review The Wizard and the Prophet 103

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review The Wizard and the Prophet 103 Ù 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 chooseFrom 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. I 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 just 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 justification for infinte growth is completely nuts Not only do these guys mock anyone who thinks we should conserve resources Mann also blatantly misrepresents Jared Diamond's ideas This made me really uestion his sincerity He just comes across as a con artist trying to eliminate competition from his niche Since that interview I have actually seen a video of him and Diamond talking together pretty cordially though Maybe the things he said that originally irritated me were just honest mistakes but I do find that kind of hard to believe I only heard about this book because people were passing around Mann's newest Atlantic article about the challenges of feeding a world with 10 billion people Sustainable agriculture is a subject I've been interested in for a while I've also been interested in the debate between anti tech groups and pro tech groups about which path really is best for people and the planet having even written my own book on the subject it was never actually published so technically it's just a blog but it was written to be read like a book If anyone's interested they can read that here for free Since it focuses on some of my favorite subjects this book was kind of hard for me to resist I figured that even if I disagreed with his ideas I should at least see what he's saying since so many people follow his work Even before getting to the book his Atlantic article had some really bad mistakes Most annoying to me since I've spent so much time researching the ideas myself was a line about chestnuts producing calories per acre than wheat I have absolutely no idea where he came up with that It's pretty common for people to calculate the yield from nut trees in fresh weight and the calories per pound in dry weight this actually threw off some of my own estimates in the first draft of my work before I realized the mistake but even using those numbers the highest reasonable estimate for chestnut yield per acre is 6000 pounds per year this is about 6 times higher than the number that should be used for calories per acre calculations by the way When you multiply that by the calories per pound that's still less than the average wheat yield and wheat isn't even the highest yielding of annuals anyway The only explanation I can think of is that he took the number of trees initially planted per acre and multiplied that by the average yield of a full grown tree instead of using the number of full grown trees that can fit in an acre which can be less than 10% of the number of trees initially planted I am an advocate for perennializing farmland so it's not the glorification of tree crops over annuals that annoys me it's the impression this leaves people with about how many people can be fed with sustainable agriculture and how that shapes peoples' opinions on economic growth This particular mistake isn't found in the book but I think it says a lot about the credibility of Mann's research Getting into the actual book there are a lot of dumbed down overly simplified arguments and misrepresentations of different groups of people It didn't piss me off as much as I'd expected though He does a pretty good job of hiding his own opinions presenting most ideas as the opinions of others which helps him come across as a little less biased towards infinite growth and techno utopianism Make no mistake though he does have his own opinions and is trying to leave readers with a certain impression I'm extremely skeptical of the claim that he's undecided or still trying to figure out which side he's on Early on he says that he used to lean towards the Vogtian side but came to sympathize with Borlaugians as he realized oil wasn't running out and pesticides weren't leading to epidemics of cancer his words not mine The choice to focus on Vogt and Borlaug as the progenitors of two opposing views of thought is itself pretty strange It feels like a pointless gimmick to me basically just some new way of presenting ideas that most of his readers already know anyway like climate science the evidence for evolution how photosynthesis works and the history of Darwinism He spends way too much time explaining these things in my opinion Almost every topic of discussion just turns into an excuse to write a short biography on some scientist I thought the point of the book was supposed to be comparing high tech visions of the future with lower tech alternatives not rehashing what thousands of other environmental books have already said It seems like a bit of a stretch to say that most people can trace their opinions back to one of these two schools of thought I really don't think these particular scientists influenced us as much as he claims His terms Vogtian and Borlaugian or prophet and wizard don't even cover the full spectrum between simplicity advocates and techno utopians And this isn't just because there are complex mixtures of opinions on growthdegrowth centralizationdecentralization globallocal unifieddiverse and large scalesmall scale than just small scale low tech advocates that want degrowth and large scale high tech advocates who want infinite growth compare anarcho primitivists who want a world of a few million hunter gatherers to simple living advocates who think we could feed over 10 billion with low consumption localized lifestyles and permaculture to conservative libertarians who are against the science of evolution and global warming but still want to use science to colonize outer space to the zeitgeist movement that wants a techno utopian world government for the sake of protecting nature to singularitarians who want maximum technological progress so we can escape the limits of nature etc The two main options presented in here are actually both pretty pro tech and pro complex global industrial civilization probably being best summarized by their views on how solar panels should be arranged rather than their views on whether or not solar panels should be part of the solution at all Vogtians want solar panels on their houses and Borlaugians want huge centralized solar power plants That doesn't exactly cover everyone Similarly the main argument shouldn't be about which view will best provide for 10 billion affluent humans but whether or not we should even try to create a world of 10 billion humans with American middle class lifestyles This uestion isn't totally left out to be fair but he doesn't spend anywhere near as much time on simpler alternatives Being someone of the opinion that high tech lifestyles will never be truly sustainable I was pretty disappointed by that He's also way too kind to those who uestion whether or not it's our responsibility to make any sacrifices for the sake of future generations Many fears of energy shortages and climate disasters have proven to be exaggerated right So why should rich people risk losing any of their privileges what a horrible atrocity that would be if we aren't 100% sure that the sacrifices will lead to a better future I have absolutely no respect for this shit at all When else are such arguments ever acceptable It's like robbing someone and saying so what Maybe you'll meet the love of your life while standing in line at the local soup kitchen someone you'd have never met if you were still financially stable Your life may be better because I robbed you Or how about yeah I murdered your 12 your old son but for all we know he could have grown up to be the next Hitler If you can't prove otherwise then I shouldn't be punished It's especially irritating coming from someone who loves to use statistics about the greater good to justify things like how a smaller percentage of people are dying violently these days than at any other time in history and that most of us are living longer lives etc Most of his other arguments are about playing the odds at least the way he sees them but with this it's about letting people take huge risks to the wellbeing of the majority if there's even just a slim chance of them not leading to disaster If he was following the same logic with this subject that people have to play the odds for the sake of the greater good shouldn't he be as skeptical about the promises that technology will fix everything as he is of the claims that technology is leading us to disaster Techno optimists have been claiming for centuries that we're headed for a world of leisure one without war starvation disease crime depression obligatory labor or anything else bad all because technology will fix everything Have those predictions been accurate than the pessimistic ones warning us of potential ecocide Every technological advancement has just led to new problems and most serious environmental studies keep finding that things are falling apart even faster than predicted But because the most extreme predictions about a coming ice age or sudden economic collapse have been debunked you don't take any warnings seriously It's crazy We're not talking about a slight problem that has a slight chance of occurring if we don't all voluntarily suffer horribly for the sake of the future We're talking about a very likely possibility of making the only habitable planet we know of totally uninhabitable unless we make ourselves a little less comfortable for a little while In a lot of cases people will likely end up finding that these sacrifices actually improve their lives Humans aren't exactly designed to stare at computer screens all day I know that there are obstacles to changing our lifestyles than just getting people comfortable with the idea Even those who want to change already feel like they're trapped in the status uo To keep going along with this though should feel unbearable for anyone who sees where it's headed Even the damage that's already being done to nature and to less fortunate humans should be considered unacceptable to anyone with a conscience Reading his work you have to wonder sometimes if Mann really cares about the environment at all It almost seems like he's just trying to attract environmentally minded people to read his books so he can trick them into joining the techno optimist side At times I wondered if that might be backwards though He does mention some good solutions like agroforestry and indigenous land management techniues after all Could he be trying to get techno optimists to accept some of the ideas of the simple living crowd instead It's really hard to tell More likely he's just trying to double the size of his audience so he can sell books In my opinion this guy's good ideas aren't enough to make up for the bad ones I definitely don't recommend supporting him If for some reason you do want to read his work then you should probably just borrow the book from the library or something rather than buy it

