Odd Man In jSmall details relevant to both Vogt s and Borlaug s lives such as the invention and rise of artificial fertilizers the early twentieth century organic movement the science of soil and humus and the process of photosynthesis and its susceptibility to engineering The latter involves today the C4 Rice Project a massive ongoing attempt to change the biophysical structure of the rice plant making it a much efficient user of energy from the sun funded by the Gates Foundation with any positive results to be given away free On water Mann focuses on the difference between Wizard projects to desalinate and move massive uantities of water and Prophet projects to reduce the need for water It is sometimes easy to see a little bit too much of James C Scott s high modernism in Wizard projects as Scott narrates in Seeing Like A State but not all grand projects suffer from the defects Scott identifies in his examples of deficient grand plans It is all in making sure the premises are based in reality and that the execution stays cognizant of human nature On energy Mann notes that predictions of imminent peak oil have been urgently made for and have been decisively falsified for than a century He criticizes these predictions not only for being wrong but for being the driver of many bad policies from our own desperate focus on controlling flow from the Middle East to endless wars in AfricaThe premise or thought experiment or waking dream that drives Mann s book is the idea that by 2050 there will be 10 billion people on earth all reaching toward affluence For current purposes we can accept that but really there is much to suggest the dream is mere fantasy Affluence is not something that automatically arises it is driven by culture by age demographics and by many other factors There is no reason to believe that the entire world will develop to Western affluence with conseuent further stretching of resource needs and much reason to believe it will not whatever people lacking that affluence may want Further those societies that have created and still drive that affluence are dying due to failure to reproduce and most other global societies are following closely in their insane footsteps That will not only prevent ever becoming affluent but put even of a damper on development and progress which is driven almost exclusively by the young China will be old before it becomes rich and its problems are only the most prominent example of the catastrophic damage caused by the population control programs pushed by people like Vogt and his long time ally the odious Julian Huxley though none of their advocates have ever apologized since the Left never doesBut let s assume that Mann is correct we will soon enough have 10 billion people and they will all have a much higher standard of living than the current global mean The truth is that so far the Wizards have always been right that the future can be managed and the Prophets always totally wrong The Prophets preach on though for a variety of reasons ranging from financial gain to the pleasure of power over others to the search for personal transcendence Still as has been said all apocalypses are falsified except the last So the Prophets may yet be proved right if not on resource availability Mann uotes an expert who says for example the best answer to when will we run out of oil is never but on some of the conseuences of our actions specifically with respect to global warming This is the final topic Mann discusses at length handling it expertly in order to make sure a discussion can be had that does not drive away either the skeptics or the alarmists In essence he asks skeptics to assume for the purposes of discussion that anthropogenic global warming exists and is a problem and he later offers an Appendix outlining evidence for that positionHowever even if that is true it does not mean that the Prophets are right in their solutions to climate change after all the position of a Prophet consists not only in prediction of the future but in the embedded assumption that nothing can be done other than restrict human activity A Wizard can and often does agree with the specific prophecy and with its likely accuracy if nothing is done but his solution is different and that is why the pro human Prophets usually shade into Wizardry That is the real difference between Wizards and Prophets And it is the real difference here as well many Wizards think that global warming has a technological fixust like every other problem mankind has faced This may be false optimism under certain scenarios global warming could result in extreme conseuences that cannot be countered although that is always a possibility elevated to a near certainty in Prophet scenarios isn t it But coordinated political action is in practice impossible If anthropogenic warming is real and a real problem its solution is therefore likely to be a Wizard solution not a Prophet solutionReview continues as first comment Food for thought book Well researched and referenced Enjoyable but intense readCharles Mann claims this is about two remarkable scientists A pretty good if overlong book about technical progress Wizards vs environmental activism Prophets More or less Mann does a good The Vikings and Their Age job of remaining even handed in this long running debate which became prominent in the US with John Muir vs Gifford Pinchot in the early 20th century Mann picked William Vogt as his Prophet poster boy I d never heard of Vogt an ornithologist who studied the guano islands off Peru in the 1940s and went on to activism And I had trouble remembering who were the Wizards Or Prophets I knew a fair bit about Norman Borlaug the book s Wizard who won a Nobel Peace Prize as the father of the Green Revolution But I didn t know the details of his career andust how hard it was breeding a dwarf high yielding wheat variety that could resist wheat rust an ubiuitous and destructive fungal disease Without any formal training in plant breeding which was
