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In Search of the Second "Green Revolution"
Volume 3, Number 3: 1 February 2000

In the 2 December 1999 Supplement to Nature titled "Impacts of Foreseeable Science," the Rockefeller Foundation's Conway and Toenniessen (1999) discuss the task of feeding the world in the twenty-first century.  They note that "the Green Revolution was one of the great technological success stories of the second half of the twentieth century," but that its benefits are dropping and a number of arguments "point to the need for a second Green Revolution."

It is enlightening to consider the arguments made by Conway and Toenniessen.  First, they note that the world already produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet, but that it is not evenly distributed, due to "notoriously ineffective" world markets that leave 800 million people chronically undernourished.  Hence, it would seem that requirement number one for the second Green Revolution should be that the agricultural benefits to be reaped should be equitably distributed among all nations.

Second, the Rockefeller representatives say that food aid programs designed to help countries most in need "are also no solution," reaching "only a small portion of those suffering chronic hunger."  In addition, they say that such programs, if prolonged, "have a negative impact on local food production."  Hence, it would seem that requirement number two for the second Green Revolution should be that local food production should be enhanced worldwide.

Third, Conway and Toenniessen state that 650 million of the world's poorest people live in rural areas and that many of them live in "regions where agricultural potential is low and natural resources are poor."  Hence, it would seem that requirement number three for the second Green Revolution should be that regions of low agricultural potential lacking in natural resources should be singled out for maximum benefits.

All three of these requirements represent noble causes; but if mankind already produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet - and we don't do it - it is clear that mankind must not be noble enough to rise to the challenge currently confronting us.  So how does anyone think that we will do any better in the future?  It would seem to us, based on humanity's prior track record, that the second Green Revolution envisioned by the Rockefeller folk will also fall short of its noble goal, banking, as it were, on a less-than-noble humanity to see it through.

So what do we do?  We look for help.  Where?  Up in the sky: to the despised effluent of our industrial activities, to the one thing for which the nations of the world are setting their differences aside to come together to fight, to what Al Gore in his infamous book, Earth in the Balance, has portrayed as the greatest threat ever to confront the planet.  In a word (or two), we look ... to carbon dioxide.

Consider what's needed for the next Green Revolution and what can be done by elevated levels of atmospheric CO2.

Requirement No. 1: The agricultural benefits to be reaped should be equitably distributed among all nations.  First of all, what are the agricultural benefits of elevated atmospheric CO2?  For a 300 ppm increase in the air's CO2 content, they are 30 to 50% increases in the yields of nearly all food crops.  And as for their equitable distribution among all nations, the fact that CO2 is so well mixed throughout the atmosphere insures that all nations will share equally in the availability of this great resource and its proven yield-enhancing properties.

Requirement No. 2: Local food production should be enhanced worldwide.  The nice thing about atmospheric CO2 enrichment is that it is a blessing that transcends all political barriers.  As Sylvan Wittwer, the father of agricultural research on this topic, has so eloquently put it, "the effects know no boundaries and both developing and developed countries are, and will be, sharing equally," for "the rising level of atmospheric CO2 is a universally free premium, gaining in magnitude with time, on which we all can reckon for the foreseeable future" (Wittwer, 1995).

Requirement No. 3: Regions of low agricultural potential lacking in natural resources should be singled out for maximum benefits.  Fortunately, CO2 helps most where people hurt most: in areas of low agricultural potential.  In a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, for example, Idso and Idso (1994) found that the greatest CO2-induced percentage increases in plant productivity typically occur in places of limited resources and heightened environmental stresses.

It would seem, therefore, that atmospheric CO2 enrichment truly fits the bill when it comes to meeting the major requirements of the much-needed second Green Revolution.  The programs envisioned by the Rockefeller Foundation will do much to help; but they will not solve the problem on their own.  With the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content as our potent ally, however, we may come much closer to achieving our noble goal than we ever have in the past.

Dr. Craig D. Idso
President
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President

References
Conway, G. and Toenniessen, G.  1999.  Feeding the world in the twenty-first century.  Nature 402 Supp: C55-C58.

Idso, K.E. and Idso, S.B.  1994.  Plant responses to atmospheric CO2 enrichment in the face of environmental constraints: A review of the past 10 years' research.  Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 69: 153-203.

Wittwer, S.H.  1995.  Food, Climate, and Carbon Dioxide: The Global Environment and World Food Production.  CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.