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How To Get There 26/01/20

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, January 26th, 2020 - 39 comments
Categories: Deep stuff - Tags:


This post is a place for positive discussion of the future.

An Open Mike for ideas, solutions and the discussion of the possible.

The Big Picture, rather than a snapshot of the day’s goings on. Topics rather than topical.

We’d like to think it’s success will be measured in the quality of comments rather than the quantity.

So have at it!

Let us know what you think …

39 comments on “How To Get There 26/01/20”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Last week (HTGT #6) I introduced two avatars of the global Green movement, who began to impact on the process of social transformation in the mid-twentieth century.

    “Borlaug and Vogt travelled in the same orbit for decades, but rarely acknowledged each other. Their first meeting, in the mid-1940s, ended in disagreement. So far as I know, they never spoke afterward. Not one letter passed between them. They each referred to each other’s ideas in public addresses, but never attached a name. Instead, Vogt rebuked the anonymous “deluded” scientists who were actually aggravating our problems. Meanwhile, Borlaug derided his opponents as “Luddites”. Both men are dead now, but their disciples have continued the hostilities. Indeed, the dispute between Wizards and Prophets has, if anything, become more vehement.” [quoting from The Wizard and the Prophet, C. Mann, 2018]

    So my claim about Greens not falling victim to zero-sum thinking overstates the case. Old-fashioned Greens abound, even in younger generations, and “conversations about the environment have increasingly become dialogues of the deaf”. That’s due to Greens framing the thing across the old political left-right spectrum. Understandable, inasmuch as tech works magic by solving problems and powering business, so the right love it. Rejecting enterprise falls naturally to the left, by default.

    Mann notes that “the clash between Vogtians and Borlaugians is heated because it is less about facts than about values”. I’d go further. Not even slightly about facts, and less about values than the belief systems they produce. Belief systems are paradigmatic. Paradigms tend not to co-exist in relation to social contexts. Like Yahweh, they are jealous gods. They operate in the psyche of the user similarly to operating systems in computers: one for each. Up-grades are rare!

    He goes on to specify that the dichotomy isn’t good/evil “but between different ideas of the good”, and how consumerism must be modified. “These arguments have their roots in long-ago fights. Voltaire and Rousseau disputing whether natural law truly is a guide for humankind. Jefferson and Hamilton jousting over the ideal character of citizens.”

    “Malthus scoffing at the claims of the radical philosophers William Godwin and Nicholas de Condorcet that science could overcome limits set by the physical world. T.H. Huxley, the famed defender of Darwin, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford, contending whether biological laws truly apply to creatures with souls. John Muir, champion of the pristine wilderness, squaring off against Gifford Pinchot, evangelist for managing forests with teams of experts. The ecologist Paul Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon betting whether ingenuity can outwit scarcity.”

    “To the philosopher-critic Lewis Mumford, all of these battles were part of a centuries-long struggle between two types of technology, “one authoritiarian, the other democratic, the first system-centered, immensely powerful, but inherently unstable, the other man-centered, relatively weak, but resourceful and durable.” And all of them were about, at least in part, the relationship of our species to Nature”.

    These two avatars have had the residual effect of social archetypes:  each created a type of mass movement within the Greens.  Vogt launched the environmentalists, who derive their mana from conservation and the science of ecology.  Borlaug exemplified man as magician, using his agency as the power of transformation by working with the power of nature.  How he did that, by persevering in a dire situation, to eventually create the Green Revolution, is the story I'll delineate next.  We get to the future by going with the flow, or by striving against it to achieve a goal!

    • Robert Guyton 1.1

      Agriculturalists then, having destroyed much of the planet's vegetative mass, will be the one's to restore it, when need be, Dennis?

      • Dennis Frank 1.1.1

        Depends how the devil is playing it.  Remember he is part of god's plan.  The whole point of being omniscient & omnipotent is to control the game.  That's why the joker was included in the pack…

        But let's put the metanarrative to one side (so as not to bamboozle the punters).  The narrative will likely proceed via text & subtext, as usual.  The prometheans will write the text, being proactive, and the stewards will adhere to the subtext, being reactive.

        So, in the way of the Tao, humanity will proceed on into the future via its combination of yin & yang.  Agriculturalists have been required to feed the masses, so as to boost global population, save everyone from starvation.  Heroic of them, you may think, but the masses have always required champions to project their aspirations onto.  So they promote & reward their champions.