JUST AS WELL SINCE HE WAS TRYING UNORTHODOX METHODS as well since he was trying unorthodox methods got lucky and the Mexicans and then the world got wheat that yielded twice or three times the best previous yields See first comment for details of the development and acceptance of the miracle wheatThe new wheat varieties finally enabled India and other countries to feed themselves Which was the point of the exercise as they sure couldn t before It s a bit hard to imagine that Prophets would criticize this achievement but some do There s an evil chain of thought from Malthus to eugenics to Nazis that said let those foreigners die they breed like rabbits anyway As Winston Churchill uipped declining to send food aid to Bengal in 1942 3000000 Bengalis British subjects all starved to deathMann had a hard time making some of the doom n gloom Prophets ideas seem reasonable Not that a lot of them aren t but it s hard to take people like Jeremy Rifkin or Paul Erlich seriously Or paving the world s deserts or Germany with solar farmsThe middle part of the book is the weakest and I skimmed a lot of familiar material on energy use population growth and global warming Mann is careless at time with cites and facts he repeatedly gives an estimate of a global population of around
10 billion by 2050 but never cites a source In a billion by 2050 but never cites a source In a fact check there is a range of UN estimates from 8 to 10 billion by 2050 or less likely higher And the global population may start to decrease about then Prosperous people have fewer kids More on projected population growth at second commentHis summary of climate change skepticism in an appendix is fair minded In my opinion as a geologist who s looked into the topic in some depth the climate is warming but pretty slowly and this is unlikely to cause major problems I could be wrongAnd there s a sweet optimistic coda la The Better Angels of our Nature that says maybe we can somehow pull this off give everybody a decent life without totally trashing our planet I certainly hope so and though we may disagree on the details I expect you do tooThe book is closer to 35 stars but I ve gotten impatient with writers who take 10 words when 2 will do Thus the round down But likely worth your effort to skim at least The Norman Borlaug bio is excellent Borlaug asked me if I had ever been to a place where most of the people weren t getting enough to eat Not ust poor but actually hungry all the time he said I told him that I hadn t been to such a place That s the point he said When I was getting started you couldn t avoid them This is Dr Norman Borlaug next to Prof William Erskine who himself works in an office in my building here in Perth we co supervise one PhD student he s a wonderfully kind manSource for the photo alternatively Willie s wall where it hangs in a frameNorman Borlaug worked relentlessly to start the green revolution for which he won a Nobel Prize in 2005 Norman Borlaug is my idol and one of my main motivating factors in working in this fieldThis is William VogtSadly I don t have a personally relevant photo thereVogt was one of the original thinkers behind the environmental movement at one point the director of Planned Parenthood a strong proponent for population controlThis book is for the first few chapters a biography of both men They lived at the same time looked at the same problems even met once but came to different conclusions
On How To Help how to help takes the lives of both as exemplars for two ways to view the world Borlaug stands for wizards who believe that for any problem there is a technical solution notable books are Darwinian Agriculture How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture and most silver and golden era science fictionVogt stands for prophets who believe that such technical solutions are ultimately hubris humanity should go back and live in harmony with nature work on a small scale and scale back industry some notable books in that corner which I all detested The One Straw Revolution Ishmael An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit you can see I m biased to which world view I come fromAfter the biographies come four chapters which look at problems mankind currently faces climate change loss of drinkable water air pollution food and the solutions both sides have for each problem Here Mann loses me a bit since he shows these two worldviews as completely opposed the wizards want to build big desalination plants the prophets want to get people to stop wasting water and get water saving plants I live in Perth which has huge problems with water yet people have green European style lawns which do nothing but waste water in a very dry area I want the best of the wizard and prophet world I d love there to be desalination plants I d love for people to abandon green lawns why can t I have bothWhat impresses me is that Mann manages to show the upsides of both sides where they go well where they go wrong it s easy to fall into one sideWhat s impressed me the most is that Mann looks at both men s lives and finds flaws in both ways to view the world Both according to Mann missed the social view ignored the social scientists view points Both usually ignored the structure of power Vogt as a representative of the rich West was often criticised for trying to tell poor people in developing countries to stop developing If you re poor and have no support from the state how else