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April, 2009:

Was the Green Revolution Helpful?

This will be a post on policy. Ideally I should maintain separate blogs for policy/science and personal posts, but I have enough trouble finding the time to maintain one blog, let alone two.

Via LaVidaLocavore

“Prior to the Green Revolution, Indians were poor and starving but their agriculture was sustainable. And the U.S. gave them help – money and technical support – but it was very short-term help. The help we gave, along with the low cost chemicals and seeds their own government gave them, prevented starvation from the 1960’s to the 1990’s only to cause an epidemic of suicides later. And – knowing that – it seems to me that what we gave them in the 1960’s and 1970’s wasn’t actually help.”

I’m speechless. Fortunately typing doesn’t require the use of the voice. In 1968 the population of Indian was 523 million. In 2008 it was 1.15 billion. In the 1960s India was confronted with a stagnant food supply and a growing population. The improved crop varieties of the Green Revolution, along with investments in technology like irrigation and fertilizer staved off the specter of famine from the subcontinent for the past four decades. If Indian farmers had been no option but to continue with their “sustainable” methods of farming prior to the green revolution, India might have continued to “sustainably” produce enough food to feed half a billion people. Which means the other 600 million people living in India are alive today because of the green revolution. Only the most literal and dispassionate definition of sustainability can disregard the lives of more half a billion people. The aid the world provided to India in the 1960s and 1970s really WAS help for those six hundred million lives. Help that bought four decades for technology to advance and global population growth to slow.

I’m not saying the Green Revolution has not produced some negative side effects. The author mentions issues with salinization of farm land, and increased debt for small farmers, leading some to the tragedy of suicide. These are real concerns, and there is a lot more we could be doing to address these issues, particularly the higher stakes input intensive agriculture place on small farmers who don’t have the resources to rebound from even a single bad harvest. But to argue the Green Revolution was no help at all is comparable to arguing we should stop treating cancer patients, and that further research is harmful, because many of the therapies meant to kill the cancer cells cause negative side effects for the patient as well. 

I hope that almost everyone would agree treating cancer is preferable to allowing the disease to run its course, and is there anyone at all who would argue against further research to increase cancer survival rates while decreasing the negative side effects of treatment? Similarly the proper response to flaws of the Green Revolution should not be to dismantle the progress that has been made, but to continue the search for more effective, less costly, and yes, more sustainable technologies, crop varieties, and agricultural techniques. Always keeping in mind that we have an obligation to keep from starvation all of the many and varied people of the earth today, not simply that number of people we might consider ideal for the Earth to support.

Botanical Gardens

As promised: pictures from the berkeley botanical gardens.

Check out the cool, the weird, and the gorgeous.

Marian Call at the Revolution Cafe

Bart’s a wonderful system. I caught the 6:15 train from Berkeley and by seven o’clock I’m at this quickly little bar/coffee shop in the Mission district of San Francisco called the Revolution Cafe. The place was standing room only to listen to a talented singer from Anchorage, Alaska named Marian Call.

I found out about her through a CD of songs themed around Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, but her songs (and singing voice) are wonderful even when they don’t have the geek bonus. Best geeky song she played tonight was definitely “Vera flew the coop”, with best non-geeky going to one of her new songs about living in a basement apartment in Alaska, you’ll have to forgive me for not placing the name. I ended up buying a CD in addition to the optional cover charge. It’s so much more rewarding to support artists who are willing to sacrifice for their work, and when the money actually goes to the singer, not a bunch of obsolete middlemen at a record label.

Here’s one of her songs, (this one is geeky, be warned):

The only problem was that the venue so small that I kept accidentally making eye contact with Marian during songs. I have no idea what the protocol is in that situation. Since my solution to break awkward eye contact has always been to take a drink, I ended up going through a fair bit more beer than I would otherwise.

“You have already lost. My generation doesn’t care.”

“You guys don’t understand. You have already lost. My generation doesn’t care.”

The leader of the senate in Iowa, the state I was born and raised in, refusing to co-sponsor an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage, and telling the story of his daughter confronting a bunch of old conservative men talking about how horrible marriage equality is, reminding them that her generation (my generation) has bigger things to worry about. Which is reflected in the fact that the Iowan demographic most in favor of marriage equity in Iowa is voters under 30 with 58% in favor, and only one in seven (around 15%) opposed.

New Graphics Card

In one week I’ve had my car and windows PC die on me. Last night the parts I needed to fix the computer came, and this morning it’s back up and running. I’m going to make an attempt at the car on Monday or Tuesday depending on when the equipment I need arrives (thank you Amazon!).

I thought it was interesting to look at the physical differences of the two graphics cards. Don’t worry, no jumble of technical specs coming.

My previous graphics card is the blue one on the right, and the new one is the red one of the left. Notice the difference? The old one is a beast of a machine. Its big, powerful, and has a frankly ridiculous looking heat sink. My newer acquisition is about a year newer, but rather than get a bigger, more powerful card, I was able to get one that was only about 90% as powerful, can output to HDMI (in case ever need to hook this computer up to the TV), is passively cooled (meaning less noise and less energy), and costs about a third of what I payed for the last one!

Just goes to show how you can do things differently when you focus on quiet, power efficient PCs instead of wanting the biggest baddest PC to brag to your friends about.

Now a friend of mine who shall go unnamed has a really cool desktop computer that probably beats all of my computers combined (for video gaming). He has to leave the side off his computer case or the whole thing overheats. Would you believe he almost never even turns it on because his wife doesn’t like what it does to their electrical bill? ‘Nuf said…