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The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable…
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The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling… (2018 original; edició 2019)

de Charles Mann (Autor)

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Two influential scientists, William Vogt (1902-1968), and Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), and their approaches to environmental problems.
Títol:The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World
Autors:Charles Mann (Autor)
Informació:Vintage (2019), Edition: Reprint, 640 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
Etiquetes:sustainability, biography, energy, food policy, box 23

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The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World de Charles C. Mann (2018)

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An interesting two profile of two important scientists — William Vogt, who helped found the modern environmental movement, and Norman Borlaug, whose experiments cross-breeding plants have helped feed billions. Also a provocative framing of important environmental debates into a model of "Prophets" who believe humans must cut back to avoid exceeding Earth's limits and "Wizards" who believe human ingenuity can transcend those limits by finding more powerful and efficient ways to produce food, power, and other essentials.

Sometimes this framing is less successful than others. Take, for example, the "soft path" and "hard path" models to limited resources like water, where the "hard path" involves asking, "how can we get more water" and the "soft path" looks to find ways to use water more efficiently. Mann fits these terms into his own model of prophets and wizards. But later he says that both Prophets and Wizards endorse the idea of improving efficiency. The "soft path" approach seems at times to lack the neo-Malthusian attitude that characterize the purest Prophets, while also enabling more growth than Prophets are comfortable with.

But these are relatively minor flaws; no archetype-based model will ever perfectly capture our complex world. Instead, they give us a framework to understand those complex idea while leaving room for us to acknowledge exceptions. And Wizards vs. Prophets is certainly a helpful framework when considering, for example, the relative merits of nuclear power, community solar, shutting down factories and geoengineering for combatting climate change.

Mann does not endorse either side in this debate, though at times he says one side or the other seems to have had the better approach for specific issues. Both models have value, he argues. But more importantly, Mann believes both sides share a common shortcoming: an ignorance of the actual human beings their scientific approaches would affect. Consider one crucial passage, where Mann has described the visits to 1940s Mexico by his two main characters. Arch-Prophet William Vogt tours the country and sees its environment being turned into a desert by too many people farming where farming should not be done; Ur-Wizard Norman Borlaug has seen the same poverty and wondered how science can enable these poor farmers to grow enough food to feed themselves despite the poor soil.

But the two "had a striking similarity: neither attempted to understand how Mexican farmers had got into these straits," Mann writes. The reason was politics, including past governments that had encouraged consolidating Mexico's good land in the hands of a few wealthy landowners and revolutions seeking unsuccessfully to redistribute this land back to the poor:

In 1934 a new president, Lázaro Cárdenas, tried again. The Cárdenas administration seized almost 50 million acres from estates and awarded them to ejidos, peasant-run collectives... As before, landowners fought back, some plotting coups and assassination attempts. Others ensured that the ejidos were forced to accept bad land — plots that were too dry or steep to cultivate. By 1940 the eleven thousand new ejidos were working almost 2.5 million acres of land that had been left alone ten years before. Unsurprisingly, the consequences were often destructive; erosion and soil depletion soared. Much of the devastation that Vogt saw as the unavoidable consequence of high birth rates was tied to political events that were anything but inevitable... much of the poverty that [Wizards] saw as lack of access to knowledge was the result of efforts by wealthy elites to maintain their position. (118-19)

As Wizards and Prophets fight over which approach to the environment is best for humanity, Mann argues, they too often leave humanity out of it. His closing appeal — one I can certainly agree with — is for scientists to consider the social sciences as they plot their work to save the planet and species. ( )
  dhmontgomery | Dec 13, 2020 |
Mann takes the lives and work of two men as the starting point for an examination of how best to assure our descendants of a livable, sustainable future. The wizards are certain technology can address whatever problems arise, the prophets are convinced that only by controlling population growth and conserving resources can humankind survive. Mann offers a narrative history of the evolution of these positions and also offers a nuanced consideration of the basic problems each side attempts to address: peak oil, climate change, hunger, lack of potable water sources. Excellent, ( )
  nmele | Jun 25, 2020 |
While it occasionally dragged, and this subject matter isn't quite as powerful to me as it used to be, this was still a pretty darn good book. I will always be a huge fan of Norman Borlaug, one of the greatest Americans ever born. We are at a crossroads right now, as the world grapples with a coming food crisis. This book lays out some of the history of this long debate, and tells us about the key figures that have been shaping it. A valuable service. Sometimes it's hard to tell when it wants to talk to about the present and when it wants to talk about the past, and overall I didn't get as much from the book as I thought I might. So while the reading experience wasn't great (the audiobook narrator was also, not great) I still think it's a powerful read worth checking out. ( )
  MaxAndBradley | May 27, 2020 |
Historically, this book is probably unparalleled. It's an incredible history of agriculture in the 20th century, of humanity, of governments, and of some ideas.

It poses big questions about philosophies of what it is to be part of the human tribe, of what tradeoffs are worth it between cultural imperialism, ending hunger, and how those questions were answered by governments, made up of flawed people, at the dawn of the IMF and the UN.

It's worth reading closely and taking notes.

But it doesn't try to answer many of these questions, or characterize particular answers. It presents holes in the two philosophies of which the titular men are avatars. But it doesn't adjudicate between them so much. In as much as it answers the question, I think, it does so in the last few pages of the book, where Borlaug asks the author whether he's been to places where people were starving and dying in the streets. No, the author says. Exactly.

One thing that sucks is that every review I've read of this book are vapid and worthless. I have no idea where you'd even begin to criticize it as research, because it's a huge synthesis of so much work (the bibliography is 55 pages long). But in a paragraph describing the discovery of the structure of DNA, the author fails to mention Rosalind Franklin or Raymond Gosling, which at this point is weird in a book so heavily concerned with the history of agriculture. It stood out like a sore thumb, and made me wonder what else it was missing, or intentionally editing out.

But really, this book is fucking important and you need to read it to understand how we got to where we are. Its subjects apply to every human person. ( )
  jtth | May 4, 2020 |
I recommend as a detailed, balanced history of the modern environmental movement and the counter-argument from the technologists ("Wizard") who keep giving us all that modern stuff that the environmentalists ("Prophet") bemoan.

I like Charles C Mann’s style, which is brutally focused on truth, always skeptical of every point of view. He could pass the ideological Turing Test as somebody able to articulate all points of view so well that each adherent thinks he’s one of theirs.

The overall story is a history of environmentalism told as two competing visions for the future: the Prophet, who thinks humanity’s attempts to control nature are doomed and counter-productive, and the Wizard who thinks we have no choice but to apply science and technology to improve things. The Prophet is exemplified by early environmental alarmist William Vogt, the Wizard by Nobel Prizewinner Norman Borlaug, who helped develop the wheat the started the Green Revolution.

The chapters are divided into Earth (food), Water, Fire (energy), Air (climate change), a clever division that lets the book explore the details of various aspects of the environmentalists’ look at the natural world.

Key quote: (p406) “How many people is an important question, but it is less important than What are those people doing?”
( )
  richardSprague | Mar 22, 2020 |
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Two influential scientists, William Vogt (1902-1968), and Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), and their approaches to environmental problems.

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