A Quick Guide To The Environmental Crisis


I give green personal care products a pretty rough time on this blog.  I don’t have any problem doing this as a public service because so many of them basically aren’t very good.  But it does run the risk that I appear to be anti-green in general.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and I thought it might be a good idea to lay out what I think the problems facing the planet are and how seriously I take them.  This doesn’t strictly have anything to do with coverage of the health and beauty issues I normally cover, but it is always sort of there in the background.  And anyway, this my blog so it’s my rules.

The big thing that has happened in my lifetime is that the population of the world has grown enormously.  When I was born in 1960 there were around 3 billion humans.  Now there are over 7 billion and the world population is predicted to peak at 9 billion, though some people suggest is could reach 12 billion.

Either way, that is one heck of a lot of dinners we need to find.  In the seventies the growth in the world’s population was regarded as a huge and insurmountable problem – plenty of people were already starving back then and it seemed inevitable that whatever else happened there were going to be a lot of hungry people in the future.  In the event this hasn’t been the case.  There are still a lot of people without enough food but the total number of people faced with starvation has remained around the billion mark.  That is a billion too many, but it does mean that billions more are being fed than seemed possible.

The reason disaster was averted was the Green Revolution, a three pronged attack on the problem of agricultural production involving the use of pesticides, fertilisers and irrigation.  This has massively increased agricultural productivity making food cheap and plentiful.  The hero of this process was Norman Borlaug, who started out as a researcher into improving wheat production and became a great advocate for the reform of farming techniques around the world.  I don’t begrudge him his fame, but in reality this was a huge worldwide project with millions of hands playing their part.  It really was one of mankind’s greatest achievements.

Most observers and commentators agree that the continuation of the Green Revolution will enable even the highest estimate of population growth to be fed at least adequately.  This is comforting, but I remember when the majority of observers and commentators agreed that the population time bomb guaranteed disaster.  Nobody knows the future.

The biggest issue that could derail things is climate change.  It is looking like 2014 is going to be the hottest year in human history since reliable records began 200 years ago.  Worse still, the climate is becoming more variable.  Farmers can and probably would adapt to gradually changing  weather, but have no defence against increasingly unpredictable rain, drought and floods.

The trouble is that the new agricultural techniques are energy intensive, and so in a carbon based world they are themselves big contributors the release of carbon dioxide and therefore to climate change.  The race is on to substitute sustainable energy sources quickly enough to cut down the amount of coal and oil being burnt.  If this cannot be done successfully the consequences could be disastrous – the world food supply rests on a precarious combination of a stable climate and plenty of cheap energy to keep the Green Revolution rolling.

We are all in this together and the situation is neatly summed up by the environmental slogan ‘think global, act local’.  It is very heartening that so many consumers are prepared to consider the implications of their purchases and seek out products that are better for the planet.  Unfortunately it is a great mistake to think that organic farming is the solution to the world’s environmental crisis.  Organic farming should certainly be encouraged.  Nobody knows the future so we need as many food production options kept open as we can.  We certainly don’t have too many.

But the fact is that organic farming has a lower productivity than conventional agriculture.  Using organic products in personal care uses more land.  If you are concerned about the planet, that is not an easy proposition to justify.

Photo credit: ishmael78 via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “A Quick Guide To The Environmental Crisis”

  1. Right on. I make this same argument to friends, family, and others. Many fail to understand that consumption of organic products is “subsidized” by that of conventional ones.

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