“Since when did you become a global warming alarmist?” I kidded Norman midway into our telephone conversation a few weeks before this amazing scientist and humanitarian died. “What are you talking about?” Dr. Borlaug retorted. “I’ve never believed that nonsense.”
I read him a couple sentences from his July 29 Wall Street Journal article. “Within the next four decades, the world’s farmers will have to double production … on a shrinking land base and in the face of environmental demands caused by climate change. Indeed, [a recent Oxfam study concludes] that the multiple effects of climate change might reverse 50 years of work to end poverty.”
I mentioned that my own discussions of those issues typically emphasize how agricultural biotechnology, modern farming practices and other technological advances will make it easier to adapt to any climate changes, warmer or colder, whether caused by humans or by the same natural forces that brought countless climate shifts throughout Earth’s history, including the Ice Ages, Dust Bowl and Little Ice Age.
“You’re right,” he said. “I should have been more careful. Next time, I’ll do that. And I’ll point out that the real disaster won’t be global warming. It’ll be global cooling, which would shorten growing seasons, and make entire regions less suitable for farming.”
I was amazed, as I was every time we talked. Here he was, 95 years old, “retired,” still writing articles for the Journal, and planning what he’d say in his next column.
The article we were discussing, “Farmers can feed the world,” noted Norman’s deep satisfaction that G-8 countries have pledged $20 billion to help poor farmers acquire better seeds and fertilizer. “For those of us who have spent our lives working in agriculture,” he said, “focusing on growing food versus giving it away is a giant step forward.”
Our previous conversations confirm that he would likewise have applauded the World Bank’s recent decision to subsidize new coal-fired power plants, to generate jobs and reduce poverty, by helping poor countries bring electricity to 1.5 billion people who still don’t have it. For many poor countries, a chief economist for the Bank observed, coal is the only option, and “it would be immoral at this stage to say, 'We want to have clean hands. Therefore we are not going to touch coal.’” Norman would have agreed.
As he argued in his WSJ article, “governments must make their decisions about access to new technologies … on the basis of science, and not to further political agendas.” That’s why he supported DDT to reduce malaria, biotechnology to fight hunger, and plentiful, reliable, affordable electricity to modernize China, India and other developing nations.
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