Why you white man have so much cargo and we New Guineans have so little?

This question seems like such a simplistic question at first glance but upon further analysis, it proves to be the door to major discoveries. The youtube video based on Diamonds Guns, Germs and Steel presented an extremely interesting perspective on the disparity of wealth, in all its forms, throughout the different areas of the world. It is truly baffling that something as simple as the types of crops and animals that thrive in a particular location can explain why we are scouring the internet for a new dinner recipe while the people of New Guinea are scouring the forest just to have any dinner at all.

Being a biochemist, I was able to connect with the information of the nutritional values of the various plants that were discussed from barley and wheat to bananas and tarrow root. The video touched on some important points about higher protein content as well as a solid nutrient content but on a whim I decided to look up some of the nutritional facts of wheat and barley just to see how much better it actually was compared to other crops. I came across an article (http://www.organicfacts.net/nutrition-facts/cereals/nutritional-value-of-wheat-and-barley.html) and was surprised to find that not only are wheat and barley rich in a variety of essential nutrients and vitamins, but they have also been shown to reduce the risk of a variety of diseases from breast cancer to diabetes to high blood pressure. This information could be an explanation for the higher life expectancy in the more developed nations with access to these cereal crops which would mean that something as simple as an areas ability to support cereal crops will determine everything from the overall weatlh, or cargo, to the populations overall health! I am still having difficulty wrapping my head around this concept even after watching Diamond’s video and reading the two articles.

In addition, I thought there was some very interesting information on animals and their domestication in the Diamond video. I was very surprised that in all of history as we know it, only 14 animal species have been successfully domesticated. This seems like such a small number in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of animals that we have discovered. Even more interesting than there being only 14 domesticated species was the fact that they all thrived in the same regions where the most efficient crops were thriving. This truly is “geographic luck,” to quote Diamond.

The two articles; Evolutionary History: Prospectus for a New Field by Russell and Energy and Ecosystems by Shryock and Smail also presented some very interesting ideas. The whole idea of evolutionary history was extremely appealing to me. I have always been interested in science and history, but always felt that they were relatively separate subjects. These articles changed my mind completely. It was amazing to me how much evolution and ecology were overlapping with historical studies, and even fields like politics and finance. I think that it is going to become a very important field in the very near future as we run into major issues such as overpopulation, the energy crisis, and even the national debt! Biotechnology is going to explode into nearly every field that exists and I hope to be at the center of that revolution!

One final topic that I would like to draw attention to is the idea that humans are not the only species causing environmental changes. At first I was in disagreement with this statement as I was of the opinion that all changes by one species were constantly being counteracted by other species like a sort of natural balance. I thought humans were just far more evolved and thus were able to outsmart nature and succeed in ways no other species was able too. But after reading these articles I can see how humans are really just acting like any other species, but due to our exceptionally large population, our effects are much more noticeable. If there were 7 billion elephants in the world, everything would be flattened and we would live in a giant Savannah, but nature limited their growth to counteract their effects. We haven’t outsmarted nature. We have just made our effects so quickly that nature hasn’t had enough time to counteract our disproportionate ability to change our environment. Energy is a fundamental aspect of life and the day is quickly approaching where we are going to exceed our allotted share.

There is far too much information in these pieces to cover in a single blog and I look forward to discussing it further on Tuesday. In conclusion, I have a few questions that hit me as I went through all this information that I would like to pose for you all. It seems like we have developed a fairly good understanding of genetic engineering, so why haven’t we created genetic mutants of the plants and animals discussed in Diamonds video that would be able to thrive in the less developed countries to allow them to “catch up”? Why do we still have such specific major titles when all fields seem to be converging into one another?And are we in the midst of the next major world revolution; the biotechnological revolution?


4 thoughts on “Why you white man have so much cargo and we New Guineans have so little?

  1. I definitely agree with you on many points in this blog, and especially appreciate the extra information on the crops that you looked up. However, would you agree with me if I said I believe there are more than just 14 domesticated species? I would agree that on a LARGE scale, 14 have been widely domesticated. But domestication IS possible to almost any animal, examples being the killer whale that puts on a show at Seaworld, Shamu I believe? Or the lion in this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr1pWzoLvT8 (I love that video). Not a gigantic point, but definitely something to think about!

  2. Crops do exist that can grow in places where just a few decades ago it would have been unthinkable. I think the problem is just having access to a cereal crop isn’t enough to make up the huge wealth disparity that exists between the rich and the poor. Or that the crops don’t thrive enough to bridge the gap.

    As for still having specific major titles, I agree that all fields are coming together, or have never really been that far apart to begin with, but the scope of knowledge is so great, I think having something more all encompassing would be difficult. I think there is just to much stuff to allow for less specific majors. 4 years isn’t enough time to learn everything to a meaningful degree, so we have to make it more specific. I feel like this is a somewhat lame excuse because I agree, majors should be less specific, I just think given the short amount of time spent in college it would be impractical.

  3. I absolutely agree with you about Biotech becoming important; as a finance major, one of the things we talk about is Venture Capital–basically investors that give startup money to new companies. Recently, Biotech has been getting a ton of VC, which reflects the expectation of exactly what you just described.

    I choose to respond to your question regarding genetic mutations from a quantitative POV becuase I simply don’t know enough about Biotech to answer it any other way.

    I think that the reason these genetic mutants don’t exist is because I would imagine that to make something like that, if it’s even possible, would cost quite a lot of money (Seeing as it hasn’t yet happened naturally) and, frankly, there isn’t money to be made in mutating crops for New Guinea or Africa. Developed countries, which is where the money for this sort of thing comes from, simply don’t have food shortage problems. It would have to be a purely humanitarian project, which also somewhat implies that it would be done independently and therefore take longer and require donations. If a company did do it, it would be for goodwill (Reputation), but at that point they’re just more likely to donate aid directly because it is easier or bring food from developed countries to undeveloped ones because the cost to produce is probably higher than the cost to harvest existing materials and take it there.

    I’m sure there are people who want to do that. I just doubt that they will have the financial resources to do it anytime soon. Will it happen one day? Probably, but I don’t think it’s profitable enough to be high up on the list of things people are currently doing with BT.

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