read & download ☆ eBook or Kindle ePUB Ü Charles C. Mann

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. Food for thought book Well researched and referenced Enjoyable but intense readCharles Mann claims this is about two remarkable scientists William Vogt and Norman Borlaug but I would claim that his book revolves around three remarkable scientists the third being Lynn Margulis Mann uses Margulis’s biological rules and explains Vogt and Borlaug’s work and perceptions against themMann starts the book by give us biographies on both men and touching on their early and most important works Basically Vogt is of naturalist and Borlaug gets the ball rolling on modern agriculture it's implied he starts the GMO wave but from what is described he created hybrids by hand He then breaks their theories down into the four elements Earth Water Fire and Air He thoroughly explains the position of things from both points of view He then finishes up the book with recapping on the later years of both men The book finishes with two appendixes – on why to believe that climate change is happening and the GMOs are safe for consumption to me the GMO issue isn’t so much that they are safe for consumption but the environmental moral and financial impacts – Mann doesn’t really touch on theseThere were some shortcomings to the book that prevented me from giving this a five star rating This is because Mann conveniently left out some discussion points on topics – perhaps because they were too dicey Also he doesn't always analyze what he is presenting leaving this up to the readerAfter reading about the two men I discovered I am a pretty much a Vogtian with a splash of Borlaugian

Charles C. Mann Ü 3 review

The Wizard and the ProphetFall 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. 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 keep jobs 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 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 again just as soon as we finish bulldozing the bodies from the last attempt into a trench More likely Communism is just 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 just 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 job 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 Like Vogt 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 Borlaug hand 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 just 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 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 would just 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 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 peak just 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 small 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 fix just 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