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December 13, 2002
HERE, VIA VIRGINIA POSTREL, is a great piece on Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who actually did something admirable. And, while you're at it, you should read this Gregg Easterbrook story from The Atlantic, which observes:
Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that throughout the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa, global food production has expanded faster than the human population, averting the mass starvations that were widely predicted -- for example, in the 1967 best seller Famine -- 1975! The form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.
Yet although he has led one of the century's most accomplished lives, and done so in a meritorious cause, Borlaug has never received much public recognition in the United States, where it is often said that the young lack heroes to look up to. One reason is that Borlaug's deeds are done in nations remote from the media spotlight: the Western press covers tragedy and strife in poor countries, but has little to say about progress there. Another reason is that Borlaug's mission -- to cause the environment to produce significantly more food -- has come to be seen, at least by some securely affluent commentators, as perhaps better left undone. More food sustains human population growth, which they see as antithetical to the natural world.
Borlaug deserves more attention, and praise, than he's gotten. But his achievements -- which serve as proof that science saves lives -- are a rebuke to the notion that political activism is what matters. You can hardly expect the activists to forgive that.