That isn't the case. Science advancements like genetically modified organisms and greater understanding of agriculture issues have boosted the efficiency of farming immensely. While activists have advocated going back to 13th century energy solutions to help the environment, farmers have led the way in 'dematerialization' - growing more food on less land. Farmers were able to boosted crop yields 57 percent from 1980 to 2005 without mitigation, taxes or taxpayer-funded awareness programs - more food, same amount of land.
CO2 emissions also went up, though that is a separate issue, and in farming they went up 30 percent less than if we still used 1980 efficiency advocated by environmental groups. If you are a fan of cap-and-trade pretend money rather than simply cleaner air, the value of that carbon savings is nearly $400 billion dollars per year.
Activists...okay, nearly everyone...likes to pretend they accept science but really they pick and choose it based on their cultural beliefs. Governor Rick Perry of Texas said last night in the Republican candidate debate he accepts science but human pollution doesn't cause climate change and no presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, will proclaim their atheism.(1) Former Governor Jon Huntsman made some overtures to science but he is clearly tilting at windmills - academia has not voted for a Republican in decades and is not doing so next year(2) regardless of Pres. Barack Obama's performance.(3) However, there was no harm in it either, he's just losing some fundamentalists in the primaries - they are not voting for a Democrat in the national election either.
It's understandable why there is confusion on what is valid science and what isn't. We're lonely voices standing up to junk science like there is any nutritional difference between 'organic' food and food grown on a normal farm. People want to believe it and studies show they ignore logical fallacies in marketing if they want to believe. Activists, including Vice-President Al Gore, insisted ethanol was terrific because it was a 'biofuel'. It was bad science and spiked food costs while doing nothing for the environment but at least Al Gore recanted and admitted he just claimed ethanol was good science because he was running for president - refreshing honesty for a politician. Other activists are still in a war on agriculture, despite concerns increased food prices will lead to riot and instability in the poorest countries.
No one can claim to be progressive and want a world where only the rich and powerful can eat - so changing the world to be 'organic' in its current form is a poor solution. Children are starving in India because farmers can't get produce to market fast enough to avoid spoilage - science can fix that.
Activists are also conserved about species in the wild - a valid concern. What they forget is that boosting the efficiency of farm land, so more crops can be grown in less space, means that more land can be set aside for habitats.
Researchers recently did a study in Ghana and India, two regions where increasing population is putting pressure on farmland and found "land sparing" policies, where the maximum food is grown on the minimum land, is a much better solution than hybrid solutions like 'land sharing', trying to mix farm land and wildlands together.
The researchers obviously don't intend for that to be an endorsement over large-scale agri-business and science approaches to farming, but there isn't much else to conclude. If species is biodiversity is the goal then it is better for biodiversity to farm as productively as possible.
Perhaps in the future large-scale 'organic' farming will be possible - science can help with that too, namely by genetically optimizing plants to be naturally resistant to pests, resulting in fewer pesticides, and growing crops in regions where little wildlife lives now.
But progressive environmentalists should stop treating science as the enemy regarding biology the same way conservatives who deny the impact of pollution do.
Citation: Ben Phalan, Malvika Onial, Andrew Balmford, and Rhys E. Green, Science September 2nd 2011: 1289-1291. DOI:10.1126/science.1208742
(1) However, in the US media we only hear about the religion of Republicans. The
Daishonin Buddhists and Mormons among Democrats never get that mentioned by mainstream press but former Sen. Rick Santorum consistently has 'evangelical" stuck in stories about him.
(2) Huntsman was impressive enough he was immediately dismissed by MSNBC talking heads. Like efforts in California to make primaries 'open', so Democrats could vote in a Republican primary and pick the Republican opponent their Democrat would run against, when MSNBC says a Republican candidate should drop out, it means he stands the best chance of winning in 2012.
(3) Elections are often determined by who shows up to vote rather than polls. The MSNBC talking-heads (favorite last night - Chris Matthews, who in one breath simultaneously called "tea party" proponents abolitionists and secessionists, showing he knows nothing about slavery and ran out of analogies for his political enemies decades ago ) cooed about Pres. John F. Kennedy - and he was a good president - but he got to be president only because more people showed up to vote; namely a lot of dead people in Lyndon Johnson's Texas and Richard Daley's Chicago.