In 1968, William Guad, the director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at the time, coined the term "the green revolution" when describing a series of agricultural advancements that prompted increased crop yields across the planet.
The revolution was much greener than Guad could have imagined, according to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Jennifer Burney, a scientist at Stanford University, lead a research team that looked at greenhouse gas emissions from modern agriculture, which currently contributes to around 12 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions.
The researchers then calculated how much CO2 would have been released if the green revolution had not happened, but farmers were using more primitive methods to produce today's amount of crops.
Before more efficient farming methods were invented, farmers relied on a simple technique for increasing production: acquiring more land. Clearing forests and other vegetation by burning them.
This method was easy and cheap, but it released huge amounts of greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By developing high-yield agricultural techniques, farmers avoided burning up loads of natural landscapes and in recent decades saved up to 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.
"Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agricultural is inherently worse for the environment than a more ‘old-fashioned' way of doing things," Burney said.
Image: Alpha du centaure, Flickr