Dickson Despommier, professor at Columbia University, gives four answers to this issue: the Malthusian, the Darwinian, the Smithian, and his own.
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The Key to Population Growth and Food Production Well, if I were Malthus I’d give you that answer of course. My name is Charles Darwin, I’ll give you another answer. In fact, if I was Adam Smith I’d give you a third answer. Well, I have too many answers for you. The mechanical era has sort of obviated the need for doomsday predictions with regards to out of control populations because every time it appeared that we couldn’t do anything more, we could do something more. So we had the first green revolutions which I just talked about. The second green revolution came when it became obvious that if you don’t start fertilizing the ground with fertilizers, with food supplements I should say, and if we don’t start trying to get rid of the competitor species, mainly the weeds with herbicides and also the pests that want to eat this crop, that we can outgrow to profusion as a result of the invention of dynamite by the way. Yeah, because it allowed us to clear the fields of all those rotten little trees that we had to get rid of. So too bad, because we can use those trees again. We now find ourselves in another dilemma where we think the population will peak, and the food supply will dwindle, so we’ll be once again involved in a Malthusian mind game. I don’t believe that for a minute. I think that that whatever problem is presented to the human species, we’ve got such a big cerebral cortex we can solve it if we all agree to. And that’s the issue. Do we want to solve the next problem to usher in the third green revolution? The second one was all of those pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer things, plus not genetically modified foods but certainly highly selected foods, and in fact, if you look at our foods today virtually every crop that’s grown originated from some wild plant that you would not recognize. An apple was about the size of a little pea. It started out in Russia someplace, and if you took a bite of it you wouldn’t be able to eat for a week. Your mouth would be closed. It’s so sour that you wouldn’t believe that someone would actually want to eat this thing. But yet domestication of that plant has now resulted in believe it or not 20,000 different varieties of apples from a single unit plant. All right, so you look at wheat, it’s been the same. You look at rice, it’s been the same. We’ve been marvelous at selecting crops to fit into climates that are suited for the optimum growth of those plants. But what was there before? That’s the point. There was a natural ecosystem there before we planted those crops.