Day By Day

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Greatest Humanitarian Who Ever Lived -- Norman Borlaug

I have frequently noted, here and elsewhere, that the greatest living humanitarian, perhaps the greatest of all time, is Norman Borlaug. [see for instance here and here]

Gregg Easterbrook has a short piece in the Huffington Post noting that Dr. Borlaug, despite accomplishments that dwarf those of any other living person, is generally ignored by the media and unknown to the public [here].

It is not that he is without honor. In 1970 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. His biography, by Leon Hessler was published last year [here]. President Bush has just presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal. But, as Easterbrook notes, there was nary a notice in the MSM.

What has he done to deserve these honors?

Easterbrook explains:

Borlaug has saved more lives than anyone else who has ever lived. A plant breeder, in the 1940s he moved to Mexico to study how to adopt high-yield crops to feed impoverished nations. Through the 1940s and 1950s, Borlaug developed high-yield wheat strains, then patiently taught the new science of Green Revolution agriculture to poor farmers of Mexico and nations to its south. When famine struck India and Pakistan in the mid-1960s, Borlaug and a team of Mexican assistants raced to the Subcontinent and, often working within sight of artillery flashes from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, sowed the first high-yield cereal crop in that region; in a decade, India's food production increased sevenfold, saving the Subcontinent from predicted Malthusian catastrophes. Borlaug moved on to working in South America. Every nation his green thumb touched has known dramatic food production increases plus falling fertility rates (as the transition from subsistence to high-tech farm production makes knowledge more important than brawn), higher girls' education rates (as girls and young women become seen as carriers of knowledge rather than water) and rising living standards for average people. Last fall, Borlaug crowned his magnificent career by persuading the Ford, Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations to begin a major push for high-yield farming in Africa, the one place the Green Revolution has not reached.

The WSJ, last year, published another account of his accomplishments [here].

That's right -- hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions are alive today because of Dr. Borlaug's efforts. Yet this greatest humanitarian of all times is virtually unknown to the public.


Easterbrook thinks that it is because Borlaug is a righteous man working in a sinful world.

Instapundit, probably hitting closer to the mark, suggests that a Luddite press is not eager to report technological developments that improve the lot of humanity. [here]

A glance at the comments by Huffington Post readers suggests something else. They disparage Bourlag's accomplishments because the "Green Revolution" he fathered produced more people to plague the earth, was not hostile to corporate interests, and involved the development of genetically modified crops. He is denounced as an "overfed" American who probably drives an SUV, as a "main cog in the industrial ag machine", responsible for putting peasant farmers out of business, and because his feeding of millions has forestalled humanity's just deserts -- extinction.

In other words Borlaug's humanitarian efforts -- because they involve technological solutions to the world's problems, and because they run counter to the romantic primitivist, transhumanist perspectives promoted by the radical environmental movement -- have no place in the moralistic narrative embraced by so many of our elites. So they ignore or disparage the accomplishments of the greatest man of our times.