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Old February 3rd, 2018, 11:33 AM   #1
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Are You a Wizard? Or a Prophet?

I just came across an Atlantic article by Charles Mann (author of "1491") where after a lengthy presentation of the founders of modern environmental movements - William Vogt, and his lifelong nemesis...the forerunner of all of today's techno-optimists - the creator of the Green Revolution hybrid plants- Norman Borlaug, Mann tries to present a simple stripped down narrative of where and why the two groups draw different conclusions from facts presented.

I'm clearly within the 'prophet' camp, since after a few decades of deluge of glowing pronouncements and claims of ending world hunger, reality seems to be setting in with new evidence that big agriculture production introduced to the third world is reaching the end of what can be harvested from overused farmlands. The techno-optimists aren't done yet! For one thing, there's a lot..hell of a lot more corporate cash to pony up behind anyone promising a brighter and better future, regardless of how unrealistic the claims are. Anyway, here goes:

Quote:
Bitter Rivals
While my children were growing up, I took advantage of journalistic assignments to speak about these questions, from time to time, with experts in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As the conversations accumulated, the responses seemed to fall into two broad categories, each associated (at least in my mind) with one of two people, both of them Americans who lived in the 20th century. The two people were barely acquainted and had little regard for each other’s work. But they were largely responsible for the creation of the basic intellectual blueprints that institutions around the world use today for understanding our environmental dilemmas. Unfortunately, their blueprints offer radically different answers to the question of survival.

The two people were William Vogt and Norman Borlaug.

Vogt, born in 1902, laid out the basic ideas for the modern environmental movement. In particular, he founded what the Hampshire College population researcher Betsy Hartmann has called “apocalyptic environmentalism”—the belief that unless humankind drastically reduces consumption and limits population, it will ravage global ecosystems. In best-selling books and powerful speeches, Vogt argued that affluence is not our greatest achievement but our biggest problem. If we continue taking more than the Earth can give, he said, the unavoidable result will be devastation on a global scale. Cut back! Cut back! was his mantra.

Borlaug, born 12 years after Vogt, has become the emblem of “techno-optimism”—the view that science and technology, properly applied, will let us produce a way out of our predicament. He was the best-known figure in the research that in the 1960s created the Green Revolution, the combination of high-yielding crop varieties and agronomic techniques that increased grain harvests around the world, helping to avert tens of millions of deaths from hunger. To Borlaug, affluence was not the problem but the solution. Only by getting richer and more knowledgeable can humankind create the science that will resolve our environmental dilemmas. Innovate! Innovate! was his cry.

Both men thought of themselves as using new scientific knowledge to face a planetary crisis. But that is where the similarity ends. For Borlaug, human ingenuity was the solution to our problems. One example: By using the advanced methods of the Green Revolution to increase per-acre yields, he argued, farmers would not have to plant as many acres, an idea researchers now call the “Borlaug hypothesis.” Vogt’s views were the opposite: The solution, he said, was to use ecological knowledge to get smaller. Rather than grow more grain to produce more meat, humankind should, as his followers say, “eat lower on the food chain,” to lighten the burden on Earth’s ecosystems. This is where Vogt differed from his predecessor, Robert Malthus, who famously predicted that societies would inevitably run out of food because they would always have too many children. Vogt, shifting the argument, said that we may be able to grow enough food, but at the cost of wrecking the world’s ecosystems.

I think of the adherents of these two perspectives as “Wizards” and “Prophets.” Wizards, following Borlaug’s model, unveil technological fixes; Prophets, looking to Vogt, decry the consequences of our heedlessness.

Borlaug and Vogt traveled in the same orbit for decades, but rarely acknowledged each other. Their first and only meeting, in the mid-1940s, led to disagreement—immediately afterward, Vogt tried to get Borlaug’s work shut down. So far as I know, they never spoke afterward. Each referred to the other’s ideas in public addresses, but never attached a name. Instead, Vogt rebuked the anonymous “deluded” scientists who were actually aggravating our problems. Borlaug branded his opponents “Luddites.”

Both men are dead now, but the dispute between their disciples has only become more vehement. Wizards view the Prophets’ emphasis on cutting back as intellectually dishonest, indifferent to the poor, even racist (because most of the world’s hungry are non-Caucasian). Following Vogt, they say, is a path toward regression, narrowness, poverty, and hunger—toward a world where billions live in misery despite the scientific knowledge that could free them. Prophets sneer that the Wizards’ faith in human resourcefulness is unthinking, ignorant, even driven by greed (because refusing to push beyond ecological limits will cut into corporate profits). High-intensity, Borlaug-style industrial farming, Prophets say, may pay off in the short run, but in the long run will make the day of ecological reckoning hit harder. The ruination of soil and water by heedless overuse will lead to environmental collapse, which will in turn create worldwide social convulsion. Wizards reply: That’s exactly the global humanitarian crisis we’re preventing! As the finger-pointing has escalated, conversations about the environment have turned into dueling monologues, each side unwilling to engage with the other.

Which might be all right, if we weren’t discussing the fate of our children.
read further at: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine...people/550928/
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