        The poor old conservers tend to get ignored.  Probably why conservatives tend to be sour in disposition.  Mike Joy tells the establishment what they are doing wrong:  you may have noticed the left ignore him as much as the right.  That's because he's anti-establishment, and the left are establishment wannabes.  Always.

        The regeneration ethos, being Green, lies beyond left & right.  Permaculture shows how management of land and ecosystems can boost productivity.  The economists of the left and right have refused to adapt their beliefs accordingly.  Most of them have even refused to think about that.  Green growth is too hard for the establishment to comprehend – even though nature has always provided it!

        • Incognito

          Depends how the devil is playing it.  Remember he is part of god's plan.  The whole point of being omniscient & omnipotent is to control the game.

          God had a damn good laugh when they read that even they already knew you were going to write that 😉

    • RedLogix 1.2

      That contribution (way more than a mere comment) demands re-reading several times. There is a lot of information and names in there I was not aware of. Thank you.

      I guess that puts me pretty firmly in the Borlaugian camp now, although for much of my life I would have identified with the Vogtian ethos. Contrary to what most people here imagine there is a fair bit of unreconstructed hippie lurking somewhere in what passes for my soul. In simple terms I've moved away from Vogt's thesis for the simple, inescapable reason that 8b human (or more) cannot live in a civilisation based on photosynthesis alone. Our ancestors, as smart and ingenious as they were, were locked into a world of scarcity, condemned forever to exploit a thin gruel of subsistence farming and wood burning. This compelled them to compete endlessly for territory, slaves and trade routes, the dark drivers of war and empire, and absolute poverty blighted the lives of most people.

      The discovery of coal and steam boilers changed everything. Within a short 200 year span we saw the end of slavery and old fashioned empire. The first great round of globalisation from 1840 to 1915 culminated in the discover of quantum mechanics, which post WW2 has bequeathed us computing technology and the nuclear bomb, both of which have contributed to an era of unprecedented stability and prosperity … at least in relative terms. (We can of course all imagine a better world … perfections are indeed without limit.) Yet without labouring the point, we all know we are still exploiting our natural planet to a degree that cannot be tolerated indefinitely. 

      In this analysis both the Borlaugians and Voghtians are both right and wrong at the same time. The argument presupposes a trade off between human development and the environment in which people, according to their value system, sort themselves into tribal groups locked into opposition with each other. In the past few months I've been outlining an approach to moving beyond this apparent paradox. It turns out that on a planet of 7b people no-one can have an original thought, and with a bit of searching I found others who've trod this same path before me.

      • Dennis Frank 1.2.1

        Yes, the path to gnosis/enlightenment.  The road less travelled, as M Scott Peck popularised it from a christian perspective.  Tends to be a life-long journey..  😀

        One transcends the binary frame (that induces zero-sum thinking) by adopting an integral frame.  In the '80s holism emerged to do that.  Mostly interpreted as the `big-picture' view, but's there's way more to it than that.

        Like you, I drifted down the Vogtian path in terms of my Green-thinking affiliation, but was always instinctively promethean a la Borlaug in my lifestyle choices.  The generators of the hippie ethos were actually unrelenting in their promethean praxis (essential text:  The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and it was only the trend followers who, led by Time magazine, wandered off into the land of cliché & laziness.  Fun, hence hedonism, was the lure.

        And you are right to point to the economic context.  Capitalism fed, clothed & enriched those who, in the early sixties, broke the mould and pioneered the cultural trend of psychedelics.  Money made leisure and adventure possible.  Here, I had to fund my sojourn on the commune via working on the wharves and in wool-stores.

        Unfortunately our rebellion against conformity failed to produce a viable alternative, and exploring ways to replace or morph capitalism has led to a plethora of options rather than an alternative system (thus far).

        • Sacha

          our rebellion against conformity failed to produce a viable alternative

          Valuable lesson.

          • Robert Guyton

            There are viable alternatives, they're just unpalatable to most people. Many of the nutrient-rich foods enjoyed by our primate ancestors are unpalatable to us ; more fool civilised humans.


            • Poission

              Mid victorians had a better diet,were physically stronger,and smarter.The constraint was the introduction of cheap sugar that destroyed teeth,and reduced physical attributes.

