Laudato Si and Industrial Agriculture

Catholic and ecomodernist Anthony Arroyo examines the ecomodernist manifesto's take on agriculture and the environment in relation to the Pope's encyclical.


I am a Catholic and an ecomodernist. The former means that I like (in no particular order): the Pope, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, kids, the Holy Trinity, wine and Latin. The latter means that I believe that, in order to accommodate the continued flourishing of humans on our planet, we need to accelerate the many technological developments in energy, agriculture, urbanization and transportation that are already taking place. I believe that God and history have placed the keys to the spaceship in our hands. Refusing to drive is not an option.

Anyone who has read (or more likely, heard about on BuzzFeed) the Pope’s newest encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, will likely see a contradiction in these, my two most core beliefs. The purpose of this series of essays, written during Lent of 2016, is to examine various aspects of the tension between these two positions. The Holy Father mentions several times in his letter that the Church encourages debate on the best way to approach these problems, since She is not an expert on technology or economics. Consider these essays to be my contribution to this debate.

The first subject of examination is one close to my heart: agricultural intensification. The intensification of agriculture is, in many ways, the continuation of the Green Revolution, which saw the introduction of industrial fertilizers and mechanization into agriculture. Make no mistake, this Revolution helped save humanity from perennial catastrophist predictions of famine and is an excellent example of the application of human creativity to our most wicked problems. The agricultural intensification now occurring is the continuation of this Revolution by other means, first by genetic modification to make more robust crops and second, by using information technology to optimize agricultural processes.

The net result of agricultural intensification is that we can now grow more food, more consistently, on less land, using less water, wasting less fertilizer and emitting fewer greenhouse gases. Furthermore, no credible scientific evidence has appeared to support the claim that produce farmed in an intensified manner is less healthy than produce from traditional farms. 

All of these appear to be unmediated goods. Yet, Pope Francis specifically points out the dangers of agricultural intensification in his encyclical, taking aim in particular at GMOs. How can we resolve this apparent tension? 

Read Anthony's full response at his blog anthonyarroyodotcom.