But is humanity really on the cusp of disaster? Perhaps….but let’s back up and view this from the broader perspective. Claims of catastrophe and doom are NOT a new phenomenon. Mark Ridley explains in his recent book, The Rational Optimist (c. 2010):
The fashionable reason for pessimism changed, but the pessimism was constant. In the 1960s the population explosion and global famine were top of the charts, in the 1970s the exhaustion of resources, in the 1980s acid rain, in the 1990s pandemics, in the 2000s global warming. One by one these scares came and (all but the last) went. Were we just lucky?...Or was it the pessimism that was unrealistic? Let me make a square concession at the start: the pessimists are right when they say that, if the world continues as it is, it will end in disaster for all humanity. If all transport depends on oil, and oil runs out, then transport will cease. If agriculture continues to depend on irrigation and aquifers are depleted, then starvation will ensue. But notice the conditional: if. The world will not continue as it is. That is the whole point of human progress, the whole message of cultural evolution, the whole import of dynamic change – the whole thrust of this book. The real danger comes from slowing down change. It is my proposition that the human race has become a collective problem-solving machine and it solves problems by changing its ways. It does so through invention driven often by the market: scarcity drives up price; that encourages the development of alternatives and of efficiencies. It has happened often in history…The pessimists’ mistake is extrapolationism: assuming that the future is just a bigger version of the past.
Perhaps higher food prices and hunger aren’t inevitable – there’s hope out there.
Does that suggest we should take future solutions for granted? To the contrary; agriculture takes its mission of feeding the world seriously and is responding accordingly. Case in point, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture 2011 Annual Meeting; the meeting theme defined by the following statement: “It is estimated that by 2050 nearly twice as much food will need to be produced to feed the world’s growing population! With limited resources, it will be even more important that animal agriculture continue to produce food, milk and fiber in responsible and sustainable ways that meet consumers’ expectations.” And while some may fret that short-term price spikes portend certain disaster going forward, the perspective overlooks the ingenuity and innovation capacity of agriculture and dismisses historic advances that have been made in the previous 50-100 years.