              The increased sugar consumption caused such damage to the nation’s teeth that by 1900 it was commonly noted that people could no longer chew tough foods and were unable to eat many vegetables, fruits and nuts [26]. For all these reasons the late-Victorian diet actually damaged the health of the nation, and the health of the working classes in particular.

              The decline was astonishingly rapid. The mid-Victorian navvies, who as seasonal workers were towards the bottom end of the economic scale, could routinely shovel up to 20 tons of earth per day from below their feet to above their heads [27]. This was an enormous physical effort that required great strength, stamina and robust good health. Within two generations, however, male health nationally had deteriorated to such an extent that in 1900, five out of 10 young men volunteering for the second Boer War had to be rejected because they were so undernourished. They were not starved, but had been consuming the wrong foods



              • RedLogix

                It's true that human diet has not necessarily improved as we've become more civilised. This is a complex and tricky topic with many contentious aspects.

                Demographic research suggests that at the beginning of the 19th century no country in the world had a life expectancy longer than 40 years.2 Every country is shown in red. Almost everyone in the world lived in extreme poverty, we had very little medical knowledge, and in all countries our ancestors had to prepare for an early death.

                Over the next 150 years some parts of the world achieved substantial health improvements. A global divide opened. In 1950 the life expectancy for newborns was already over 60 years in Europe, North America, Oceania, Japan and parts of South America. But elsewhere a newborn could only expect to live around 30 years. The global inequality in health was enormous in 1950: People in Norway had a life expectancy of 72 years, whilst in Mali this was 26 years. Africa as a whole had an average life expectancy of only 36 years, while people in other world regions could expect to live more than twice as long.

                The decline of child mortality was important for the increase of life expectancy, but as we explain in our entry on life expectancy increasing life expectancy was certainly not only about falling child mortality – life expectancy increased at all ages.


                My suggested explanation for this contradiction, improving life span accompanied by marginal diets and health improvements (most people today die from chronic illness or various modes of suicide) … is that this would be expected during a transitional phase.  While we have been improving public health (the single biggest driver was clean water and waste disposal) at the same time our agricultural developments were not necessarily in step. 

                So in the 19th century we saw increases in population, but without a commensurate improvement in agriculture and food quality. Over time this imbalance has shifted again; because agriculture is now so much more productive, most people in the developed world today can access very high quality diets if they so choose.

            • Sacha

              There are viable alternatives, they’re just unpalatable to most people.

              Politically-viable counts too. Takes more skill than youthful rebellion or wistful dreaming do.

        • RedLogix

          I'll continue my response here, rather than scattergunning all over the thread.

          Having outlined both sides of the Borlaugian and Vogtian argument, it becomes clearer how to resolve the paradox.

          Human technologies, from the development of agriculture onward, have increasingly liberated both us and nature from our dependence on it. If we imagine our hunter gatherer existence as akin to infancy, our dependence on nature was absolute. Also it has to be said our impact on it per capita was much greater; we could only sustain tiny populations.

          The past 10,000 years have seen us progress through a rough childhood and turbulent adolescence, developing new technologies that have enabled us to become more efficient, less resource intensive … less dependent on the natural world. But as our population grew our total impact has increased.

          The crucial idea is to accelerate this de-coupling from nature, to become independent to the degree possible. Just as an adult stands on their own feet no longer dependent on their parents, but remains connected to them for social and spiritual reasons. Or to put it in more pragmatic terms … we will save nature by not using it.

          In this respect energy use remains the central question. "Decoupling human well-being from the destruction of nature requires the conscious acceleration of emergent decoupling processes. Plentiful access to modern energy is an essential prerequisite for human development and for decoupling development from nature. the availability of inexpensive energy allows poor people around the world to stop using forests for fuel. It allows humans to grow more food on less land, using energy-heavy inputs such as fertilizer and tractors. Energy allows humans to recycle waste water and desalinate sea water to spare rivers and aquifers. It allows humans to cheaply recycle metal and plastic rather than to mine and refine them as raw minerals. Cheap and abundant energy will allow the capture of carbon from the atmosphere to reduce the accumulated carbon that drives global warming."

