A joke/lesson that’s been around since pre-Internet days posits two cows within different nations and/or economic systems. It’s both funny and instructive (as my calling it a joke/lesson implies, clearly), and one version can be found here.

Among all sorts of accurate jokes about the failures of collectivism, we find:

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called ‘Cowkimon’ and market it worldwide.

You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

This joke came to mind today, when I read an article that shared an interesting statistic:

A 2014 German survey found that the introduction of genetic modification elsewhere in the world had reduced pesticide use by 36.9 per cent on average, while increasing yields by 21.6 per cent.

Another source reports that organic farming yields are 25% lower than conventional farming.

In other words, scientific progress has enabled us to grow more food on less land. The US Department of Agriculture reports that:

[T]otal agricultural output nearly tripled between 1948 and 2015—even as the amount of labor and land (two major inputs) used in farming declined by about 75 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

More food, less land. This is a Good Thing. And, indeed, America is actually retiring farmland every year. Farmland is, ecologically speaking, a wasteland. It lacks biodiversity, it is aggressively cleared of any plants that are not the crop itself, and of any small animals that would normally live there. It’s obviously necessary for sustaining our lives, and there’s plenty of other places for biodiversity to persist, so we needn’t decry it – just recognize that if we can do more with less, that would be a good thing.

Greater efficiency also means lower cost, which passes through the economic chain.

“Science” has done what we look for it to do: make things more efficient, and improve the quality of our lives.

Of course, whenever something good is noted, reflexive contrarians crawl out of the woodwork to do what they do, and thence have emerged the anti-GMO types, the “organic” types, the “natural food” types, and various others who often decry modern agriculture merely because it’s modern, therefore not as God/Nature intended it to be, and therefore a Bad Thing.

A Cambridge PhD candidate and Air Force veteran named Rob Henderson recently coined the phrase “luxury beliefs,” and in the context of the global food supply, the anti-science attitude in non-GMO/Organic/Natural/Locavore certainly qualifies. I doubt many people in emerging nations, who are just now rising out of subsistence living to approach a lifestyle that’s only a fraction as good as even the poorest in America enjoy, are going to sniff at foods that have been made cheaper and more plentiful by science.

Even more so, science has fostered the advent of biofortified crops, among which is the Golden Rice I’ve frequently discussed in this blog. That anti-GMO activists are willing to let 2000 people a day die is an immorality as grotesque as a genocide. They protect themselves, at least in their own minds, from this monstrous reality by promulgating fear born of deliberate ignorance, by wrapping it up in highfalutin language written by first-world committees. Back in 1992, a UN conference produced the “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,” which includes “Principle 15,” also known as the “precautionary principle.” While it sounds reasonable, it has been carte-blanche for every Luddite, science-ignoramus, and self-server to block agricultural progress based on little more than screams of “Frankenfood!” and other histrionics.

Meanwhile, African farmers are faced with the rock-and-a-hard-place choice between growing GMO crops that do well on their land and in their climate, but that Europe’s mandarins won’t import.

And, millions of Asian children die.

Paradoxically, many of the same people who reject scientific progress in agriculture and nutrition scream “Science!” as if the declaration itself is a final validation when it comes to global warming (and, specifically, its remediation via “renewables”). Question the accuracy of the models, and they scream “Science!” and call you a denier. Suggest that resources would better be used in addressing other public health matters (as environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg has), and they scream “Science!” and call you a denier. Comment that it’s odd that nuclear power and geo-engineering are being excluded from the remedy prescription, and they scream “Science!” and call you a denier.

Then again, perhaps it’s not so paradoxical. The brute-force carbon caps and taxes, and the forced implementation of wind and solar to the exclusion of everything else, will have a profound negative impact on the world’s poorest. Billions will see their rise out of poverty slowed or halted, resulting in shortened life spans and avoidable deaths by the millions.

Sound familiar?

Back we are to luxury beliefs. The loudest voices for drastic “climate action” will be the least affected by that action. The Al Gores will continue to enjoy their mansions, the jet set will continue to jet set, and celebrities won’t notice the spike in their utility costs. Meanwhile, the working classes in the first world will suffer under higher energy and fuel costs, and the world’s poor will continue to die preventable deaths.

Finally, no such discussion would be complete without mention of vaccines and the anti-vax loons. Vaccines save several million lives each year, prevent millions more from sickness, and could save even more if more fully implemented world-wide. Certain diseases have (or had) been virtually eliminated from the planet through systematic vaccination. Diseases that were part of routine life a mere century ago are of little more than academic and historical interest now. A century ago, before the measles vaccine, there were half a million cases in the US alone each year, thousands of them resulting in death. That number grew into the millions before the vaccine. The vaccine virtually wiped it out in the US.

But, thanks to the aforementioned loons and the bullshit they’ve been propagating, we witness this sobering report from the CDC:

U.S. measles cases in first five months of 2019 surpass total cases per year for past 25 years.

All due to a movement based on a fraud: Andrew Wakefield, the since-disgraced doctor who snuck a sloppy and fudged “study” past peer review, in order to hawk his own alternative vaccination scheme.

Scientific progress makes our lives better every day. Of course we should be careful in implementing our advancements, that should go without saying. But, because our lives are so good and easy, we’re prone to overlooking how many of these are literally the difference between life and death for others, and so are more apt to falling prey to applying the precautionary principle out of nothing more than intellectual laziness and instinctive fear of that which we don’t understand. And, because our lives are so good and easy, we are more likely to fall prey to snake oil sellers, because we aren’t going to notice that the organic/non-GMO foods being peddled provide no actual health benefit, despite costing more.

We can afford (literally) luxury beliefs, even when they fly in the face of science, and we can afford (literally) to preen about “bad science,” because its cost to us is measurable in money. And, if you want to spend extra money on such things, that’s your right. Others cannot afford luxury beliefs, and not just in the literal dollars and cents. When a luxury belief costs others their lives, it’s indefensible.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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