Charles Mann, author of 1491, has a new book called The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World.
Here’s the Amazon description:
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 choose to live in tomorrow’s world.
In forty years, Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall 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 more 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 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 Earth.
I made my own attempt to reconcile these world views a few years ago. My conclusion was that it is theoretically possible to grow without exceeding limits, if almost all innovation that occurs is aimed at transcending those limits. In the real world, I don’t think there is any evidence our species is capable of that. What is more likely is that technology helps us grow until we come up against the limits, then we experience a setback that takes us back under the limits, then eventually we start again. We may push the limits a little further each time, but the setbacks can be long and painful enough to ruin entire human lifetimes. If I am right, we haven’t even finished the first cycle yet as a planetary civilization. Mann’s book 1491, along with Jared Diamond’s Collapse, were instrumental in helping me to realize that regional and even continental cultures have experienced major setbacks before.