          An Ecomodernist Manifesto

          But there are only three known energy source candidates that will meet this need; improved high efficiency solar PV, new generations of highly safe and reliable nuclear fission from uranium/thorium cycles, and as yet unachieved nuclear fusion.  Of these the first is being pursued with great vigor and will achieve much, but has serious limitations. The last is still decades away from being useful. It leaves an improved generation of nuclear fission energy on the critical path out of our development trap.

          At the same time, and I should give equal weight to this, while humanity can de-couple from our dependence on and exploitation of nature … we will assume an ever greater role in protecting and conserving it. All conservation is essentially anthropogenic, it inevitably involves human choices. Even if by 2100 maybe 80% of people will live in cities, our spiritual connection to nature will remain as powerful as ever, if not more so. Our desire to know that wild places exist will be important to us, no matter how synthetic our daily lives become.

          In this the virtues of the Vogtian faction will play a vital role. Our ability to deeply understand natural processes and systems will be absolutely critical to our ability to protect them. 

          Here is my my thesis, there is no trade off between human development and the environment if we pursue both goals efficiently. Both can only flourish if we mature beyond the narrow conceits and constraints of our history, and in this I am deeply optimistic.

          • Dennis Frank

            Yes, both/and logic is required, to produce the integral view.  I printed out that manifesto a few years ago, read it through.  I recall encountering no red flags, and it seemed okay if somewhat tepid.  I can see how some who hew towards deep ecology (I'm one by instinct) would say these people don't really get it.

            Wikipedia:  "ecomodernism distinguishes itself from other schools of thought, including sustainable development, ecological economics, degrowth or the steady-state economy, population reduction, laissez-faire economics, the "soft energy" path, and central planning. Ecomodernism considers many of its core ideologies borrowed from American pragmatism, political ecology, evolutionary economics, and modernism. Diversity of ideas and dissent are claimed values in order to avoid the intolerance born of extremism and dogmatism."

            Modernism is a red flag but if they just borrow from it (rather than be bound by it) I would judge each resulting inclusion on its merits.

            The thing about Green fundamentalism is that it is essentially a loser's stance.  Humanity will not go there unless something like nuclear war obliterates traditional economy and culture.  So the promethean archetype will continue to play its part.  Genetics at the cutting edge is now verging on the fine line between helping nature along its improvement trajectory and engineering unsafe products.  I tend to go for the precautionary principle.  Humanity tends to go for the promethean option…  🤔

            [Too many links triggered Auto-Moderation]

            • Dennis Frank

              Oh, thanks, I wondered what happened.  Thought I must've had a senior moment and deleted it.  Which has actually happened in the past!  😆

            • RedLogix

              Yes I suspect any document with a dozen or so contributors is going to shorn of much life and colour, but in essence I think they've steered an accurate path. And as you point out they've omitted any mention of genetic tech.

              "The specific technological paths that people might take toward climate mitigation remain deeply contested. Theoretical scenarios for climate mitigation typically reflect their creators’ technological preferences and analytical assumptions while all too often failing to account for the cost, rate, and scale at which low-carbon energy technologies can be deployed."

              In this they're correct so the manifesto has held back from making overly specific projections, but there is no doubt the Promethian impulse cannot be denied. We will of course make mistakes, but from these we have the chance to learn unless we retreat into fear and irrationality. In this, like you, I emphatically reject the Green fundamentalism which has done so much to indulge in this.

              For me it started as a young man deep in the Southern Alps, I fell deeply in love with remote wildernesses; they remains the one thing I miss the most about NZ. Yet I was also aware of an insoluble contradiction, that my very presences in these places to some degree detracted the very reason why I loved them. And the more people who came, the worse it got. From there it was not a big leap to arrive at a dark place where the idea that 'people are bad' drives a Malthusian, anti-human ideology.

              And at the same time I've worked 40 years as a technologist, much of it in heavy industry. The very embodiment of the promethean archetype. What can I say, of course our current technology exploits nature in all manner of ways we cannot sustain. If for no other reason than it's an offense against our aesthetic and spiritual being.

              As you say, all life is a journey. The Eco Modernist movement  may well prove only a way station, but I think it is one we must pass through. For me personally it's offers a resolution to the dark paradox of human development vs the planet who gave birth to us.

          • Dennis Frank

            Sustainable development was promoted as the required conceptual overview in the 1990s.  I saw no inherent problem, since it serves the purpose you suggest in your final paragraph.  Greens mostly didn't like it, due to their entirely reasonable suspicion that it would be used to condone business as usual.  Time proved them right, of course, but that did not invalidate the principle!

