Posts tagged ‘Norman Borlaug’

Mission Drift in Charitable Trusts

Much has been written about 2nd and 3rd generation trustees leading charitable trusts in completely different directions from the intentions of their original founder / donor.  These charitable trusts seem to, over time, become reflective of the goals and philosophy of a fairly closed caste of, lacking a better word, non-profit-runners.  Their typically leftish, Eastern, urban outlook is sometimes bizarrely at odds with the trust's founding intentions and mission.

Here is one that caught my eye:  Bill McKibben is known as a global warming crusader, via his (the 350 refers to the fact that they feel the world was safe at 349 ppm CO2 but was headed for ruin at 351 ppm).  But if you hear him speak, as my son did at Amherst, he sounds more alike a crusader against fossil fuels rather than against just global warming per se.  I am left with the distinct impression that he would be a passionate opponent of fossil fuel consumption even if there were no such thing as greenhouse gas warming.

Anyway, the thing I found interesting is that most of his anti-fossil fuel work is funded by a series of Rockefeller family trusts.  I am not privy to the original founding mission of these trusts, but my suspicion is that funding a campaign to paint producers of fossil fuels as outright evil, as McKibben often does, is a pretty bizarre use of money for the Rockefeller family.

In contrast to McKibben, I have argued that John D. Rockefeller, beyond saving the whales, did as much for human well-being as any person in the last two centuries by driving down the cost and increasing the quality, safety, and availability of fuels.   Right up there with folks like Norman Borlaug and Louis Pasteur.

News So Absurd There Is Almost No Point In Commenting On It

I really thought the Norwegians couldn' t fall much further into absurdity when they gave Al Gore the Peace prize for producing a movie that turned out to be mostly wrong  (one may still argue for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, but almost no one uses the specific evidence any more that Gore used in his movie).

But I underestimated the Norwegian's tolerance for absurdity.  You see, these guys really don't like George Bush.  Now, I am not a big fan of the man's presidency, but the Peace prize folks went further, using their prize to tweak Bush when they had the chance.  The best example was the 2002 prize for Jimmy Carter, who was awarded the prize mainly for undermining Bush's foreign policy approach to North Korea.

But it turns out that the Norwegians really really didn't like George Bush, for this year they have given the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, who's only discernible accomplishment is that he replaced the hated George Bush.

This is perhaps the worst possible thing that could happen to Obama at this moment.  Just when he was being pushed into the realization that maybe he couldn't accomplish things just by flashing his aura in front of detractors, along comes the Nobel Peace Prize to compliment him on the brightness of his aura.

A while back, I commented on the disparity of coverage between Norman Borlaug's death and Teddy Kennedy's, and observed what a mismatch the coverage was vs. the relative level of their accomplishments.  Obama's joining Borlaug as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient just highlights the same contrast between a man who saved hundreds of millions of lives in quiet obscurity and man whose main accomplishment is parlaying a rich speaking voice and looking good in a suit into worldwide fame.

Postscript: For those that don't know, the Nobel peace prize is not awarded by an international committee of some sort - it is chosen by a group of Norwegian politicians that are selected by the Norwegian parliament.  Imagine if our Congress was tasked with giving out such a prize what a hash they would make out of it.  I must say that about 50% of the time the Norwegians make a good (or at least reasonable) choice, which is probably better than Congress would do.

Update: Maybe it was a grammar mistake -- they thought "to the person who shall have done the most" in Nobel's charge was future tense.

Update #2: Along the same lines, this is funny:

In a stunning announcement, Millard Fillmore Senior High School chose Shawn Rabinowitz, an incoming junior, as next year's valedictorian. The award was made, the valedictorian committee announced from Norway of all places, on the basis of "Mr. Rabinowitz's intention to ace every course and graduate number one in class." In a prepared statement, young Shawn called the unprecedented award, "f"”ing awesome."

At the same time, and amazingly enough, the Pulitzer Prize for Literature went to Sarah Palin for her stated intention "to read a book someday." The former Alaska governor was described as "floored" by the award, announced in Stockholm by nude Swedes beating themselves with birch branches, and insisted that while she was very busy right now, someday she would make good on her vow to read a book. "You'll see," she said from her winter home in San Diego.

And again in a stunning coincidence, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar for best picture will be given this year to the Vince Vaughn vehicle "Guys Weekend to Burp," which is being story-boarded at the moment but looks very good indeed. Mr. Vaughn, speaking through his publicist, said was "touched and moved" by the award and would do everything in his power to see that the picture lives up to expectation and opens big sometime next March.

Update #3: I think, all kidding aside, Jonathan Adler has the right explanation for the Nobel Committee's logic.  They supported Obama's (stated) goals and philosophy in foreign policy and wanted to help him by increasing his prestige with this prize.  My gut feel is that the prize (which Obama has now accepted) will actually be a hindrance.  First, some will harbor resentment, as the prize to a President with no accomplishments is just another example of special treatment of the US and a de facto acknowledgment of American exceptionalism - the prize is saying in fact the America President matters a lot, which other leaders resent.   Second, the prize may circumscribe his room to maneuver.  Peace prize winners are not supposed to call in air strikes and send in troops (yeah, I remember Kissinger), but any package of international actions to curb rogue states will likely require both a carrot and a stick.

