The Wizard and the Prophet
A short summary of the book by Charles C Mann
There are often two ways to think of a problem. One way is to try to undo the wrong that caused the problem and the other is to try to bend things to turn the problem into an opportunity.
This book takes the views of two men Vogt and Borlaug who saw man’s impact on nature but had opposing takes on how to address it. Vogt was the creator of the modern environmentalist movement. Borlaug gave birth to the green revolution that saved millions from starvation.
The book chronicles the lives of both men while also introducing the various aspects of the environment that are being changed as a result of climate change.
What I really love about this book is how the author weaved between the science and the politics of the times that were impacting how science is perceived. We knew about Climate Change back in 1960! The trouble was to prove it beyond a shade of doubt was just not possible with the data available at the time.
He also makes a strong case for not looking at the entire science as certain. Borlaug wanted to create disease-resistant wheat but his creation resulted in increased inequality between large and small farmers. But what Vogt was proposing would have resulted in millions dead of starvation and Sanjay Gandhi style forced sterilisation.
The key is to find balance, but how?
The book also has some really good stories. Like when Borlaug had convinced the Indian Agriculture Minister and his Pakistani counterpart that they needed to try the modified Wheat varieties from Mexico which gave rise to the Green Revolution, both agreed. The consignment was to arrive in Pakistan and then get shipped to India. The day the seeds set sail from Los Angeles, a war broke out between India and Pakistan in 1972. The story of how those seeds finally found their way to India is amazing.
The book is totally worth reading, whether you want to learn about climate change or not.