            Since both/and logic applies, the integral view remains essential.  The conceptual battle has since been won globally, re energy usage, and civilisation is trending on the consequent implementation trajectory.  You're right that tech/usage will increasingly evolve to minimise our collective take from Gaia.

            I printed that manifesto some years back & read through it.  Seemed okay if rather tepid.  Deep ecology is the missing bit.  But they are prometheans, so being gung ho comes with the territory.  Genetics at the cutting edge is now producing products inherently marginal:  natural or artificial?  Benign or malign?  I tend to use of the precautionary principle whereas humanity tends to shoot first, think later.  So the prometheans are in the driver's seat…

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    Norman Borlaug’s Norwegian immigrant parents fled the slaughter in which the Dakota Sioux killed hundreds of immigrants, and drove their covered wagon into Iowa, settling into a cluster of about forty families. They built their log cabin. Half the village were Norwegian and most of the others Czech – called Bohemian then. Enclave relations were friendly but distant: “I talked to three older men who had grown up in its Norwegian half. All had been told by their parents not to date Bohemian girls.”  [quotes from The Wizard and the Prophet, C. Mann, 2018]

    The Borlaug children “did chores, rising before dawn and working until after sunset. Boys hoes weeds, dug potatoes, milked cows, stacked hay, hauled wood and water, fed chicken, cattle, and horses. Girls tended the vegetable garden, worked the washboard, cleaned house, mended clothing, cooked meals… The Bolaugs were subsistence farmers, and if they wanted to eat there was no alternative.”

    Norman became good at school sport and was offered entry to university on that basis where he got by working two jobs. He made the college wrestling team (much later, in 2002, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame). He graduated in forestry and got a job with the Forest Service in the late 1930s.

    Charles Stakman became “one of the first professors in the university’s newly-established department of plant pathology (the study of plant diseases). By the time Borlaug encountered Stakman, he was a campus legend. Charismatic, ambitious, rarely modest, Stakman did not view science as a disinterested quest for knowledge. It was a tool – maybe the tool – for human betterment… Borlaug attended one of his lectures. The subject was Stakman’s special passion, the black stem-rust fungus, a parasite that attacks wheat.”

    “Stem rust is little known today outside agriculture, but it was long one of humankind’s worst afflictions, responsible for millennia of famine. Borlaug knew it well; a stem-rust outbreak had driven his grandparents out of the wheat business in 1878. Epidemics in 1904 and 1916 had led to misery throughout the Middle West and northern Europe. Stakman had been fighting the fungus for more than two decades.”

    “Stem rust was long so pervasive and unstoppable that the Romans viewed it as a malign deity, and sacrificed rust-coloured dogs to appease it… stem rust is a wildly complex creature, a triumph of evolutionary guile. “All five types of spore reproduction!” Lyn Margulis once told me, her eyes agleam. “What’s not to like?”

    “The spores, a millionth of an inch long, cannot be seen by the naked eye. The slightest wind carries them in a thin mist high into the atmosphere… a single acre of moderately-rusted wheat, Stakman once estimated, can produce 50 trillion spores.” In 1943 Stakman was asked to develop scientific agriculture in Mexico: “The request originated with US Vice-President Henry Wallace.” Wallace became the US Secretary of Agriculture just like his dad. He “began breeding experiments as a child, discovering for himself the phenomenon of `hybrid vigor’ – that some hybrid organisms can outperform their parents by mixing their genetic inheritances.”

    “Five to ten thousand years ago, indigenous geniuses in south-central Mexico developed the first maize from a much smaller wild plant, a grass called teosinte. Since that time Indian farmers had bred thousands of varieties of maize, each chosen for its taste, texture, colour, and suitability for a particular climate and soil type. Red, blue, yellow, orange, black, pink, purple, creamy-white, and multi-coloured – the jumble of colours of Mexican maize reflects the nation’s jumble of cultures and environmental zones.”

    “Maize is open-pollinated – it scatters pollen far and wide. Wheat and rice plants, by contrast, typically pollinate themselves. Because wind often blows pollen from one small Mexican maize field onto another, varieties are constantly mixing… Thus there is both a steady flow of genes among maize varieties and a force counteracting that flow. This roughly balanced genetic sea, maintained by farmers’ individual choices, is a resource not only for Mexico but the entire world; it is the genetic endowment of one of the Earth’s most important foodstuffs.”

