The Aesthetic Life

My Hero is Dead

Posted in Uncategorized by jonflynn on September 14, 2009

Norman Borlaug is dead. I find myself holding back tears, hoping in vain to write a eulogy that he deserves. You have not heard of him, but he was the greatest human being to ever walk this Earth. Through his work, he directly saved at least a billion lives. That’s not a typo. Billion. With a B.  What did he do?

Norman Borlaug was a scientist, a biologist to be exact. The man was the father of the Green Revolution. He was one of the first to apply modern science to agriculture. He bred high yield disease resistance crops and brought those, along with better farming techniques, to every country in the world. His crops produced 4 times as much food on the same amount of land. Not only did he feed people, but his creations saved an estimated billion hectares of land from agricultural development. Again, billion. With a B. To put that in perspective, that’s larger than Canada. That’s 6.7% of the land area in the world, or about 20% of currently forested, arable land. Imagine the innumerable species that Borlaug has saved.

And he did this for free.  He worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, and rather than sell the seeds to these wonder crops at what would be considerable profit, he gave them away. Borlaug worked in third world countries all his life, in the field, and sometimes even under fire. During the Indian/Pakistani civil war, he planted seeds close enough to a battlefield to see artillery flashes.

It is difficult to imagine the state of a world without Borlaug. Before his improvements in crops, a Malthusian catastrophe was thought to be inevitable. There simply would not have been enough food for all the people in the world. Indirectly, I am certain he has stopped wars, famines, plagues, and countless deaths. He faced down the four horsemen, and won.

What does this have to do with the art of living? This was a beautiful life.

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2 Responses

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  1. Jeremy said, on September 17, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    A professor of mine from long ago, Douglass Southgate, once wrote a syndicated column in praise of this man while he was still living, in many of the same terms that you use. It may even turn up via a Google search. (I’ll try it.) In any case, I think that pointing out a life well lived is a perfectly appropriate topic for an art of living conversation.

    And besides, it was a very nice eulogy. Rest in peace, Norman Borlaug.

  2. DRS said, on September 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    What do you think?
    1. arguments vs. the green revolution as contributing to the corporate/genetic engineering takeover of 3rd world economics and society
    2. must an AOL today to be ‘legitimate’ include an ecological philosophy? must it be green?


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