The environmental impacts of meeting demand depend on how global agriculture expands. Clearing land for agriculture and the use of fuel and fertilizers to grow crops increases carbon and nitrogen in the environment and cause species extinctions.

In the paper, Tilman and his collaborators explore different ways of meeting demand for food and their environmental effects. In essence, the options are to increase productivity on existing agricultural land, clear more land, or do a combination of both. They consider various scenarios in which the amount of nitrogen use, land cleared, and resulting greenhouse emissions differ.

“Our analyses show that we can save most of the Earth’s remaining ecosystems by helping the poorer nations of the world feed themselves,” Tilman said.

Lastly, it can’t be overlooked that the spirit of the late Norman Borlaug is alive and well in the humanitarian efforts that are moving forward on many fronts today — from donors such as Warren Buffett and the Gates Foundation that has financed efforts by the International Rice Research Institute to research ways to increase yields in poorer nations, to agricultural chemical and fertilizer companies working closely with government officials in third-world countries to feed their people more cost-effectively and efficiently. Much success has been made on this front, but as the world’s population continues to mushroom, the challenges remain daunting and continuous.

Nonetheless, it should appear obvious that lending a hand to help out the less fortunate nations on the planet indeed contributes to the overall environmental welfare and security of the wealthy nations. And quite frankly, it is the right thing to do.  For this Borlaug – known as the father of the Green Revolution for producing and introducing high-yield wheat varieties into Mexico, Pakistan and India, thereby saving millions from starvation — would be proud of our efforts.