I remember hearing about the unfolding "Green Revolution" when I was a
teenager in the 60's. It's promise and plan was to feed the world and
eliminate hunger around the globe.
Growing out of the vision of its founder Norman Borlaug, its plan included the development of highly hybridized, high-yielding crop varieties, the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the widespread development of irrigation infrastructure, and mechanization to reduce labor and improve efficiency.
Putting technology to work to increase yield and end world hunger was a
noble goal, and Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his
work. The Green Revolution did indeed allow agriculture to feed many,
many more people.
There were unforeseen consequences, however.
1) When people are well fed, they have more babies.
In 1970 the earth held 3.7 billion people. That's 24 people per sq km.
In 2020 the earth held 7.8 billion people. That's 52 people per sq km.
2) The high-yield, fast-growing hybrid crops are higher in starches and sugars and lower in vitamins, minerals and protein. The chronic "diseases of civilization" - diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmunity - were not widespread before the Green Revolution, but they are now global "pandemics". (Although chronic, non-infectious diseases cannot technically be called pandemics - these diseases kill more people every year than COVID-19 did in 2020... and there is no vaccine.)
3) Insecticides, herbicides and pollen from GMO corn are killing off insects (some species now near extinction) that are required for pollinating many food crops, and that form the base of the food chain for many ecosystems.
4) Chemical fertilizers kill earthworms, fungi, and other soil organisms that are necessary symbionts for optimal plant health and nutrient density (which we'll explore further in this article). Nutrient density in the food we eat is the foundation on which human health is built.
5) And to top it off, world hunger is now as bad as ever, worse in many places. We have pushed chemical, GMO farming to its limit, although Big Ag is never going to acknowledge this.
We've pushed it so far that we are killing the very ecosystems that have sustained us for millions of years. Our current level of production is clearly not sustainable.
We cannot keep manufacturing salt fertilizers and poisons and rewiring seeds in order to boost our own population indefinitely. Earth has reached, and most likely surpassed, its sustainable human carrying capacity. Some have turned the word "sustainability" into a meme for political purposes, but nevertheless the ability of natural systems to function in perpetuity without human inputs is a well-established ecological principle that has set limits.
Now you can pour blue stuff (that stuff that calls itself a Miracle) on plant roots, and they can take up some dissolved minerals from it. You may get a beautiful flush of green growth (nitrogen), and even abundant flower blooms (phosphorus), but what you won't see is true plant health.
Have you noticed how after a few months or years of watering and fertilizing a houseplant with the blue stuff, you get that rim of crusty white stuff built up around the rim of the pot? And the plant starts to look sickly, at which point you have to repot the plant with fresh potting mix?
Well we're doing the same thing on farms, but you can't "repot the plant" with fresh potting mix. The blue stuff's fertilizer is in the form of mineral salts, and those salts build up and kill the living beings in the soil, which breaks nature's ecosystem chains. When nature's delivery system is broken, plants become both sickly and stuck - dependent on our intervention and the blue stuff forever - because the intricate natural systems that worked sustainably, indefinitely, forever into eternity, have been disappeared.
(Much like many indigenous peoples were disappeared when they stood up against those with a vested interest in selling the blue stuff. As I write this in April of 2021, I think of the farmer protests in India. There is much more to this story than is reported on the evening news.)
Now I'm using "blue stuff" here to mean not only the literal blue stuff, but as a metaphor for the agrochemical industry's products as a whole, which includes fertilizer salts, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemically-dependent GMO seeds. Approximately 5.6 billion pounds of these chemicals are applied to the soil every year1. These chemicals are not just on your food, they are in your food, and they are now in your body2. Most are hormone-disruptors and carcinogens, and their levels are generally higher in the bodies of children than adults.
The blue stuff (fertilizer salts, glyphosate and other herbicides, insecticides and other chemicals) that is not taken into the plants we eat, washes out of the soil when it rains and flows down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.
There it has created a Dead Zone, devoid of life, which in 2017 covered over 6,000 square miles (3.84 million acres). Dead Zones like this now exist around the world.
Didn't it seem strange when the world's giant chemical companies
(Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, Dupont and BASF) entered the seed
business? When they started genetically-engineering, and patenting
Approximately 95% of the corn, soybean, cotton, canola and sugar beets grown in the US are genetically-engineered to resist herbicides, and these seeds are patented. The fast food, processed food, feedlot beef, chicken, and "Impossible Burger™" industries are all based on these GMO crops. The majority of the food consumed in the US now comes from these industries.
Most farmers can no longer save their own seed to plant the following year, but must purchase it every year from the chemical companies, along with the chemicals now necessary to grow them.
Big agrochemical corporations may not have set out to intentionally kill the soil, but that is what has happened. To sum up, now that soil is effectively dead across much of the agricultural land in the US, we are in a bind. We have to replace nature's broken natural cycles with Big Ag's manufactured products, including the seeds engineered to resist the poisons. They have effectively made plants, animals, farmers - and the majority of eaters everywhere - dependent on their patented products.
For the time being, for Big Ag, there are hundreds of billions of dollars 3 to be made annually. (Or as Yosemite Sam used to say, "There's gold in them thar hills!")
And when new problems arise... "There's a chemical for that."
For awhile, anyway, until the whole thing crashes.There's also a proven, workable, sustainable solution called Regenerative Agriculture. Click on the link to read how and why it works.