventionally used alternatives.

  7. #7 JG
    May 22, 2010

    @19

    Many thanks for the additional references, Ewan R.

    It seems rather silly to be upset about roundup killing plants which aren’t GE as that is exactly what roundup is supposed to do.

    Well, yes, but I’m not sure the concern is “silly”: it’s surely a fairly serious problem unless you happen to be a Monsanto shareholder.

  8. #8 Ewan R
    May 22, 2010

    JG – certainly the safety and environmentla benignity of roundup have been seriously questioned, and continue to be seriously question (and will continue to be seriously questioned) – you’ll note that Pam isn’t stating that glyphosate (or roundup, which is the Monsanto brand name for their glyphosate containing herbicides – worth pointing out that roundup formulations do not only contain glyphosate here) is environmentally benign, but that it is one of the most environmentally benign herbicides.

    Luckily I have a couple of references on hand (thanks to a lengthy discussion with Salty Current over at Pharyngula on the same topic) on the relative safety of glyphosate/roundup

    Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup1 and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans – Gary M. Williams,Robert Kroes, and Ian C. Munro Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 31, 117–165 (2000)

    The Current Status and Environmental Impacts of Glyphosate-Resistant Crops: A Review
    Antonio L. Cerdeira and Stephen O. Duke – J. Environ. Qual. 35:1633–1658 (2006).

    It seems rather silly to be upset about roundup killing plants which aren’t GE as that is exactly what roundup is supposed to do. It’s a broad spectrum herbicide, it kills pretty much any plant (bar a handful of resistant species) – herbicide drift is an issue with any herbicide.

  9. #9 JG
    May 22, 2010

    @Pamela Ronald

    one of the most environmentally benign and highly valued herbicides, glyphosate (sold as Roundup)

    I was under the impression (I don’t have time to dig out refs right now) that the safety and environmental benignity of Roundup have been very seriously questioned — not least i8n that it has a habit of killing any non-GE crops it chances to fall upon.

    The reason I don’t have time to look up the refs this morning? I’ve spent over half an hour trying to save for future reference the National Academies press release to which you indirectly link in some form that doesn’t either (a) require me to use a magnifying glass to read it or (b) clip the right-hand edges off all the lines. This is a press release? I’ve finally succeeded, but how many journos would bother? Great publicists at the NA . . . [/rant]

  10. #10 Jim Thomerson
    May 21, 2010

    If one were looking at various human biological characteristics, we look like a K-adapted species. However, we have been able to increase carrying capacity with various technologies to the point that our population growth curve over the past couple of hundred years looks like a curve for an r-adapted organism. Many r-adapted organisms are successional organisms which change their environment in such a way that they can no longer live there. One can argue that this is our fate. Populations which are growing most rapidly are not those in technologically advanced areas. In those advanced areas there has been hope of demographic transition, where population growth slows, stops, or reverses. But I don’t see us having the resources to put the whole world into demographic transition.

    My own guess is that there will be world wide epidemic disease in the foreseeable future which will keep us from the 9.2 billion population projection.

  11. #11 Hinemoana
    May 21, 2010

    Darwinsdog,

    I consider your name rather ironic, since you don’t seem to understand the idiosyncrasies of evolution. There are many species that, when no predator existed to curb population growth, have evolved in a way that curbs their reproductive rate (and thus their population) so as to avoid population crashes. Humans are unique in being able to understand this and predict what needs to be done. And, when technology and society develops to a sufficient level, and children are thus almost guaranteed to survive and reproduce, people seem to follow this idiosyncrasy of evolution naturally (as displayed by the zero and negative growth in the most stable and developed nations).

    What Ewan and others here are proposing is to stave off collapse as long as we can so that society might have time to develop, stabilise, and possibly decrease without a catastrophic collapse. There is a chance that it would work. And if it doesn’t there are always more drastic measures that can be taken to ensure our species’ survival without letting people die.

    In any event, you said yourself that you have no alternative solution. So I don’t see what you are doing here, other than revelling in self-hate and our extinction and possibly trolling.

  12. #12 darwinsdog
    May 21, 2010

    I still don’t see you proposing an alternative means of solution, DD. Just sitting there laughing as the rest of us insects scramble to save *something*. I think I’m coming to the conclusion that you don’t have any productive suggestions of any kind.

    I said as much, didn’t I? in post #4: “I’d be happy to propose an alternative solution, Anne, if there was one.” You’re correct, I don’t “have any productive suggestions of any kind” because none exist. Human population is in such drastic overshoot of carrying capacity that population collapse to or near to extinction is inevitable, and all efforts to avert the inevitable are futile at best, counterproductive at worst. At best, all you can-doers are wasting your time and at worst, you’re hastening your own demise.