are you supposed to have a stable family but by having lots of kids Borlaug on the other hand would often ignore or not see the political side of his work and would get frustrated by people pushing back corruption fear of change greed and especially power imbalances to which Borlaug was often blind That is to me the main takeaway of this book you cannot ignore the social side of your inventions you cannot ignore the system within which your work happens Progress doesn t magically happen by technology alone A must read for anyone who cares about this planet and the pursuit of happiness of all its inhabitants Best book I ve read in ages Charles Mann has written some wonderful books I read two of them 1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493 Uncovering the New World Columbus Created and they are both excellent And this book follows in the same vein while it is about a completely different subject the twentieth century rise of environmentalism it is eual in uality to his previous booksHumans grab between 25% and 40% of the entire world s output of land plants and animals All other species rise and eventually die out Are humans special Is there any evidence that humans might be a magical exception This is a major theme of the book are humans headed for extinction or can some strategy save our speciesThis is the story of two opposite visions of how to set right the problems of our environment The stories are told of two scientists who were early advocates of these two opposing visions William Vogt held the view that our problems are due to overuse of our environment Our populations are too big our land is over used for farming and left poor in nutrients and our water supplies are over used We pollute the environment causing all sorts of problems like climate change and depletion of our natural resources Vogt s answer was to cut back on consumerism over farming and over populationNorman Borlaug saw the same problems but offered a different solution technology and human invention can overcome these problems People need to work smarter not grow less food for fewer people It could be said that Borlaug was personally responsible for saving millions of people from starvationVogt was an amateur bird watcher In 1933 he observed an over abundance of black ducks at Jones Beach The reason was the suburbanization of Long Island which displaced the ducks Later Vogt was hired by a Peruvian guano company to discover why cormorants were decreasing in numbers in the islands off Peru After Pearl Harbor Vogt was hired by the US State Department to travel through South America to report on the level of support for Germany and Japan In 1943 he headed the Conservation Section of the Pan American Union He visited cities in all of the countries in North Central and South America Outside the cities he discovered environmental nightmares He found that over consumption was stripping nature bare Vogt wrote Unless humanknid controlled its appetites for procreation and consumption there can be no peaceIn the early 20th century ecological issues were seen as a right wing conspiracy It was seen as an outcome of a belief in racial superiority Vogt and others transformed conservation into a liberal cause He wrote the book Road to Survival which was. Fall into two deeply divided groups Wizards and Prophets as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced authoritative nonpolemical new book The Prophets he explains follow William Vogt a founding environmentalist who believed that in using than our planet has to give our prosperity will lead us to ruin Cut back was his mantra Otherwise everyone will lose The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug whose research in effect wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high yield.
Charles C. Mann ¼ 6 Free downloadI really didn t think I d ever waste my time reading another new book by Charles Mann After he came out with his article claiming that fossil fuel supplies are infinite I lost all respect for him I had actually liked 1491 and 1493 finding some ideas to be a bit uestionable but for the most part being pretty good books At first I couldn t even believe that the article could have been written by the same guy who wrote those Looking around for solid evidence of his insanity I found an interview on youtube with him and John Tierney that was ust shockingly irresponsible I mean it s one thing to say that peak oil doomers are putting too much faith in the economy crashing on its own before making the planet uninhabitable an opinion I actually agree with but to use high oil estimates as The Literary Relationship of Lord Byron and Thomas Moore justification for infinte g This book addresses what is as far as the material comforts of the modern age the central uestion of our time can mankind have it all The author Charles Mann does not answer that uestion though I think his answer would be if forced probably yes What Mann offers rather than canned answers is a refreshingly and relentlessly non ideological work comparing two philosophies of human development embodied in the lives of two men of the twentieth century The first Norman Borlaug engineered the saving of hundreds of millions of lives and won a Nobel Prize The second William Vogt prophesied a global doom whose arrival date has been continuously postponed for fifty years and then shot himself whereupon he was forgotten until this bookMann carefully profiles each man in detail He characterizes Vogt s school of crying out the gospel of limitations as Prophet and Borlaug s call for pushing past natural boundaries through hard work and ingenuity as Wizard clever enough names for clear enough positions Vogt born in 1902 and died in 