Remembering Norman Borlaug

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 14, 2009

An April, 2000 interview with Ronald Bailey; well worth reading. The following passage deserves to be singled out:

Reason: What do you think of Paul Ehrlich’s work?

Borlaug: Ehrlich has made a great career as a predictor of doom. When we were moving the new wheat technology to India and Pakistan, he was one of the worst critics we had. He said, “This person, Borlaug, doesn’t have any idea of the magnitude of the problems in food production.” He said, “You aren’t going to make any major impact on producing the food that’s needed.” Despite his criticisms, we succeeded, of course.

Reason: When an alleged expert like Ehrlich is being negative like that, does that discourage people? Does it hurt the efforts to boost food production?

Borlaug: Sure, because we were funded by a foundation….They’d hear his criticisms, and I’m sure there were some people at Rockefeller saying, “Maybe we shouldn’t fund that program anymore.” It always has adverse effects on budgeting.

Reason: Why do you think people still listen to Ehrlich? One can go back and read his doomsday scenarios and see that he was wrong.

Borlaug: People don’t go back and read what he wrote. You do, but the great majority of the people don’t, and their memory is short. As a matter of fact, I think this [lack of perspective] is true of our whole food situation. Our elites live in big cities and are far removed from the fields. Whether it’s Brown or Ehrlich or the head of the Sierra Club or the head of Greenpeace, they’ve never been hungry.

I covered the conflict between Borlaug and Ehrlich before. Short version: Borlaug wins.

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