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Have you read The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 04, 2011 at 8:13 PM

I've just started reading this book - The Rational Optimist - How Prosperity Evolves. It is very interesting and makes some great points particularly about the evolution of trade, the role of trade in making us human and the evolution of farming which I find fascinating. However I'm finding the chapter "The feeding of the nine billion: farming after 10,000 years ago" unsettling. I don't want to be guilty of confirmation bias or re-enactment romanticism but a great deal of what he says contradicts much of what else I have been recently reading in things like "Food Inc" and "Against The Grain". I wondered if anyone out there who was more clued up than me had read this book and could make an educated critique of it. He makes a lot of sense in other parts of the book so I don't want to just dismiss it out of hand because he believes the future lies in intensive grain farming.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:55 AM

I'm not denying that there are real problems, but I think the evidence is overwhelming that technological progress has, on net, been a huge benefit for humanity.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:54 AM

Futureboy- a sad state of affairs? You mean 300 million plus fewer people in poverty, longer life spans, vastly lower infant mortality, vastly less violent death? I could go on. You should check out the book, if only to make your arguments stronger.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:38 AM

Also, if I'm not mistaken, some GMO's have also helped solved problems of malnutrition, as well as reducing use of pesticides. So I think there are positives that have to be factored into our considerations.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:14 AM

Futureboy- I obviously would oppose those things, but that is still different from banning GMO's. I think there should be a presumption of freedom in these things, and we should use regulation carefully to address specific problems. I also believe that there is such a thing as technological progress. Does this strike you as an irresponsible position? hcantrall- as there is a demand for this knowledge, companies, like whole foods, are supplying it. Govnt regulation doesn't guarantee anything and is very subject to hijacking by said corporate interests.

34a367e60db77270bd7096dc04270fdc

(4171)

on June 05, 2011
at 02:35 AM

If there must be GMO's - They better damn well label it as such. We have a right to choose whether we want to eat something natural and untainted or a freaking science experiment.

34a367e60db77270bd7096dc04270fdc

(4171)

on June 05, 2011
at 02:32 AM

I'm not on board at all for GMO's, I'd like my food as scientist free as possible.

Medium avatar

(5639)

on June 05, 2011
at 12:41 AM

that's pretty irresponsible. by "people," do you mean "unregulated corporate interests," and by "try different things" don't you mean "knowingly hide science that says their products are unsafe," and "foist said unsafe products off on third world countries, making whole villages sick and allergic, and destroying fair trade?"

Medium avatar

(5639)

on June 05, 2011
at 12:37 AM

oh yeah, also forgot to mention genetically modified plants destroying heirloom populations leading to a massive mono-crop...not good.

Medium avatar

(5639)

on June 05, 2011
at 12:36 AM

At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, and having not read the book, I will say that his arguments sound alot like the "better living through science" attitude that brought us to our current sad state of affairs, i.e. massive pollution, dead zones over the gulf of mexico and elsewhere, obese american eating grain-fed meat wrapped in sugar brea, etc...

Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on June 04, 2011
at 09:15 PM

Sounds like it. I would have to read it specifically. I just thought I would suggest to you that such conclusions might be naive of alternate views and additional knowledge.

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on June 04, 2011
at 08:50 PM

He believes that soon we will have calcium transporter genes in carrots to help fight osteoporosis, vitamins and minerals in sorghum and cassava and soybeans will have omega - 3 inserted in to them so that when we cook with soybean oil it will lower our risk of heart attacks. So he definitely comes up with alternatives but they are more optimist than rational I think.

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on June 04, 2011
at 08:46 PM

At the risk of over-simplifying his point he says that we could and should aim to feed a population of 9 billion by doubling agricultural production, the use of GM crops to improve yields, feeding cattle with soybeans, an expansion of fish, chicken and pig farming at the expense of beef and more specialisation brought about by further intensification. He basically thinks we should all go vegetarian and up our production of cereals, soybeans and vegetables. He acknowledges that as he puts it 'diseases caused by too much bland food are rampant' but believes the solution will be GM crops.

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2 Answers

1
02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 05, 2011
at 12:25 AM

I have read this book and I think everyone should. I found most of his arguments very convincing. I haven't read it for several months, and I should go back and check out that chapter.