1968 was an abrasive man who found it difficult to keepobs or friends whose abiding passion was amateur ornithology but who rose to prominence on the basis of a wildly successful 1948 book Road to Survival a copy of which I bought in preparation for this review Borlaug born in 1914 and died in 2009 was an agronomist with a smoother touch and much less interest in a public role He wrote no books but he bred plants specifically new versions of wheat that multiplied the global harvest essentially eliminating famine because of Borlaug all modern famines are purely the creation of political malefactors most notably the Ethiopian famines of the 1980s The Green Revolution that has fed the world for the past fifty years was inaugurated and in many ways led by BorlaugVogt receives the first focus of the book Mann expertly describes his life Mann writes excellently this book is long but it reads like a short book including his formative experience being hired by the Peruvian government to analyze the ecology of the guano islands that provided natural fertilizer to much of the world before the Haber Bosch process made artificial nitrogen fertilizer economically feasible The guano of course was provided by birds which had boom and bust population cycles based on their food supply Vogt s conclusion after extensive study was that any interference by humans with the natural cycle was ruinous in the short term production might be increased but eventually natural limits of one sort or another would be reached leading to total and permanent collapse thus the Peruvians should not interfere with the natural cycle of intermittent partial collapseShortly afterward a new publisher offered to publish a book by him how and why this came about is not made clear which was wildly successful Road to Survival s basic claim was that like the guano birds only worse because of his abilities to manipulate nature man was exceeding or was going to exceed the carrying capacity of Earth which would lead to his destruction and that of the ecology of the Earth as a whole Vogt s book was glowingly reviewed other than by the Left which condemned it as a distraction prior to mid century proto environmentalism was a cause mostly of rich cranks and the Left was still focused on labor sold 800000 copies through the Book of the Month Club alone was translated into numerous languages and used for decades as a college textbook And it had a massive impact on the thought of others for example both Rachel Carson Silent Spring and Paul Ehrlich The Population Bomb explicitly cited Vogt s book as the inspiration for theirs Whatever the flaws of his book Vogt was undoubtedly the father of modern environmentalism which Mann insightfully calls the twentieth century s only successful long lasting ideology Vogt developed its patterns of thought its focuses and its obsessions He exemplified static analysis of the globe there is only so much to go around and in such a zero sum game if we do not cut back our usage of finite resources the inevitable result will be collapse no different than fruit flies in a test tube given a limited supply of foodThat said Road to Survival is also a book that has been proven totally wrong in every regard Suggestions for Marketing Small Timber just like The Population Bomb and mostly Silent Spring Reading it now is painful because Vogt was so so wrong It s also painful because of its simpering Introduction by Bernard Baruch a man who like a bad penny keeps turning up usually in the darker corners of history making them darker Sure as I discuss below maybe in the long run Vogt will be right in part But long run arguments are inherently weak it s the same as arguing that Communism has never really been tried so we should try againust as soon as we finish bulldozing the bodies from the last attempt into a trench More likely Communism is ust wrong And aside from the crashing inaccuracy of its predictions Vogt s book is eually painful for its shrill hectoring tone and for its earnest demands for handing over global power to a new class of technocrats who will solve the problem a million little Vogts using their immense new power only for good of course we are assured In 1948 perhaps such ideas could be excused but now we know how they always end We can see that Vogt was an ideologue from whose pages a voice can be heard as Whittaker Chambers said of Rand s Atlas Shrugged To a gas chamber go Leaving aside the fascism of his approach if there was a core principle of Vogt s it was that I his words mankind is a part of the earth s biological system and is not a form of genii that can successfully provide substitutes for the processes of nature Along these lines Mann profiles at some length and keeps returning to his own friend the late Lynn Margulis a well known biologist whose interpretation of evolution is that Homo sapiens is ust one creature among many a briefly successful species which will pass from the scene like all others But this is a very narrow vision because humans are the only creatures with intelligence and the ability to think about the future We may in fact pass from the scene but if we do it will be in a manner different in its essence from that of other past species to which humans are only comparable on the most simplistic level You d think the Prophets like Vogt would agree with this after all they claim that man has uniue abilities to exceed the earth s carrying capacity unlike animals like the guano birds who stay within their limits due to natural processes they cannot change Why the converse that man also has uniue abilities to avoid these limits by either self discipline or technology does not follow to these people is unclear Maybe it is because they