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Thursday, February 24, 2022


 I recently read The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann (2018).

In this book, CM weaves a story of competing philosophies for the survivability of humans on this planet. On the one had are the disciples of William Vogt (often labeled as tree huggers or progressives) and on the other are the followers of Norman Borlaug (those who believe the future of humanity depends on the technological advancements for sufficient food, water, and power).  

My top takeaways:

·       The William Vogt (the Prophet) philosophy for human sustainability: Cut back! Cut back! Otherwise everyone will lose!  

·       The Norman Borlaug (the Wizard) philosophy for human sustainability: Innovate! Innovate! Only in that way can everyone win!

·      Facts do not always drive values, and values do not always drive desired results. 

·      Telling others what we see is more impactful than trying to tell them what to do.

·      We humans should very careful not to: 1. use too much fresh water; 2. put too much nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer into the land; 3. overly deplete the protective ozone in the stratosphere; 4. change the acidity of the oceans too much; 5. use too much land for agriculture; 6. wipe out species too fast; 7. dump too many chemicals into ecosystems; 8. send too much soot into the air; and 9. put too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (p. 92)

·      In 1950, one in three humans lived in an urban setting. By 2050 it is estimated the two of every three humans will live in cities. 

·      This debate really devolves into one of liberty vs community. 


My favorite quotes:

“Civilizations fall because societies forget this simple rule. We depend on plants, plants depend on soil, soil depends on us. The Law of Return embodies an insight: everything affects everything else.” (p. 178)


“It is a philosophical truism that exclusively caring about oneself is not a route to a happy or satisfying life. Another philosophical truism is that a lofty concern for all of existence is the province of saints, and sainthood is not required for ordinary people to live decently and well. In the middle, where most people spend their days, it is hard to distinguish morally between positions.” (p. 319)


“In climate change, all choices involve leaps into the unknown.” (p. 362)


As in his other works I have read, Mann is a master researcher and a superb writer. He digs deeply into complex histories and mounds of data, ties them into a coherent story, and then articulates it to us in a way that is remarkably understandable. 


Mann ALWAYS makes me smarter, and he also make me think. A lot!

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