    It’s a shame that if the people who actually keep trying to make a better world in the face of difficulty *do* succeed in salvaging things from the mistakes of past generations, smug and useless parasites like you will reap the benefits as well.

    Overlooking the fact that I, personally, will be dead, hopefully all extant smug & useless parasites like me will give due credit to all you heroic strivers who persevered to save the world in the face of all the nay-saying that went on back in the day of the blogosphere. Keep up the good work, soldier!

  13. #13 Anne Nonymous
    May 21, 2010

    I still don’t see you proposing an alternative means of solution, DD. Just sitting there laughing as the rest of us insects scramble to save *something*. I think I’m coming to the conclusion that you don’t have any productive suggestions of any kind. It’s a shame that if the people who actually keep trying to make a better world in the face of difficulty *do* succeed in salvaging things from the mistakes of past generations, smug and useless parasites like you will reap the benefits as well.

  14. #14 darwinsdog
    May 21, 2010

    …are you suggesting that humanity should outright commit species-level suicide? You know as well as I do that’s not going to happen…

    On the contrary, I see it as a work in progress.

    You may well be right that we’re fucked, but sitting around being smugly certain that we’re fucked and there’s nothing we could do is pretty useless. Some people are actually trying to fix things.

    Trying to fix things via the very means that has fucked things up in the first place is worse than useless. It exacerbates the problem by prolonging the inevitable. But if you think that the frenetic quest for the techno-fix beats smugly sitting around, by all means, knock yourself out. Futile & counterproductive activity can serve to reinforce denial.

  15. #15 Anne Nonymous
    May 21, 2010

    So what do you want us to do, then, darwinsdog? Give up all of our technology so that the crash happens that much faster? Or are you suggesting that humanity should outright commit species-level suicide? You know as well as I do that’s not going to happen, so it seems like kind of a useless thing to suggest. You may well be right that we’re fucked, but sitting around being smugly certain that we’re fucked and there’s nothing we could do is pretty useless. Some people are actually trying to fix things. What are you trying to do?

  16. #16 Ewan R
    May 21, 2010

    More technological innovation will only allow human population to burgeon that much more

    I disagree. It may allow the human population to burgeon more, but only when applied without any consideration. Technological innovation in fact leads to decreased rates of population growth, and in some cases to population decline/levelling off – hasn’t occured on a global scale yet because globally there isn’t technological equality.

    You can see technological innovation as the engine of mass extinction all you want, but then you’ve stated on multiple occasions your belief that mass extinction is inevitable, both for mankind, and for the bulk of species still surviving.

    I also think it a bizarre arguement that prolonging matters will cause more species to go extinct. If, or when, the human species begins its spiral into extinction (ie when population starts to decrease due to lack of resources) it would be very surprising to me at least if the timeline of when it occurs (next month, or in 250 years) has any bearing whatsover on how many species finally go extinct. We’ll eat, burn, and consume practically every last scrap of life off the planet on our way out if/when it comes to that, regardless of the timeframe it occurs in (human ingenuity and capacity to survive up to the last possible moment practically guarantee this) – the only hope for preventing this is to figure out the problem of increasing population size and resource useage, the only feasible way I see to do this is to reduce birth rates and wait – counter to evolution? Yes. But then we’re the first species that has the capacity to understand this, and as it’s our only chance it’s one worth betting on imo (and as Westernized countries have gotten essentially to the point of 0 growth in terms of more being born it just becomes an issue of expanding this globally rather than it being a local phenomenon)

    The ideal of staving off population collapse (or indeed feeding those who are practically inevitable anyway over the next 30 years, which is in essence what is under discussion when looking at a population of 9.2 billion by 2050 – the assumption is they’d exist regardless of technological advances, at least in the literature I’ve seen) is not to want many millions more to suffer, it is to want to reduce the suffering of those alive now (and in the next 30 years) while fixing the problem.

  17. #17 darwinsdog
    May 21, 2010

    Can be countered by pointing out that it is not only crazy, but stupid, to assume all technological advancements can be put in the same boat like this – it is infact pretty obvious that technology (be that GE or some other technocopian wossname) can stave off (had you said prevent then perhaps your arguement would have been more valid) a population collapse – it already has done, countless times, with every agricultural advance population collapse is staved off a little longer – it’d be foolhardy to think that more technological advances cannot stave it off a little more.

    You miss the point Ewan. Technological innovation can and has postponed or “staved off” population collapse. Indeed it has allowed population to exceed carrying capacity by an order and a half of magnitude or more. Technological innovation has allowed humanity to increase its population to the point that the carrying capacity of the biosphere has become very degraded. More technological innovation will only allow human population to burgeon that much more, degrading carrying capacity even further. Technological innovation is hence seen as an engine of mass extinction. Less, not more of it is what’s called for, given the situation. The ideal of “staving off” population collapse a little longer via technological innovation is to want that many millions more to suffer, that many more species to go extinct, and for the biosphere to be that much further damaged before it can begin to repair itself and biodiversity recover.