are ideologically unable to regard humans as anything but animalsBorlaug on the other hand was the father of modern techno optimism sometimes called cornucopianism most visible in the Green Revolution he fathered and led but than that a belief that with human ingenuity and intelligence through hard work and technology what we may have in many areas is not static But it is up to us to ensure that there is enough for all Born of Norwegian stock in far rural Iowa he saw extreme hardship in the Depression including fights over food which affected him deeply He wanted to be a forester but was unable to so he became an agronomist He took a ob funded by the Rockefeller Foundation working in the desperately poor central Mexican lowlands to develop wheat that was resistant to stem rust one of the most problematic North American wheat diseasesThe wheat he had to work with wasn t what we think of when we think of wheat not only was it extremely prone to diseases rust among them it was inherently low yielding and also prone to other problems such as lodging where weak stems bent under ripening grain wheat then was the height of a tall man and much of the plant s energy went to the stalk Moreover each locality had to
plant a different wheat All these problems had existed for millennia Likea different wheat All these problems had existed for millennia Like Borlaug s reaction on seeing the poverty and lassitude of the local famers was We ve got to do something But
that something wasn t to tell the farmers to suck it up and have fewer children Instead Borlaugsomething wasn t to tell the farmers to suck it up and have fewer children Instead Borlaug planted hundreds of thousands of different wheat plants every single plant hand pollinated with the cross painstakingly recorded He did this in both his original Mexican location and in others against the wishes of his superiors with whom he was often on contentious terms Bulling his way forward and often pulling a plow by harnessing himself he spent years trying to find plants that not only resisted rust but had other desirable characteristics And he got lucky though as they say luck is where preparation meets opportunity finally finding and propagating a handful of ideal varieties that could be successfully planted not ust everywhere in Mexico but all around the world whereupon he evangelized successfully for their acceptance in places like Pakistan and Uganda It is on his work that modern agriculture which has fed the world as it has grown is basedSo far the distinction between Wizard and Prophet is clear But if you think a little there are really two threads among Prophets One is the warning that we will run out if we overuse resources and so we must find the best way to maximize utility to benefit humans This is the minority view and shades into Wizardry in that maximizing utility implies openness to new solutions rather than Shameful just management of what exists now The other Prophet view by far the majority and Vogt s view is that we are damaging our world and that damaging is bad in and of itself totally aside from its impact on utility The goal is to satisfy the supposed claims of Gaia not to help humans These are really separate philosophies ones that Mann does not adeuately distinguish The former is a practical claim the latter a moral claimWhat follows is that most Prophets are fundamentally anti human and essentially all Wizards are profoundly pro human Soon enough an objective observer realizes that most Prophets goal isn t achieving a balance between humanity and nature it s eliminating humanity itself which they wish wouldust go away other than themselves their friends and favored groups so that the abstraction of Earth can flourish in its own way Thus to nobody s surprise or at least not to mine Vogt uickly turned from espousing limitations to advocating extermination His second act was to become a shill for Margaret Sanger s infamous racist and eugenicist organization Planned Parenthood As Mann says Vogt changed from being an environmental advocate who thought population control would benefit the environment to a population control advocate to whom the environment was secondary The means had become the end In fact the title for Vogt s New York Times obituary was William Vogt Former Director of Planned Parenthood Is Dead giving primacy of place to that part of his life not his environmentalism He wrote in 1960 an even shriller book People Challenge to Survival which I also bought an unhinged rant demanding ultra aggressive global population suppression where the People of the title are the causes of the challenge and it is not clear whose survival is at stake but probably not people s This is the sort of evil tripe common among Prophets to this day which they reveal in their less guarded moments About a decade ago there was a vogue of such wishful death focused thinking in the popular media led by the book The World Without Us which described in loving detail what would happen if all the humans Mindful Universe : Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer just conveniently disappeared It was actually uite interesting and followed by various related TV specials and similar media events but the reader and viewer was uite aware that this was for many environmentalists aspiration not explanationOn the practical level of policy we live in a time when Wizards and Prophets are roughly evenly matched in mindshare of the public but the Wizards are firmly in control of actual policy certainly of agricultural policy It is hard for us to remember that not so long ago Prophets were the only game in town All right thinking people of 1970 in a way that we cannot comprehend today wholly bought into