06 September 2012

Upcoming Lecture on the "Green Revolution" at the University of Missouri

Next Tuesday I'll be giving a seminar at the University of Missouri on some of my work in progress related to innovation, with a focus on the so-called "green revolution." If you are in the vicinity please stop by and say hello.

Here are the details:

“The Mythology of the Green Revolution” a seminar by Dr. Roger A. Pielke, Jr, Tuesday, September 11,  1:30pm in the Benton Bingham Ballroom, Memorial Union

Dr. Pielke is a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has authored The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics and The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell you About Global Warming. There will be time for questions. Seating is limited and refreshments will be available. This event is free and open to the public.

Abstract

The "green revolution" has been studied from many angles. In this talk I discuss work in progress on how the "green revolution" became characterized in terms of science and innovation. This particular mythology of the green revolution emerged more than 40 years ago from a complex stew of factors, among them the political and scientific interests of neo-Malthusians, American Cold War policies, scientists seeking influence in high level political debates and the vagaries of nature.  The mythology often repeated today emphasizes "revolution" as a burst of scientific innovation and its successful, essentially technocratic, application to solve an emerging crisis of famine. But when the historical context is examined, this mythology suffers from several empirical shortfalls. A more useful view of the "green revolution" -- a different mythology, perhaps -- may be summarized as the "green evolution."  Science and innovation as related to agricultural productivity have been consciously implemented for more than 250 years, at least in Europe (perhaps longer elsewhere), characterized by incremental progress punctuated by occasional major scientific breakthroughs. This evolution has at times been transformative and has never been dissociated from its social and political consequences. The mythology of the "green revolution" may thus distract more than enlighten.

8 comments:

  1. I usually consider referring to dictionary or Wikipedia definitions as a weak form of appealing to authority - but I think in this case a reference might be useful for seeing a common understanding of the term being discussed.


    Wikipedia says

    --snip--

    Green Revolution refers to a **series*** of research, development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1970s, that increased agriculture production around the world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s.

    --snip--


    Roger says


    --snip--

    A more useful view of the "green revolution" -- a different mythology, perhaps -- may be summarized as the "green evolution." Science and innovation as related to agricultural productivity have been consciously implemented for more than 250 years,

    --snip--

    So, both references describe a series of improvements over time - with perhaps the main difference in the time period described. Are you saying that there is not a notable rate increase in innovation during the last 70 years or so as compared to the previous 180?

    This graph from the Wikipedia article seems relevant to that question.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wheat_yields_in_developing_countries_1951-2004.png

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  2. It's interesting that scientific evolution is punctuated like Stephen Gould's biological evolution.

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  3. What about the role of Norman Borlaug, who developed new higher-yield wheat varieties? (for which he won a Nobel). And the subsequent development of new high-yield rice? Very significant matters, surely not "myths".

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  4. "This particular mythology of the green revolution emerged more than 40 years ago from a complex stew of factors, among them the political and scientific interests of neo-Malthusians, American Cold War policies, scientists seeking influence in high level political debates and the vagaries of nature" a good summary of what went wrong with climate science. Doing "science" for all the wrong reasons- political agendas, war, politics, ideaology, augmented by climate variation in the 70's.

    Before the 1800's the only notable developments were the French refusing to adapt their crops during the little ice age, resulting in famines that triggered the Revolution, and the British started throwing the serfs off their land so the fields could be turned into large tracts of land more suitable for plowing and higher productivity. I'd also include the longstanding development of terracing for rice growing in Asia.

    Very little science was used in agriculture until statistics was developed in the late 1880's by Peirce leading to the development of designed experiments suitable for agricultural experimentation and developmental science in particular. Prior to that any experimentation in agriculture was long, tedious, literally life time venture. Try breeding apples.

    As I see it, there were(are) two green revolutions. The first is epitomized by Norman Borlaug's developments in high yield crops. That stimulated continuous improvements in in yields for many crops in the ensuing 50 years. These are now being energetically spread to the less developed countries.

    The other "Green" revolution is the environmental movement and the ensuing politicization of many of the natural sciences. This resulted in significant positive benefits such as the regeneration of the farm land and farming practices in the Dust Bowl states, near elimination of toxic air pollution, and much better control of other toxic emissions. The negatives include the politicization of many environmental groups and huge grabs for power and money from both governments and non-governmental organizations. That includes the United Nations and its constructs such as the UNFramework Convention on Climate Change.

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  5. OK, I'll bite.

    There were developments in mechanization, fertilization, and breeding techologies, applied differently in different parts of the world at different times.

    You could argue that one person's evolution is another person's revolution. Is a tractor just an evolved mule? Is a precision combine an evolved tractor? Is evolution "using the technologies currently available and applying them to agriculture?" and revolution something else?

    As a plant breeder, I would say you could argue that even genetically engineered crops are evolutionary and not revolutionary. It all depends on your standard for "revolutionary."

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  6. Please post the text once you are done.

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  7. Thanks all for the comments ... there is a paper in the works and it will be posted up in due course. Meantime, I will certainly be posting up parts of the overall argument as blog posts etc.

    Comments/feedback always welcomed!

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  8. George M.

    People have been breeding crops for thousands of years, successfully, apparently doing fine without "science."

    Statistics helped people do it more precisely, and finding and snipping (some) genes perhaps even more precisely.

    Was mechanization "science" or technology? I guess that's another maybe definitional question. Scientific discoveries can lead to new technologies, but people can figure out ways to improve technologies without perhaps overtly "scientific" discoveries, e.g. I-Pad.

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