A Tribute to Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, the founder and driving force behind the revolution in high-yield agriculture that Paul Ehrlich predicted was impossible, has died at the age of 98 95.  Like Radley Balko, I am struck by how uneventful his passing is likely to be in contrast to the homage paid to self-promoting seekers of power like Ted Kennedy who never accomplished a tiny fraction of what Borlaug achieved.  Reason has a good tribute here.  Some exceprts:

In the late 1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions would perish. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Ehrlich also said, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." He insisted that "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980."

But Borlaug and his team were already engaged in the kind of crash program that Ehrlich declared wouldn't work. Their dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties. In 1965, they had begun a massive campaign to ship the miracle wheat to Pakistan and India and teach local farmers how to cultivate it properly. By 1968, when Ehrlich's book appeared, the U.S. Agency for International Development had already hailed Borlaug's achievement as a "Green Revolution."

In Pakistan, wheat yields rose from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 8.4 million in 1970. In India, they rose from 12.3 million tons to 20 million. And the yields continue to increase. Last year, India harvested a record 73.5 million tons of wheat, up 11.5 percent from 1998. Since Ehrlich's dire predictions in 1968, India's population has more than doubled, its wheat production has more than tripled, and its economy has grown nine-fold. Soon after Borlaug's success with wheat, his colleagues at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research developed high-yield rice varieties that quickly spread the Green Revolution through most of Asia.

The contrast to Paul Ehrlich is particularly stunning.  Most folks have heard of Ehrlich and his prophesies of doom.   But Ehrlich has been wrong in his prophesies more times than anyone can count.  Borlaug fed a billion people while Ehrlich was making money and fame selling books saying that the billion couldn't be fed -- but few have even heard of Borlaug.   Today, leftists in power in the US and most European nations continue to reject Borlaug's approaches, and continue to revere Ehrlich (just this year, Obama chose a disciple of Ehrlich, John Holdren, as his Science czar).

Continuing proof that the world moves forward in spite of, rather than because of, governments.

Update: More here.

Update #2: Penn and Teller on Borlaug

From the Guy Who Really Deserved His Peace Prize

Last year, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for proposing world-wide government actions that will prevent a billion of more people form escaping poverty.  But, once upon a time, Norman Borlaug won a Peace Prize for actually helping the poor help themselves.  Here is what he is saying today.  Folks from the EU to Bono to Al Gore are standing in the way, again, of people feeding themselves by aggressively applying the technology we take for granted in America:

Yields can still be increased by 50-100% in much of the Indian sub-Continent,
Latin America, the former USSR and Eastern Europe, and by 100-200% in much of
sub-Saharan Africa, providing political stability is maintained, bureaucracies
that destroys entrepreneurial initiative are reigned in, and their researchers
and extension workers devote more energy to putting science and technology to
work at the farm level....

I now say that the world has the technology - either available or
well-advanced in the research pipeline - to feed a population of 10 billion
people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will
be permitted to use this new technology. Extremists in the environmental
movement from the rich nations seem to be doing everything they can to stop
scientific progress in its tracks. Small, but vociferous and highly effective
and well-funded, anti-science and technology groups are slowing the application
of new technology, whether it be developed from biotechnology or more
conventional methods of agricultural science. I am particularly alarmed by those
who seek to deny small-scale farmers of the Third World -and especially those in
sub-Saharan Africa - access to the improved seeds, fertilizers, and crop
protection chemicals that have allowed the affluent nations the luxury of
plentiful and inexpensive foodstuffs which, in turn, has accelerated their
economic development.

When Peace Prize Winners Actually Helped People

Instapundit has several links to biographies of Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace prize for starting the green revolution and perhaps single-handedly saving hundreds of millions from starvation.  This is a particularly interesting one.

Borlaug won his prize, of course, back when the Nobel Peace prize was actually given to people who made the world a better place.  Today the prize is typically given to whatever person did the most to appease a major dictatorship or terrorist or to whoever was most vocal worldwide in their socialism or  anti-Americanism.  This description of the Nobel committee's criteria may sound flippant, but it is clear to me that the committee is dominated by those who favor peace ahead of anything else.  Which, in real life, means that you have to be ready to live with ... anything else, including murder, rape, genocide, totalitarianism, etc. 

Just look at the list of recent winners.  In 1985 they gave the peace prize to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, who as a group systematically opposed everything the US was doing at the time which in 5 years would result in a true reduction in the risk of nuclear war.    In 1988 they gave the award to the serial rapists in the UN peacekeeping forces.    For God sakes in 1994 Yasser Arafat won, perhaps the single person most responsible for chaos in the Middle East.  In 2001 Kofi Anan won, at the very time he was out-Enroning Ken Lay by helping Saddam Hussein steal $20 billion while enriching his own son with contractor kickbacks.  And of course in 2002 Jimmy Carter won for appeasing just about every dictator in the world, but North Korea in particular (interestingly, Jimmy Carter is the only US president since Woodrow Wilson to win the award.  Can you think of any president in the last 60 years who has done less than Jimmy Carter to create a free and peaceful world?)

As a footnote, it would be impossible for Norman Borlaug to win the Peace prize today.  Greens and environmentalists have never liked him, and the politically correct Nobel Committee would never make a choice today that would irritate these groups.  People like Wangari Maathai who fit into the progressive-green sustainable development camp are preferred, even if they don't have nearly the same impact in actually saving or improving lives.