The Limits of Growth in the Club of Rome s infamous phrase and as Mann notes for much of his life Borlaug was the target of coordinated vicious abuse by the powerful and famous But the failure of their prophecies gradually led to the loss of part of Prophets policy power even if they are still given platforms by various outlets It is not coincidental that Prophet hysteria reached its peakust at the time that the movement for legalized abortion also reached its peak The public frenzy over supposedly direly needed limits to humanity dictated much of the thinking of the Supreme Court in the high water mark of the pro abortion movement the handing down of Roe v Wade In fact recently Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was not part of the Court in 1973 noted with approval that Roe v Wade invented a constitutional right to abortion out of whole cloth in part because of concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don t want to have too many of The age of Prophets may have crested but we re still left picking up the pieces and many of their acolytes still occupy positions of power still hewing to that old time religion of doom and hatred of humanityIn any case Mann does not make any of these distinctions but after discussing Vogt and Borlaug he turns to offering a further lengthy and fascinating history revolving around their ideas focusing in turn on four different areas where Wizards and Prophets have contended over the past seventy years food water energy and climate change Here Mann fills in many large and. From the best selling award winning author of 1491 and 1493 an incisive portrait of the two little known twentieth century scientists Norman Borlaug and William Vogt whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment laying the groundwork for how people in the twenty first century will choose to live in tomorrow's worldIn forty years Earth's population will reach ten billion Can our world support that What kind of world will it be Those answering these uestions generally.
A big success The book stated that the problem is an inter connected world wide issue not something merely local or national The book became a blueprint for today s environmental movement It helped inspire the writing of the books Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and The Population Bomb by Paul ErlichThe Rockefeller Foundation sent Norman Borlaug to Mexico in 1944 to breed disease resistant wheat in the central highlands He encountered destitute farmers who had been mistreated by authorities and kept in the stone ages by superstitions planted by those in power Here Borlaug acuired a sense of mission While Vogt saw the carrying capacity of the land as the central issue Borlaug saw farmers as being central To Borlaug the problem was not the land but the lack of tools and knowledgeBorlaug labored for years and years cross breeding varieties of wheat using an unorthodox method known as shuttle breeding across different climates His thought was that he did not want to breed a variety of wheat that could be grown in ust a single Mexican climate he wanted a variety that could be grown everywhere in the country He made many attempts to develop wheat that could resist many types of rust produce good grain with good milling uality By 1962 Borlaug had bred an all purpose wheat that could be grown anywhere in Mexico It was short fecund disease resistant and grown in rich or poor soil The only reuirement was that it needed to be watered well and fertilized His wheat tripled the per acre yield in Mexico and then in India and Pakistan He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970The book goes on to describe the history of the movement for organic farming the development of better rice activism against genetic engineering enormous water projects in Israel the problem of carbon dioxide s role in the progression of climate change pollution due to burning coal and the green revolution It is a remarkable book in terms of its depth and comprehensive history of all of these different aspects of environmentalism conservation and the future needs for water food and energy Charles Mann captures the controversies between prophets who demand reduction in the use of resources and wizards who rely on technology to increase the supply of these resources I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in these issues and how we came to this point in history I ve read about both Borlaug The Wizard Vogt The Prophet before but it s great to get a better picture of their lives missions especially where their adherents collide head on Borlaug believed that technology got us into this mess could get us out of it He s credited with saving over a billion lives due to his work with tweaking crops to grow in poor soils He is credited as the father of the Green Revolution crops modified to resist disease deliver while being fertilized protected by chemical means He wanted to feed hungry people now Vogt saw humans racing headlong into Malthusian destruction our only option was to cut back the human population allow Mother Nature to prosper He sees the environment as having a carrying capacity being limited in what we can safely take from it He is the father of the modern conservation movement Both have fanatic supporters I ve rarely read a book on the subject that wasn t completely biased toward one camp or the other The author admits to being on the fence which lends his work a balanced point of viewSince I already know something about them I m finding the people politics surrounding our heroes even interesting than their biographies works Conservation originally was seen as a way for the government to get control by regulating what