The green revolution, and the great increases in food production that were its result saved many lives and improved the quality of life for many. This is undeniable. It is common to hear only this "good" side about the green revolution.
However, it has not been an unmixed blessing!
The following sections in these notes address implications of the green revolution for:
Human population growth
Diminished "biodiversity" in crops
Inherent soil fertility and water quality
While other, larger sections focus on:
Land degradation .
Prospects for sustainable agriculture are addressed in notes on that topic.
The World Watch Institute (Jan/Feb '01) argued that if one tried to calculate the "hidden costs" to society associated with intensive agriculture, they would sum to numbers like:
US -- $112/hectare
UK -- $337/hectare
Germany -- $274/hectare
These estimates are based on costs such as removing pesticides from drinking water, repairing damage to rivers, reservoirs, roads, etc. caused by soil erosion, air pollution (emissions of CH4 and N20, for example), dealing with illnesses such as mad cow disease, and so forth. Not quantified in dollar terms, but also important, are costs such as diminished agricultural biodiversity and potential influences of pesticides on human health. In general, however, the agricultural community does not have to pay most of these costs directly, thus there is little incentive to discontinue damaging or potentially damaging activities. Further, information on alternatives that are less environmentally damaging is not always readily available, nor is it easy to switch practices in many cases (but see notes on Sustainable Ag. for some practical ideas that are being implemented.) Should these estimated costs be weighed against the benefits of intensive agriculture in terms of food production? What do you think?
Click ">>" at the bottom of the page if you want to jump to notes on influences of the Green Revolution on human population growth, or "navigate" for reminders on how to move about through these pages. "Contents" will take you to the master table of contents for BI 301.
Page maintained by Patricia S. Muir at Oregon State University. Last updated Oct. 2, 2004.