  18. #18 cognoscenti
    May 21, 2010

    The civilized “population problem’’ has bothered me my whole adult life. It caused me to decide to have no children while I was still a teen-ager (I’m more than 70, now).

    Recently, I’ve had a disturbing thought…

    The people who “run’’ civilization, the `elite’ of civilization, who are careful to remain in the background, do nothing to limit civilized population, because until the population crashes, “the more the merrier’’.

    I doubt if the `elite’ are stupid, so they know as well as anyone there is no future in continuing the status quo, and indeed the end is near.

    It will surprise me not at all to learn the `elite’ are encouraging the world population to grow as rapidly as possible, and also to continue the feverish transformation the dominant world society to total dependence on environmental resourced that are known beyond doubt to be “finite”(i.e., the civilized are “using’’ many Environmental resources millions of times more rapidly than they are formed, or restored in the Environment by any means).

    Why would the `elite’ be doing this? Because they know that if the world population is great enough when the “crash’’ begins, the world human population will be reduced to almost zero within a few weeks. Of course the survivors will be almost entirely the `elite’, who have squirreled themselves away in secret places with adequate stores of food and water, etc., to wait out the demise of the rest.

    A potential crimp in the plan of the “elite’ is the vast stores of atomic weapons, easily capable of rendering our panet unsuitable for live. To this I say to those who are naïve enough to think the everlasting “struggles’’ between civilized nations are not `rigged’ by the `elite’ to bring the `elite’ still more wealth through weapons sales and who knows what else, the `elite’ certainly have a reliable plan and backups in place to disable and/or or render inaccessible, all the atomic weapons.

    After the great die off, the `elite’ will soon learn they have no idea how to live on our planet, and its rapidly recovering Environment. This is when most of the `elite’ will learn there is an `elite of the elite’, and the merely `elite’ will find themselves demoted to become the new People of The Masses, as enslaved and domesticated as the original People of The Masses – us — to provide unimaginable luxury to the `elite’.

    Why don’t we, The People of The Masses, get rid of the `elite’ now (or render them `non-elite’ now), instead of making it possible for the `elite’ to establish a repeating scheme? The `elite’ need us for their continued existence, while we The People would be far better off without the `elite’.

  19. #19 Ewan R
    May 21, 2010

    Cognoscenti – so in essence a repitition of the ‘let em starve’ arguement rolled out in previous discussions on the blog.

    The arguement isn’t to produce more food to reduce the population – clearly that won’t happen by itself.

    The arguement is that in a transition towards a world with a decreasing, rather than an increasing, population it is the moral thing to ensure that the population you have is at least nourished to some sort of baseline level.

    I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe that at any point in human history, at least until the last few daceades, anyone has actively worked towards a strategy that would reduce populations by inducing negative growth, so saying that this strategy hasn’t worked in 10,000 years is rather silly.

    There are obviously drastically different ways to reduce/reverse population growth. One would be to simply not give a damn, stop all agricultural advancement, stop all aid to impoverished countries and sit back and enjoy the fireworks. Another would be to lift impoverished people out of poverty by granting some degree of food security and prosperity (which is linked to reduced birth rates, which in my opinion is the way to go to reduce population in the mid to long term) while at the same time pushing on reduction of birth rate by whatever means necessary.

    I don’t necessarily agree with DD’s assertion that we couldn’t even hunt and gather sustainably – I think you’re conflating sustainability with zero impact – after the extinctions caused by the appearance of hunter gatherer societies in various areas of the world a new equilibrium was reached, a new eco-system set up, which by and large was relatively sustainable (which is why “noble savage” mythos is so powerful – after catastrophically altering the system the outcome was essentially a system in which sustainability was achieved – which is generally the bit you get to see) – likewise to an extent the deforestation of Europe, the middle east, and north africa may have resulted in a sustainable mode of life (at least for a couple thousand years, how long sustainability could have been maintained divorced from rampant consumerism is another question altogether)

    I’d also say that the statement “Believing that the very things that got the biosphere in the predicament it’s in will get it back out of that predicament is not only crazy, it’s stupid.”

    Can be countered by pointing out that it is not only crazy, but stupid, to assume all technological advancements can be put in the same boat like this – it is infact pretty obvious that technology (be that GE or some other technocopian wossname) can stave off (had you said prevent then perhaps your arguement would have been more valid) a population collapse – it already has done, countless times, with every agricultural advance population collapse is staved off a little longer – it’d be foolhardy to think that more technological advances cannot stave it off a little more.