companies people could do a real danger to capitalism The thinking at the time meant that many of the members were racists believed in eugenics Conservation of nature was conflated with conserving the white raceA perfect example is Madison Grant I ve heard of him before as a friend of Teddy Roosevelt his conservation efforts Grant founded the American Bison Society was one of the main forces behind setting up the Bronx Zoo the biggest best zoo I visited as a kid I hadn t realized Grant also wrote The Passing of the Great Race or the Racial Basis of European History was against immigration women s rights He was complicated I still think he was a great man greatly right greatly wrong so I applaud his good works but don t forget his bad ones The Sierra Club other organizations he helped distanced themselves from him as much as possible after Hitler company took the ideas he they espoused to their logical conclusionNot all of Vogt s friends supporters were so complicated though He was friends with Roger Peterson the author of the field guides helped him get his first one published Peterson s ID system for birds is fantastic although I generally find the Audubon guides a little complete Rachel Carson was one of Vogt s disciples popularized his ideas with her fantastic book Silent SpringBorlaug grew UP ON A SUBSISTENCE FARM WHILE on a subsistence farm While never went hungry he knew how much labor went into it how much tech helped when the family got a tractor It allowed him to continue his education leave the farm He reasoned that tech had gotten us into a mess was needed to get us out of it People needed to eat They were starving that wasn t acceptableIt s a shame Borlaug Vogt their followers can t see any middle ground but what the 2 men saw in the same Mexican fields gave them entirely different visions of the future Vogt saw worn out fields that weren t salvageable the only solution was less people growing less food Borlaug saw a problem that needed to be fixed could be with the right tech He did but there were conseuences due to improper use of fertilizers pesticides To make the misunderstandings worse Vogt those in his camp often tend to mysticism which doesn t work well with scientists The prophets also tend to forget that people want to keep or better their standard of living They aren t going to let any government take away their comforts for possible future generations Most don t save enough for their own retirement Nor can our economy make huge changes or handle too many restrictions too uickly We also need to deal with unforeseen conseuences such as invasive species I don t like spraying parauat It s dangerous to me I have to fence off the animals from the area for 40 days a tough proposition I have goats horses One umps over through under while the other Angel Without Mercy (Agnes Carmichael, just runs temporary fences over I have to occasionally due to a poisonous invasive plant that takes over the fields thoughWe ve changed the environment dramatically continue to do so both on purpose mining fishing farming habitation inadvertently invasive species waste We re riding a runaway truck people economy with very limited steering technology brakes conservation We re mowing over the environment in our plunge may well wind up going off a cliff but we really don t know where the cliff edge is Our climate models are poor guesses everyone wants to be right than they want solutionsConservation efforts are needed because the technologists don t know as much as they think they do Every day we re discovering about the biosphere how complex it is Even 50 years ago we had no idea how pervasive important bacteria were we re barely realizing it now We still can t make a decent weather forecast a week out Wetlands are a efficient cheaper filter than anything we ve come up with Most of all it s morally correct I love the land plants wildlife I don t want to see Terra covered in concrete but the so called natural environment is a figment of popular imagination We re part of the environment have been changing it dramatically since our ancestors discovered fire burned off grasslands tens of thousands of years ago at least by some accounts The climate has changed numerous times that was probably what stirred us into creating agriculture 10K years ago We ve turned deserts that couldn t support a small settlement into habitations for millions eg Los Angeles We poisoned our cities with smog from coal petroleum fumes but we ve cleaned that up with maturing technologies Disease starvation other ills are at their lowest points ever yet we have far people than ever Technology is a very powerful tool for good ill that we can t won t abandon It would be really nice if we could How will humanity chose to address the future ecological problems it will face Weaving together biography philosophy and science the author presents an unbiased perspective on the two possible paths we can take to meet the challenges of supporting Charles Mann is one of my favorite pop science historians I loved his books 1491 and 1493 which examine native Americas cultures as they existed before Columbus 1491 and after him 1493 And THE WIZARD AND THE PROPHET follows in his tradition of writing books that captivate combining science with human interest and tracking science and technologies impact on regular people s lives In this one Mann traces the two common responses to our contemporary climate and environmental crises There are Wizards who believe in humanity s ability to innovate its way around problems These people prefer big centralized precisely engineered ideas to attack problems For instance these are the folks at MIT proposing we combat global warming by seeing the upper atmosphere