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THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE IS HUMANS THAT ARE FREE

 

Paul Ehrlich’s doomsday assessment in The Population Bomb (1968) was based on his dreary pessimism about the human race. When Julian Simon plunged in against the tide of eco-alarmism in 1980, declaring that the world was not about to run out of food or any other essential resource, Paul Ehrlich said that Simon just proved that the world would never run out of imbeciles. Yet Simon’s predictions about food and resources becoming more plentiful than ever proved to be true.

 

Julian Simon’s environmental optimism was based on his optimism about the human race. In The Ultimate Resource, published in 1980, Simon argued that as long as there is human intelligence, the world will never run out of any essential resource. Humans  make wealth, argued Simon,  and the human condition would continue to improve for most people in the world, indefinitely.

 

Even before Ehrlich went to print with his prediction that millions would be starving by the 1980’s, a young farmer from Dakota believed something could be done to raise food production throughout the world. His name was Norman Borlung, and he became the father of “the Green Revolution.” He carried the science of high-yield agriculture to Africa, Asia and South America. He worked to develop better varieties of high-yield grains to feed the world. Within 30 years wheat production had increased by 500% and rice production by 400%. Food production in the developing world tripled. World food prices did not escalate during the 1980’s as Ehrlich predicted, but began to fall dramatically.  In the developed world, inefficient farms became victims to the success of the Green Revolution. An enormous amount of marginal farmland was retired to grow trees instead of food. Forestry expanded. 

 

The declining agricultural industry on the Tweed ( projected to contribute only 2 ½ % to the local economy by 2010), is a victim to the success of this revolution in high-yield agriculture. This is not a matter of suffering from having too little food as Ehrlich predicted. It is a matter of adjusting to having too much food. Since deregulation, 80% of dairy farmers have left the industry, yet the remaining 20% have doubled milk production. More than half of Australia’s food is now being grown by 10% of its farmers, indicating that agriculture can duplicate what the dairy industry has done – shedding  80% of its food producers. To illustrate, there are single farm units in more expansive areas that now grow more fruit or more vegetables than all the farms of the Tweed put together. Increased productivity on broad acre farms will continue to put the small Tweed farms out of business, at least in what is called “commodity agriculture.”

 

Australia does not need the food that the Tweed produces. It hardly amounts to a blimp on the city markets anyhow. The majority of people who live here would like to retain the backdrop of the Tweed’s agricultural landscape because it enhances their amenity. The problem caused by an all too successful “Green Revolution” in high yield agricultural is not going to be solved by draconian regulations to maintain an economic sub-class of rural poor to keep the Tweed looking nice for the benefit of the rest. As an optimist, however, I believe that we can find new land uses to enhance our rural landscapes. Solutions can be found if we are given enough freedom to exercise our human resourcefulness.