This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Modify Nature a Bit--And Save Humans

Humans have spent much of the past 10,000 years modifying various aspects of nature. That was what the Agricultural (aka Neolithic) Revolution was all about. We moved from taking what nature gives us, to modifying what nature can do. We bred new plants, and figured out how to get water  and fertilizer to them (plants need food and water, just as do humans). We have also made enormous alterations in nature to provide ourselves with a longer life expectancy--thereby increasing the demand for food beyond anything people in the past could ever have imagined. Yet, many people have the attitude that we shouldn't be doing these things. The anti-GMO lobby in Europe has been particularly vociferous, but a few days ago there was a mild breakthrough, as reported by Nature:
In the late hours of 3 December, representatives of member states and the EU Parliament hashed out an agreement to waive the principle that every member state honour EU approvals of GM crops. Instead, each member state will have the power to overrule EU approvals in their country. This means that EU approval of several GM crops that have been in limbo for years is now likely to now move forward.
“It means that those who don’t want to ignore the science can go ahead and use the science more easily” despite the opposition of GM-sceptic countries, says Jonathan Jones, a plant researcher at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK.
The EU commissioner of health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said in a statement that the deal was “a significant step forward, after 4 years of intense debates”. It would, he said, “give the democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment”.
Obviously, there are good genetic modifications and bad ones, but we need to allow ourselves the ability to choose the good and move on. Think of it this way: if we just let nature take its course on all issues related to food, water, and health, there would be fewer than 1 billion of us on the planet and we would all have a very low life expectancy. We would still be living in the demographic hell that has consumed most of human existence up until very recently. I doubt that very many of us long for that existence...

1 comment:

  1. Probably one of our most complex dilemmas. How do we know when we have a good genetic modification, and when we have a bad one? There are things that could be done to resolve this ... such as setting up an independent testing agency which is non-profit and based on science. Hence, no profit motive! I agree, our survival is becoming more and more dependent on technology. Our deeper problem ... how do we use technoloy in a way that combines "scientific advances" with a "social conscience"? THAT is a key question, I think.

    As a simple counteragument. Over 10 years ago I started looking at seed projects to benefit Africa. How do we develop new types of crops that are more drought resistant and flood resistant? In the process of doing research, I discovered that crops in the USA are "highly manipulated". A few seed companies sell special seeds to US farmers that produce plants that are highly productive. However, these plants do NOT produce new seeds - there are no viable seeds from the next crop. Therefore, the farmer must buy a whole new batch of seeds the following year. This type of arrangement might work well for US agribusiness, but it is a nightmare for farmers in third world countries. They cannot become "economic slaves" to an agribusiness economy that is greed-dominated. In the end I realized that other countries, like Mexico and India, are much better sources of seeds for new crops to help third world countries.

    Our world is highly dependent on technology. But there are powerful economic interests that focus on short-term greed, at the expense of a long-term social conscience. It really is quite a struggle to resolve this problem!!

    Pete, Redondo Beach

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