I think the claims of some that grain agriculture are going to be the end of the world are exaggerated at best. I certainly don't believe that all our problems would be solved if we started grazing cattle everywhere and eating only locally grown vegetables.

Without going into Ridley's specific claims, I think any kind of top-down solution is bound to fail. Solutions to environmental/nutritional problems are going to very a lot in different places.

I oppose banning GMOs, and I dare say that some of them really will be good for people and the environment. Let people try different things and see what works.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:38 AM

Also, if I'm not mistaken, some GMO's have also helped solved problems of malnutrition, as well as reducing use of pesticides. So I think there are positives that have to be factored into our considerations.

Medium avatar

(5639)

on June 05, 2011
at 12:41 AM

that's pretty irresponsible. by "people," do you mean "unregulated corporate interests," and by "try different things" don't you mean "knowingly hide science that says their products are unsafe," and "foist said unsafe products off on third world countries, making whole villages sick and allergic, and destroying fair trade?"

34a367e60db77270bd7096dc04270fdc

(4171)

on June 05, 2011
at 02:35 AM

If there must be GMO's - They better damn well label it as such. We have a right to choose whether we want to eat something natural and untainted or a freaking science experiment.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:14 AM

Futureboy- I obviously would oppose those things, but that is still different from banning GMO's. I think there should be a presumption of freedom in these things, and we should use regulation carefully to address specific problems. I also believe that there is such a thing as technological progress. Does this strike you as an irresponsible position? hcantrall- as there is a demand for this knowledge, companies, like whole foods, are supplying it. Govnt regulation doesn't guarantee anything and is very subject to hijacking by said corporate interests.

1
Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on June 04, 2011
at 08:24 PM

No I haven't, I read his blog and I love his books on human nature/genetics. Perhaps he is contradicting messages like Food Inc because he isn't addressing messages like Food Inc? Polyface farms are all like "look at how ballin' and amazing and efficient we are, wahoo innovation" and is Matt like "this current model we have sucks and won't do" but then doesn't explore alternatives?

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:54 AM

Futureboy- a sad state of affairs? You mean 300 million plus fewer people in poverty, longer life spans, vastly lower infant mortality, vastly less violent death? I could go on. You should check out the book, if only to make your arguments stronger.

Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on June 04, 2011
at 09:15 PM

Sounds like it. I would have to read it specifically. I just thought I would suggest to you that such conclusions might be naive of alternate views and additional knowledge.

Medium avatar

(5639)

on June 05, 2011
at 12:36 AM

At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, and having not read the book, I will say that his arguments sound alot like the "better living through science" attitude that brought us to our current sad state of affairs, i.e. massive pollution, dead zones over the gulf of mexico and elsewhere, obese american eating grain-fed meat wrapped in sugar brea, etc...

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on June 04, 2011
at 08:50 PM

He believes that soon we will have calcium transporter genes in carrots to help fight osteoporosis, vitamins and minerals in sorghum and cassava and soybeans will have omega - 3 inserted in to them so that when we cook with soybean oil it will lower our risk of heart attacks. So he definitely comes up with alternatives but they are more optimist than rational I think.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d

(1813)

on June 06, 2011
at 01:55 AM

I'm not denying that there are real problems, but I think the evidence is overwhelming that technological progress has, on net, been a huge benefit for humanity.

Medium avatar

(5639)

on June 05, 2011
at 12:37 AM

oh yeah, also forgot to mention genetically modified plants destroying heirloom populations leading to a massive mono-crop...not good.

34a367e60db77270bd7096dc04270fdc

(4171)

on June 05, 2011
at 02:32 AM

I'm not on board at all for GMO's, I'd like my food as scientist free as possible.

C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on June 04, 2011
at 08:46 PM

At the risk of over-simplifying his point he says that we could and should aim to feed a population of 9 billion by doubling agricultural production, the use of GM crops to improve yields, feeding cattle with soybeans, an expansion of fish, chicken and pig farming at the expense of beef and more specialisation brought about by further intensification. He basically thinks we should all go vegetarian and up our production of cereals, soybeans and vegetables. He acknowledges that as he puts it 'diseases caused by too much bland food are rampant' but believes the solution will be GM crops.

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