The widespread use of nitrogen (N) fertilizers during the second half of the 20th century radically transformed agricultural production and ecosystems on a global scale. Although the "N challenge" or the "N problem" has had limited public attention compared to biodiversity loss and climate change, scientists consider N pollution a leading ecological concern for the 21st century. Accordingly, a major challenge for scientists and policymakers around the world today is how to meet food production demands while also protecting the environment. Using Chile as a case study—one of the highest consumers of N fertilizer per hectare in the Americas—this article examines the transnational politics of production and destruction in this process of agricultural modernization. In the Cold War context, a transnational network of scientists, agencies, and authorities created an institutional framework for the transference of knowledge and technology in Chile during the 1960s. Paradoxically, as local and global reliance on N fertilizers increased, scientists were able to generate a narrative about the negative environmental effects of intensive N use and highlight the ecological limits of the Green Revolution. After 1973, however, this knowledge network suffered as a result of the Chilean government's anti-communist crackdown and adoption of market-based agricultural policies. Understanding this history of how politics shaped N consumption, science, and policy is critical to current efforts to create new of agricultural production on a regional and global scale.
Keywords: nitrogen, fertilizers, Green Revolution, Cold War, Chile, science, environment, policy, Global Nitrogen Challenge, agriculture, United States
How to Cite:
San Martín, W., (2017) “Nitrogen, science, and environmental change: the politics of the Green Revolution in Chile and the global nitrogen challenge”, Journal of Political Ecology 24(1), 777-796. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v24i1.20966