  3. Robert Guyton 3

    When it comes down to it (and it has), each of us has to maintain their sense of worth to counter despair and angst. I do it by sowing the seeds of trees, knowing that if my ideas and proposals come to nought, I will still be adding to the world's forest.

    • RedLogix 3.1

      What if there was a cure for the despair and angst? Would you be interested?

      • Robert Guyton 3.1.1

        "What if there was a cure for the despair and angst? Would you be interested?"

        There is and I would be, if I knew I was prone to suffering from it. Anyone in its clammy grip might think differently. It's important to get in early, so people know there's something on the other side and important to be at the other side, ready to receive the survivors.

        • Incognito

          The only cure or remedy is action. This, in turn, brings hope. Hope is not expectation as such because it is open-ended and uncertain but it does encourage further action and grows resilience.

    • Dennis Frank 3.2

      Now that Trump has proclaimed his intention to do likewise, and command the planting of a trillion, the prospect of a revival of the world forest looms.  If that ain't just hot air, I mean!

      Re despair & angst, I recall some of that during the '80s, and I look back on it as a rite of passage kind of thing.  Folks who show the better way ahead via their values & lifestyle choices often have to do a period of toughening to become resilient.

      • joe90 3.2.1

        Lotsa hot air!

        The impact of human civilization on global biomass has not been limited to mammals but has also profoundly reshaped the total quantity of carbon sequestered by plants. A worldwide census of the total number of trees (32), as well as a comparison of actual and potential plant biomass (17), has suggested that the total plant biomass (and, by proxy, the total biomass on Earth) has declined approximately twofold relative to its value before the start of human civilization. The total biomass of crops cultivated by humans is estimated at ≈10 Gt C, which accounts for only ≈2% of the extant total plant biomass (17).


  4. Dennis Frank 4

    Wallace drove his own car to Mexico and toured the farms with their agriculture secretary, who advised him that US govt aid “would be seen as yankee meddling”, so they decided to use the Rockefeller Foundation as intermediary. The foundation despatched Stakman, plus a Harvard plant geneticist who specialised in Latin American maize, plus a Cornell soil expert. “The three men spent six weeks in the summer of 1941 inspecting maize fields from the Rio Grande to the Guatemalan border.”

    They reported that “The great majority of people in Mexico are poorly fed, poorly clad, and poorly housed” and the general standard of living is “pitifully low”. “And things were getting worse. In 1940 the country harvested a third less maize than it had in 1920, even though it planted almost a million more acres of the crop. Meanwhile, the population had risen by more than 5 million.”

    The social context: wealthy elites were being dispossessed of their estates by the govt of President Cardenas (who gave them to peasant collectives) and were fighting back. The govt authorised a trial project by the Foundation, and it was launched in February 1943 – incorporating stem-rust research. Norman had graduated with a master’s degree in fungal research in 1941 and was hired to work on the project. He started in 1945 with two Mexican agronomist assistants. They travelled widely, harvesting diverse wheat-heads (8600), giving them 110,000 seeds, then hand-plowed the ground, one steering and the others pulling the plow in turns. After planting those seeds in the first field, they did another with American wheat samples sent by Spakman.

    As the plants grew, those infected with stem-rust had to be yanked. He got two more assistants, women (“a break with tradition”). Even so, at ten seconds inspecting each plant, it took two weeks to complete inspection of the plantation. “That wasn’t fast enough to catch stem-rust; they worked longer hours.” The number of plants that survived this process “shrank almost to zero”.

    Prometheus as social archetype doesn’t just work like magic. As with any technological innovation, there’s often plenty of hard work in the process of development, defeats along the way, things often get arduous & grim. Sleeping bag on dirt floor for Norman, no shower. All the Mexican seeds failed to produce resistant plants, and only four of the American types survived. Norman realised the Rockefeller Foundation program was doomed to fail so he innovated. The project head reluctantly agreed to the new plan – provided it was kept secret! The plan was to grow in two different latitudes and climates, “a violation of basic botanical dogma”.