  20. #20 darwinsdog
    May 21, 2010

    Humans, like all other organisms, are programmed by selection to maximize Darwinian fitness. Sacrificing fitness for some group selectionist goal isn’t going to happen. In fact, if intelligent, educated people forgo reproduction ‘for the good of the species’ or of the environment, less intelligent, less well educated people will simply take up the slack, resulting in mean reduction in intelligence leading to an idiocracy. Wait a minute! This has already happened, hasn’t it? Fisher wrote all about it in 1930.

    Prolonging the inevitable only makes matters worse. Nature will take its course. Population will collapse. A “parachute” only means that one dies more slowly from gangrene in the compound fractures of the legs, rather than instantaneously upon impact. Band-aids on a hemorrhage won’t stanch the bleeding. Is it better for 9.2 billion to starve instead of 6.8? The more damage we do to the biosphere’s carrying capacity by prolonging population overshoot, the lower K will be for the remaining biotia following human extinction. Humans already appropriate >40% of global primary productivity to their own needs and greedy wants. Would you jack that up to 60% or 80% before the crash comes? Take down entire biomes along with us? Why do you hate the biosphere so much?

  21. #21 Anne Nonymous
    May 21, 2010

    My point, darwinsdog, is what’s wrong with doing both? Let’s both design crops which can produce more food in a more sustainable fashion *and* work to reduce (or maybe even reverse) population growth by our own actions, rather than waiting for resource limitations to do it for us. If we know there’s a crash coming, why not at least make ourselves some parachutes so it won’t be quite as bad when it happens? How is it useful to just sit back and say, “Oh, nothing’s going to work, we’re doomed?”

  22. #22 cognoscenti
    May 21, 2010

    The solution to a world full of hungry people is NOT more food.

    The solution to a world full of hungry people is less people.

    Since essentially all the “major problems’’ facing the civilized are but symptoms of excess population, less people will certainly result in these problems simply going away as the world population declines.

    Working to reduce the (civilized) human population of our planet seems a far more useful application of civilized resources than again applying a strategy that has not “worked’’ a single time in 10,000 years, the entire history of civilization – making more food.

  23. #23 darwinsdog
    May 21, 2010

    I’d be happy to propose an alternative solution, Anne, if there was one. Unfortunately, populations that exceed carrying capacity (K) crash, and the more that they exceed K the harder they crash. Human population exceeds K by an extent unprecedented by a large animal and when collapse comes it could well be all the way to extinction. More likely small isolated populations will persist for a few generations until demographic stochasticity exacerbated by Allee effects & environmental stressors take them down one by one.

    Not only can we not feed 6.7 (closer to 6.8 now) billion people *sustainably*, NoA, but we couldn’t even hunt & gather *sustainably*. Witness the extinctions of the American, Australian & archipelago faunas within a short time of human advent. Since Homo left Africa, and even before, it’s been one long history of growing population by means of *un*sustainable resource exploitation. Our sheep, goats & bronze axes deforested North Africa & the Middle East, our atlatls & pit-fall traps wiped out the Pleistocene mega-fauna, our moldboard plows transferred the rich mollisols of the American Midwest to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, which our drilling rigs have now destroyed. But, hey! Let’s engineer our way out of this mess with New & Improved^TM staple food crops! Monsanto & BP shares should soar! Genetic engineering will save the world and make all 9.2 billion of us fat(ter), happy and rich! If I recall my mythology, hubris was the only sin the gods never would forgive.

  24. #24 NoAstronomer
    May 21, 2010

    Personally, despite the GE advances, I doubt we can feed 9.2 billion people *sustainably*. On what do I base my pessimism? The fact that we can’t even feed 6.7 billion people *sustainably*.

  25. #25 Anne Nonymous
    May 21, 2010

    So I assume you’re proposing an alternative solution, darwinsdog? Please do tell. Or are you just doomsaying because it’s so much fun to doomsay?

    Personally, I think it’s unlikely that better agricultural technologies will save us in the long run unless we also get our population growth under control, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working all the other angles too. Every little bit counts.

  26. #26 darwinsdog
    May 21, 2010

    I wouldn’t worry about 9.2 billion people by 2050, nor about how to feed them all. Human population so sorely exceeds the carrying capacity of the biosphere sans fossil fuel input already, that population collapse to or near to extinction impends. Global petroleum production has peaked and is on the downslope of Hubbert’s curve. That’s after we have poisoned the atmosphere & surface oceans with the oxidized effluent of the stuff. Now the Gulf of Mexico has become a sacrifice zone to fossil fuel addiction. Things are getting desperate. If anyone thinks that genetic engineering or any other pollyannish technocopian fix is going to stave off population collapse, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’ll sell them. “We need the best science and technology to achieve sustainable agriculture that will feed the world.” Believing that the very things that got the biosphere in the predicament it’s in will get it back out of that predicament is not only crazy, it’s stupid.