with chemicals to create cloud cover thereby decreasing the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth It ll work It s efficient and inexpensive A geoengineered solution would allow us to keep exploiting fossil fuels to fund research into sustainable energy sources all while avoiding the worst impacts of climate change Of course there will still be issues this will not fix like the oceans growing acidic due to the carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans But true yo form wizards wouldust attack this too taking it as another puzzle to solve This type of Wizardly thinking gives the second group the Prophets Heartburn Prophets Are heartburn Prophets are classic Club of Rome types always screeching on about peak oil peak iron peak silicon peak everything They re ones who uite correctly point out that humans need to live within the carrying capacity of the earth Instead of large centralized geoengineering projects they want us to eat vegetables and grow food organically without artificial fertilizers in order to restore the earth to a natural balance These people may attend MIT but most often prophets sprout up in colleges with
strong liberal arts programs like harvard they reliberal arts programs like Harvard They re heirs of Thomas Malthus and worry about the population bomb And while in 2019 Prophets tend to be left leaning progressives the movements share deep roots with eugenics and white supremacy Mann makes these concepts interesting by zooming tight on two 20th century figures who exemplify the ideas There s the Wizard Norman Borlaug the Nobel Laureate responsible for the Green Revolution in farming Thanks to his efforts at creating strains of wheat and corn that were disease resistant high yielding and cost effective in the 1920s through 1940s the number of truly starving people in the world has declined to a tiny fraction of humanity The Wizard Bourlaug s counterpart is the Prophet William Vogt the ecologist who popularized along with Aldo Leopold the idea of carrying capacity As the author of the highly influential ROAD TO SURVIVAL Vogt inspired the contemporary environmental movement Not only is Vogt the first author who systematically catalog and communicate these important ideas but he was also well connected if abrasive And via his connections in Washington and elsewhere for instance he was an early president of Planned Parenthood and worked extensively in DC and the Rockefeller organization he snagged the ear of presidents and congressional leaders for decades I appreciate that Mann doesn t come down heavily on either side of these issues Like him I see value in both approaches For instance I grow an organic garden that would make James Rodale proud And yet I think that if we can seed ice crystals to lower global warming at pennies why not do it Both the Wizardly and Prophet like approaches are valid Both have their places Though I like the book it has flaws One is glaring at least to me when Mann tries to move the Wizard Prophet distinction into contemporary technology the fit often grows often crow murky when things get complicated It holds in smiple cases for instance geo engineering is obviously Wizardly while growing a vegetable garden without chemicals is definitely Prophet like But what about photovoltaics on rooftops These rooftop arrays seem a forward looking and tech based solution to the problem Wizard But they re also expensive than ust purchasing electricity from the grid so reuire sacrifices on the part of owners Prophet What s they re unattractive and hurt the look of the natural environment which really troubles Prophets And since photovoltaic technology is changing rapidly the rooftop arrays are a hodge podge with several generations of technology overlapping So the systems on rooftops paradigm is inefficient which troubles Wizards who are looking for efficient engineered best practices solutions So given that complexity where do photovoltaics fit Mann tries to wedge them into a Prophet like definition but his argument fails to convince Another lack at least for me is that Mann a master communicator is ineffective at addressing the elephant in the room for some reason about half of Americans don t believe in climate change This seems tribal that fact based if you re Movement Conservative Republican you ll be like screw this hippie tree hugging nonsense And these people watch media bought and paid for by oil and coal that casts doubts on climate science So any true solution whether Wizardly or Prophet like reuires you believe in a problem before you address it And that will take firing away at places like the Heartland institute s disinformation campaign So in a very real way as long as Conservatives write off both Prophets and Wizards as irrelevant tree hugging alarmists no large scale action is possible Instead we ll be stuck switching our lightbulbs from incandescent to LED and installing digital thermostat and maybe driving a fuel efficient car But despite THE WIZARD AND PROPHET s failings it s super enjoyable It covers a topic and provides a conceptual handle that organizes solutions to climate change and the emotional tone folks take about the problem and its solutions into a manageable framework Four stars It would be five if Mann hadn t muddied the Wizard Prophet dichotomy when discussing contemporary solution. Crops that then saved millions from starvation Innovate was Borlaug's cry Only in that way can everyone win Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces food water energy climate change grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future With our civilization on the line the author's insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Eart. .