La història està plena de grans rivalitats: Atenes contra el Sparta, Lincoln enfront de Douglas, fins i tot el seu contra Wile E. Coiot.

Autor Charles C. Mann descriu un faceoff menys familiar en el seu nou llibre, "El mag i Profeta: Dos científics notables i seves Visions dol per modelar el món de demà." Publicat a principis d'any, ha topat amb gran aclamació.

El "mag" era Norman Borlaug, el pare de la revolució verda. El "profeta" era William Vogt, un creient de "ambientalisme apocalíptica". Mann ha escrit una biografia d'aquests dos homes i les seves idees que competeixen sobre quin segle XXI portarà dual.

Anybody who thinks about the future of food ought to read it.

Thinking about the future of food is how Mann, a science journalist, became interested in his topic. In a prologue, he mentions the birth of his daughter. “I wandered outside for a while so that mother and child could rest,” he writes. “A thought popped into my head: When my daughter is my age, gairebé 10 billion people will be walking the earth.”

Demographers say it will happen around 2050.

“Ten billion mouths, Vaig pensar. How can they possibly be fed?”

William Vogt

This vexing question prompted Mann to explore the lives of his subjects and recount them on the pages of his compelling book.

Borlaug (1914-2009) was an optimist who believed that science and affluence would provide solutions to our greatest problems. Vogt (1902-1968) was a pessimist who thought that affluence itself was a problem because it led to the depletion of resources.

Mann writes that as a young adult in the 1970s, he became a disciple of Vogt, “convinced that the human enterprise would fall apart if our species didn’t abruptly reverse course.” He worried about famine, starvation, and mass deaths in an epic “planetary breakdown.”

Then he noticed something: These predictions of doom didn’t come to pass.

One of the reasons why, Mann discovered, was the genius of Borlaug. A biologist from Iowa, Borlaug devoted his life to improving the food supply. He developed better seeds and helped farmers around the world adopt new practices. En 1970, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Some people have claimed that because of Borlaug’s agricultural innovations, a billion extra people are alive today.

Norman Borlaug

So in the 1980s, Mann altered his thinking: “I became a Borlaugian, scoffing at the catastrophic scenarios I had previously embraced.”

Yet he never quite shook the influence of Vogt. Although his head seems to tell him that Borlaug was correct, his heart keeps pulling him back to Vogt: “My daughter, in college as I write, is headed into a future that seems ever more jostling and contentious, apropen a overstepping social, física, i ecològics marges."

El gruix del llibre se centra en quatre dels dilemes més gran del segle XXI: l'agricultura, l'aigua, energia, i clima. Mann descriu l'estat de l'obra en cada àrea, mirant a Borlaug i Vogt idees i tractant de mantenir imparcial. "El mag i Profeta,” he writes, "és un llibre sobre el futur que no fa prediccions".

Vaig a anar amb valentia on no ha anat Mann: Els agricultors s'aixecarà el repte de 2050 i aquells 10 boques de milions.

Això és el meu temps, rooted in my experience as a farmer. Farmers are naturally optimistic. We have to be!

I’m squarely in Borlaug’s camp. I met Dr. Borlaug and was able to see first-hand his optimism, his belief in the power of agricultural technology and his passion for getting that technology into the hands of farmers. Science and technology help us grow more food every year. In recent decades, we’ve benefitted from the widespread adoption of GMOs. En un futur pròxim, innovative technologies including CRISPR and gene-editing techniques will enable new advances. Everything is more sustainable, massa: With the advent of precision farming, informed by new types of data collection and guided by GPS satellites, we’re much smarter and clearly more efficient about how we use water, fertilitzant, and fuel.

While we must guard against excessive optimism—we’ll always face difficulties—we’re much better off when we allow Borlaug to inspire us than when we allow Vogt to frighten us.

Aquest juliol marcarà el 50è aniversari de la mort de Vogt. Alguna cosa em diu que si ell havia viscut, Potser hauria arribat a apreciar la capacitat de la raça humana per afrontar les proves més gran.

Hi vaig anar de nou, pensant com un assistent optimista, més que un profeta pessimista.

Al final, pot venir a una cosa tan simple com això: Esperança és millor que la desesperació.