We often think that world peace is going to come from human rights activism, spiritual enlightenment, legal developments, individual liberty, education, and democratic governments. No doubt there is truth to all these efforts.
Drawing a connected line, or at least a dotted line, between science and world peace has been something rattling around in one of the vacuous chambers of my brain over the last few years. Most metrics for world peace and violence over the last 25 years have been astonishingly positive. Whether it is international conflicts, internal national conflicts or violent crime, they have all been greatly reduced over the last quarter century (in spite the best efforts of sensational media reports trying to make us think otherwise). Here is one very positive chart on armed conflict:
So the question is why? Can we figure out why this good news has occurred so that we can move forward into the future by duplicating this success and making the world even more peaceful and safe?
Obviously this is a highly complex subject, one that is far beyond my ability to analyze definitively but I do want to put forth a theory that may hold the key to a small part of it: economic prosperity and in particular, agricultural success due to a wide range of technological and scientific successes.
When I took an Economics course in the early ’70’s, we used a 1968 textbook called “Scarcity Challenged”. One of its key ideas was that world population was growing geometrically while food production was growing arithmetically and just by the numbers being on a collision course, we were going to be facing mass starvation in the world by 1990 (along with running out of oil and gas) and this was going to lead to all kinds of world chaos and violence as the world moved into a survival mode. When humans go into survival mode, or “fight or flight”, chaos and/or violence can ensue. A “culture of scarcity” can be a very dangerous one.
Now in hindsight, none of those highly regarded economics predictions came true, and in fact, quite the opposite. Today, with 7 billion people on the planet compared to 4 billion in the early ’70’s, the world is relatively better fed, better organized, and more peaceful than ever (and there is more oil and gas around than ever). I attribute a great deal of that development to scientific achievement, relieving the negative effects of a culture of scarcity in more places in the world than ever.
Looking at food production, here is what grain production looks like since 1960:
Now compare that to world population from 1960 to present:
1960 2014 Increase
World population 3billion 7billion + 2.3X
Grain production 800million tons 2,500million tons + 3.1X
So grain production has actually risen at a 35% faster rate than population rate increases. These are stunning achievements, significantly reducing the “culture of scarcity” in the world, and making it a safer place as people are better equipped to obtain their survival needs in a peaceful manner.
While some political changes have helped a lot (such as land use liberalization in China and other countries with a communist history), the scientific achievements in agriculture have been tremendous from the 1960’s to this date. Yields on rice paddies in Asia for example have gone up 4-8X in some areas due to farming methods and new strains of rice which have resisted flooding in particular. Today, there are new strains of rice are being developed that will be better able to resist BOTH flooding and drought, preparing the world for the expected weather extremities from climate change. The list of agricultural achievements is a long one and showing now sign of abating.
A well fed world is a more orderly and peaceful environment to live in. We have a lot to thank the enquiring minds of scientists for a more peaceful world!