No More Higher Yields?

Occasionally I receive email telling me my position on agriculture is completely bonkers. There’s simply no way, the naysayers write, to increase crop yields in the Third World. Those people must know something the Food and Agricultural Organization doesn’t.

The FAO is currently sponsoring several food security projects throughout the world, and recently wrote up a short release about its project in Eritrea.

From 1961 to 1991 Eritrea hosted a civil war which, as the FAO puts it, “almost destroyed the country.” Working with about 140 farmers, an FAO project managed to show farmers how to use hybrid seeds, moderate amounts of fertilizer and good crop management skills to double their yields.

Eritrea is still a long way from food self-sufficiency, producing only about 40 percent of the food it actually consumes, but the solution is not to throw up our hands and say “Impossible!” but instead to do as the FAO is doing and show people in places like Eritrea how they can bring their crop yields closer to the rest of the world’s.

Will China emerge from yoke of Communism?

China’s new ruler, Jiang Zemin, may finally be placing that nation on the road of no return toward political liberalization and freedom. A Sept. 22 story in Time magazine detailed Zemin’s plans to radically alter the political and economic landscape of the world’s largest Communist nation.

Over the next few years, China will sell off all but a thousand or so of 125,000 state-owned industries. Zemin has recently also allowed a greater degree of press freedom than under his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping.

China, beset first by Mao Zedong’s program of accelerating Chinese population growth and then the draconian one child policy, may find it hard to pull back from freedom once economic power is decentralized. Although the Chinese have shown themselves more masterful at alternating reforms with repression than the leaders of the Soviet Union were, such a fundamental change may spell the death of one of the world’s most tyrannical states.

With increasing political and economic freedom, China will be far better equipped to deal with its environmental and population issues.

Are environmentalists beginning to take a nasty anti-immigrant turn?

Traditionally anti-immigrant fever in the United States has been fueled by demagogues on the right. Recently, however, concerned that the United States is overpopulated (that’s not a misprint), groups like Population-Environment Balance and the Population Institute have been pressuring even mainline environmental groups to take anti-immigration stances.

According to an Oct. 2, 1997 Associated Press story, the Sierra Club’s 500,000 members will soon vote on whether or not to end their neutral policy on immigration and instead endorse a reduction in immigration to the United States.

The AP story quotes Sierra Club member Alan Kuper, who fought to have the issue scheduled for a vote in March 1998 as saying overpopulation “happens to underlie all environmental issues” including traffic jams, air pollution, water shortages and species loss.

To their credit, not everyone in the Sierra Club is falling for this nonsense. Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said, “this is a nasty, polarized debate in our society, one of the reasons our directors didn’t want to get involved in the issue.”

The position of people like Kuper is extraordinarily wrongheaded as immigration from heavily populated countries, such as Bangladesh, to less populated nations such as the United States is a major way to ease population difficulties in the Third World. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the world environment might be a bit less taxed if people living in Bangladesh, with its population density of close to 900 people per square mile, immigrated to the United States, with its population density of roughly 72 per square mile.

But then little that comes out of the overpopulation camp ever makes much sense.

The veggie fundamentalists are going to hate this

You’ve probably heard the common refrain that all we’d have to do to feed everyone on the planet is to abandon a meat based diet in favor of a wholly or partially vegetarian diet, which uses far less grain than feeding cows. But what if, instead, we could make cows hyper-efficient meat producers. Researchers in New Zealand might have found a way to do just that.

On August 26, Reuters reported that a husband and wife team, Mridula Sharma and Ravi Kambadur, discovered a gene responsible for a mutation in cattle which doubles muscle growth in the cattle.

The gene, myostatin, normally acts to inhibit muscle growth. Sharma and Kambadur discovered a mutation which increases muscle mass up to 40 percent in certain breeds and could lead to even strong increases. The upshot is the cattle with the mutation produced far more meat (and more tender meat at that) than cattle without the mutation.

The two have managed to clone the gene and recently published their discovery of a similar find in mice in Nature.

Of course it will probably never get to market with the hysteria over genetic engineering so common with environmentalists these days, but if you want to sink your teeth into a nice juicy, environmentally-friendly steak, this is the way to go.

Oil and gas prices

Gas prices are starting to go up in some parts of the country, so I imagine stories on the world’s future supply of oil will start turning up from places like WorldWatch, etc. An excellent article in the August 21, 1997 of the Wall Street Journal outlined the current and immediate future in the oil market.

The bottom line: even though demand for oil is expected to surge, no large price increases are expected for at least a year as new oil sources and projects are brought online. Worldwide an additional 1.3 million barrels of oil daily will be added to current production through the end of 1997 and early 1998.

Oil projects in the North Sea will add 249,000 barrels daily; in Colombia 249,000 barrels each day will be added; and Iraq is expected to begin pumping at least 750,000 barrels each day under close supervision from the United Nations. The Journal quotes Lawrence Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, as predicting crude oil prices could fall as low as $17 to $18 a barrel.

So what gives with prices in the United States? Why aren’t they declining or at least maintaining current levels rather than increasing recently?

The Journal cites an American Automobile Association analyst saying that the economy is leading more Americans to drive more miles this summer, extending the summer driving season longer than usual. Problems with important refineries have also contributed to higher-than-expected gasoline prices, which can be expected to slacken after Labor Day.

Last couple weeks

I took a brief hiatus from the population news to focus on improving other areas of the web site. Repeat visitors may not the new graphic logo for the Overpopulation FAQ as well as an improvement in linking and other changes.

I’ve also identified a good dozen topics not adequately addressed by the Overpopulation FAQ (thanks to those who gave me the often unkind feedback) which I am busy working on.

Anyone who has a question or topic they feel is ignored or missing from these pages please feel free to email me at brian@carnell.com with any suggestions and/or complaints (p.s. if you write me a nasty email don’t expect my reply to be full of love and compromise).