Daily Archives: April 29, 2018

To Respect the Earth’s Limits — or Push Them? – Bill McKibben – The New York Times

William Vogt in 1950 Credit Denver Post, via Getty Images

By Bill McKibben   Jan. 31, 2018

THE WIZARD AND THE PROPHET
Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World
By Charles C. Mann
640 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $28.95.

In “The Wizard and the Prophet” Charles C. Mann tries something tricky: to illuminate contemporary debates about the environment by examining the lives and philosophies of two men, long dead and mostly forgotten thinkers who had competing visions for the Earth’s future. It’s an ambitious sort of book, one that, to be completely successful, requires two things. One is a command of sprawling detail, with the ability to see parallels among events across time and distance and to explain the complex with ease. The second is an analytical device that takes all those parts and molds them into something novel and useful.

On the first count, Mann succeeds magnificently. William Vogt and (particularly) Norman Borlaug are brought to splendid, quirky life. Vogt, mostly unread these days, is a writer whose 1948 book, “Road to Survival,” Mann credits with helping birth modern environmentalism with its sense that humans should respect natural limits — he is the title’s “Prophet.” Borlaug is the Nobel-winning Midwest agronomist whose patiently bred strains of wheat kicked off the Green Revolution, and is here Mann’s “Wizard,” imbued with a technological worldview that seeks always to overcome Earth’s limits. One can argue with the choices — the “limits” argument might have been better served if personified by the more profound Aldo Leopold or Rachel Carson — but not with the results of his historical research, which provides one charming (and telling) anecdote after another.

The biologist Dr. Norman Borlaug, holding up stalks of his specifically crossbred wheat. Credit Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

Vogt, for instance, turns out to be the man who figured out how to get Roger Tory Peterson’s pioneering bird guide published. His own love of birds got Vogt a job on the Chincha islands off Peru, where he was supposed to advise the company that owned cormorants on how to get them to increase production of the valuable fertilizer guano. Instead, after careful study of the way that the periodic El Niño warmings drove fluctuations in the cormorant population, he ended up advising the owners to leave well enough alone — they could not “augment the increment of excrement,” but instead should “help conserve the balance between species continually sought by nature.”

This notion of balance, of limits that should not be pushed, would undergird the increasingly shrill alarms Vogt issued in his books and articles, and from various insecure perches in the global conservation hierarchy, where his disdain for economic growth cost him one post after another. He committed suicide in 1968, thinking his cause lost, just as Paul Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb,” Earth Day drew millions into the streets in 1970 and a groundbreaking 1972 report, “The Limits to Growth,” firmly established the argument he’d helped pioneer.

Borlaug’s story is more epic, even in its condensed form. A classic product of the Midwest land-grant colleges that are one of America’s greatest successes, he found his way to a dusty plant-breeding station in a desolate part of Mexico, where he figured out how to breed wheat that combined high yields with resistance to the ancient plague of stem rust. The new varieties made full use of fertilizers and other inputs — harvests soared first in South America and then, crucially, in India. (The story of getting the seed to the subcontinent, amid wars between India, China and Pakistan, is a fine Cold War saga.) What followed were honors, and also questions — the Green Revolution did raise yields, at least for a while, but it also wrecked much of peasant agriculture, driving poor people to the big cities and polluting farmlands with pesticides.

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…(read more).

Charles C Mann, “The Wizard and The Prophet”


Politics and Prose
Published on Feb 15, 2018

Scientific journalist Charles C. Mann discusses his book, “The Wizard and the Prophet”, at Politics and Prose on 2/1/18.

Mann’s award-winning histories, 1491 and 1493, looked back to Columbus and his world-changing expeditions. His new book profiles two influential scientists and projects their distinct visions for the future. The wizard of his title is Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), an agronomist and humanitarian who pioneered the Green Revolution and won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work. To his followers, Borlaug represents a faith in human ingenuity. Any problems caused by overpopulation, climate change, water scarcity, and their like can be solved with technology. Arguing the opposite was the prophet, William Vogt (1902-1968), an ecologist and ornithologist who headed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and served as secretary of the Conservation Foundation. He argued that the planet has limits and that we must learn to live within them. Mann is in conversation with Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of My Age of Anxiety.

Charles C. Mann: How to Win Any Debate on Climate Change


Long Now FoundationPublished on Feb 7, 2018

This is how you win a debate on climate change. From Charles C. Mann’s Long Now Seminar “The Wizard and the Prophet,” which you can watch in full here: http://longnow.org/seminars/02018/jan…
Check out more Seminars on Long-Term Thinking: http://longnow.org/seminars
The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars were started in 02003 to build a compelling body of ideas about long-term thinking; to help nudge civilization toward our goal of making long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare.

Charles Mann: The Wizard and the Prophet


Ed Mays
Published on Mar 29, 2018
In forty years, some scientists project that Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that many people? What kind of world will it be? According to Charles Mann’s newest book The Wizard and the Prophet, the experts answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups—Wizards and Prophets. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding ecologist and environmentalist who believed that if we use more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. The Wizards are the heirs of agronomist and humanitarian Norman Borlaug, whose research effectively wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation.

Mann, author of the seminal environmental histories 1491 and 1493, joins us to discuss the nuance of these diverging viewpoints and assess the four great challenges humanity’s growing population faces—food, water, energy, and climate change—grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. He offers an insightful analysis about the outlook for our increasingly crowded Earth, and opens the conversation to lay groundwork for how the people of the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow’s world.

Charles C. Mann is a correspondent for The Atlantic, Science, and Wired, and has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Smithsonian, Technology Review, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, as well as the TV network HBO and the series Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation.

Charles Mann will be joined in conversation by Edward Wolcher, Town Hall’s Curator of Lectures.

Recorded 1/25/18
Thanks to Town Hall Seattle, Seattle University & University Bookstore

See review of book by Bill McKibben in the New York Times:

 

Climate Energy Challenge – HarvardX – Online Course – Daniel Schrag

Bob Trenwith
Published on Apr 21, 2018

The Climate Energy Challenge

On Contact: The Coming Collapse of the American Economic System with Richard Wolff


RT America

Published on Apr 1, 2018

Economist Richard Wolff discusses the coming economic collapse of the United States of America.

Climate Energy Challenge – 4.5 – The Snowball Earth Hypothesis – Daniel Schrag

Bob Trenwith
Published on Apr 24, 2018

The Climate Energy Challenge Part 4: Deeper Back in Time Lesson 5 – The Snowball Earth Hypothesis Playlist: https://tinyurl.com/ClimateEnergyChal…

See series of lectures from HarvardX – The Climate Energy Challenge