The fear and loathing of unintended consequences…
With the best intentions in the world, what I do with this blog, this Community, this vision, may have unintended consequences. It may even be harmful. That obviously is not my intention and I think it is important to consider the unintended consequences and try to mitigate them.
To give an example, slightly unrelated, but hopefully it will prove my point. Back in the 1930s when a vision was developed to maximise yields produced by crops, we were given the Green Revolution
…new, high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of cereals, especially dwarf wheats and rices, in association with chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals, and with controlled water-supply (usually involving irrigation) and new methods of cultivation, including mechanization.
All of these together were seen as a ‘package of practices’ to supersede ‘traditional’ technology and to be adopted as a whole.
Farmer, B. H. (1986). “Perspectives on the ‘Green Revolution’ in South Asia”. Modern Asian Studies. 20 (01): 175–199.
A fantastic solution at the time, saving many lives from starvation. Dr. Norman Borlaug, regarded as the “Father of the Green Revolution”, was awarded the Nobel prize for his efforts. However, he has come under much criticism as time has passed, namely due to: a population increase, to unsustainable proportions of nearly 5 billion people a rise in food insecurity, many crops such as pulses that fed local populations replaced with wheat for export and animal feed increased use of pesticides, increased use of mechanised equipment and their environmental impact decrease in biodiversity increased consumption of pesticides and their associate health effects
Norman Borlaug cautioned humanity to curb its reproductive nature and described the “Green Revolution”, unfortunately we have not heeded his concerns.
So a noble vision - “Feed the world”, how could that be bad? But the unintended consequences serve as a stark reminder that the things we do may be well intentioned, but may have negative effects also.
I don’t illustrate this point to be clever, but highlight the fact that something that seemed of real benefit to the world may have consequences we did not intend. The beauty of hindsight is that we would never do anything wrong. Hopefully understanding that even good intentions can have side-effects, it will temper how we approach problems and remove the blinkers.
This awareness should not stop us from trying to improve things, it should focus the mind and prompt us to reflect on what we are doing. It should also remind us that we can’t fix everything.
Let us start with some small steps, not focus on the goal, but the steps, the journey…
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