    Then the project was visited by Herbert Hayes, “a revered Minnesota plant breeder” who was “shocked” by Borlaug’s lateral thinking. The project head felt under pressure, and Norman quit his job in a crisis meeting, then got drunk, so upsetting his wife that she wouldn’t let him into the house at first. Then there was one of those serendipity coincidences that Jung called synchronicity. He opened a letter that evening, from the neighbouring Mexico farmer, which had been mailed in duplicate to the project head.

    The farmer, returning from church, had asked Norman why he was working the plow by hand on a sunday. In broken Spanish, Norman explained. The farmer then loaned him a tractor. Then he decided to do something about the situation via letter: “Perhaps it is the first time in the history of Mexico that any scientist tried to help our farmers… But why is it, with such a great force like the Rockefeller Foundation, that you do not give your men the tools and machinery they must have to fight with?” Norman got to work at 7am next morning, hungover, and encountered Stakman in the office. Sometime later his boss told him to go back to Mexico and Norman realised he must have read the Mexican’s letter.

    Then he got lucky again. “in a long-ago genetic accident, a snippet of DNA in one Korean wheat plant had dropped out of the gene” rendering it `non-photoperiodic’. “Equally fortuitously, the mutated gene had been passed on through the generations – ending up, geneticists believe, in the fields of an Italian breeder, from which it passed to Kenya, where it was collected by a Texas breeder and passed on, all unknowing, to Borlaug.”

    With this mutation “the plant sprouts and grows as soon as it can”. Normally, “wheat controls its growth by a kind of biochemical clock that measures day length” – so plants wait for frosts to finish, and grow in warm spring weather. Hayes’ orthodoxy was based on that and he was dead right about normal plants. The Green Revolution was produced by renegade plants grown by renegade Norman Borlaug. Next season he had produced “five new varieties that were photo-period insensitive, rust-resistant, and highly productive. Despite their doubts, a few Sonora farmers tried them out – and nearly doubled their wheat harvests.”

    [quotes from The Wizard and the Prophet, C. Mann, 2018]

    • RedLogix 4.1

      Above I dwelt on the three great technological transitions, coal power that enabled the first great period of globalisation, quantum mechanics which has been core to the second great period since WW2, and now you delve into the role of genetics that will enable us to fully decouple from the limits of the natural world.

      These three threads need to be interwoven.

      • Dennis Frank 4.1.1

        Not a task for me, I suspect.  I agree that a genuinely forward-thinking overview of the 21st century would be valuable.  Some have been attempted, but those I have seen are either minimalist or partial.  Anyone interested ought to google futurists, but the results may prove underwhelming.

        How do I see our current situation, in respect of tech I mean?  Still driven by folks with assumptions & beliefs determined long ago.  Antique belief systems clutter the technoscape.  Just look at the state of social media, for instance!  🙄

        • RedLogix

          I agree that a genuinely forward-thinking overview of the 21st century would be valuable. 

          I've made a stab at it above at 12:26am , I'd be interested in your thoughts.

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    After that came the problem of stalks not being strong enough to carry the weight of larger seeds, and crops being destroyed in strong winds as a result. So he had to selectively breed shorter stems. After that came a virulent new strain of stem-rust. Testing showed Norman that only four out of 66,000 wheat varieties were immune. The following year, there were only two. Although Norman now had a keen supporter in the head of the project, the situation was grim. It was now mid-1950s.

    Cross-pollination of stem-rust resistant plants with others possessing desired characteristics was the method applied each year, and those which combined all the best features became the seed stock for next year. By 1960 he was confident enough to organize a field day for visiting farmers. “In the ass-end of nowhere, Borlaug and his Mexican team had created something new to the world: an all-purpose wheat.” [quotes from The Wizard and the Prophet, C. Mann, 2018]

    “In 1968, the year a US aid official coined the term Green Revolution to describe the Rockefeller package, Borlaug gave a victory-lap speech at a wheat meeting in Australia. Twenty years before, he said, Mexican farmers had reaped about 760 pounds of wheat from every acre planted. Now the figure had risen to almost 2,500 pounds per acre”, almost “triple the harvest from the same land.”

    “The same thing was happening in India”, he said. “The first Green Revolution wheat had been tested there in the 1964/65 growing season… Now it was covering almost seven million acres. The same thing was happening in Pakistan.” Then there was “Green Revolution rice – also short and disease-resistant – which was spreading across Asia.”

    Despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, Norman remained little known. The msm prefer bad news – saving more lives than anyone else ever doesn’t rate. “But he and the Green Revolution had become exemplary to a certain sort of scientist, journalist, and environmentalist.” Winning a victory against impossible odds in a moral cause does tend to make someone a paragon of virtue! Too bad scientist as Promethean avatar is a psychosocial equation too difficult for most people to comprehend. But it does prove that lateral-thinking, used by a minority of one non-conformist, in a suitable context, is a lever powerful enough to shift the world onto a better path to the future.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 5.1

      "Further comprehensive life cycle assessments of IUA [innovative urban agriculture] are needed, especially in developing countries, to prevent an increase of the environmental burden and to balance the interests of people, planet, and profit."

      The interests of profit!

      “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
      -Mark 8:36

      • Dennis Frank 5.1.1

        Exactly.  Whose interests?  Who owns the land?  Who shares the profit?  The scientists are part of the establishment, so their conceptual framework takes for granted the traditional private-profit paradigm.  To make genuine progress, we must leave that behind.  But realising that is the easy bit.

        The hard bit is what to replace it with.  That's what the Greens and the left have been dancing around for so long.  Well, the small portion of each tribe that realises the task is to redesign the fundamentals of the system – most of each tribe takes refuge in evading that task.

        The majority always wins in democracy, so that status quo will persist by default.  Which means current landowners, and copyright owners, take most of the value most of the time.  Majority rule will ensure such privatisation continues.

        • Drowsy M. Kram

          "so that status quo will persist" – sadly I agree.  BAU is broken, and we cling to it – truly "The devil we know".   https://thedevilweknow.com/

        • Incognito

          Scientists are beholden to the establishment as much as you and I, possibly even more so. The institutions and companies they work for and the finding agencies they apply to for their funding (including salaries and overheads) all dictate more or less the same rules. Even so-called Public-Good funding makes economic returns imperative. Just check out MBIE, for example: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/science-and-technology/science-and-innovation/funding-information-and-opportunities/

          Not everybody is happy with the traditional profit motive that supports (or fuels rather) science albeit that not all are strictly private profit as all kinds of shared arrangements are being pursued that one might loosely categorised as PPPs.

          How many scientists do you know who have become rich from doing science? The vast majority work hard for their salaries with limited career prospects here in NZ. The managerial bureaucracy that rules with an iron fist in a velvet glove quickly subdues aspirations and kills off delicate dreams that a few might dare to treasure.

          Ironically, knowledge is an unusual ‘commodity’ in that it becomes more valuable the more it is shared. The system, however, is cleverly set up for many ticket-clippers to benefit from knowledge generation and application without actually adding anything. In other words, they are blood-sucking parasites. One such an example is the science publishing industry although they’d argue that they add value by acting as gatekeepers conducting QC (quality control) through their peer-review processes. This is analogues to water companies making good money by treating the water and piping it to your home and while ‘nobody owns the water’ or the overseas-owned water bottling plants adding insane profit margins on a natural resource that belongs to the commons.

          To blame democracy for this is a red herring.

          The way to break this cycle is to give access or usage rights away for free or for peanuts. Open Source and Creative Commons are examples but there are many more and I think we’ll see more of this in the near future. One bastion that should come down is the pharmaceutical industry, which charges criminal prices for life-saving drugs. This creates inequities and distortions that actual leads to loss of quality of life for many and actual loss of lives depending on where you live.

          • Dennis Frank

            To blame democracy for this is a red herring.  The way to break this cycle is to give access or usage rights away for free or for peanuts. Open Source and Creative Commons are examples but there are many more and I think we’ll see more of this in the near future.

            I hope so.  A sharing culture that is based on mutual-benefit collaboration is what the world needs.  My point about democracy is that majority rule prevents system change, while your point is that a new system can emerge from within the matrix of the old, via design and innovation.

            I agree, and nature does operate like that sometimes (mutation for instance).  However the inertial effect of human nature is tremendous and inventive folks usually struggle to make headway against it.  Already we have seen conventional business invade the online world and dominate it, marginalising the liberators who created it!

  6. Dennis Frank 6

    "In our primary school leaving book, my teacher wrote “Green MP” in the section where they predict your future job," writes former Green Party policy co-convenor and candidate Jack McDonald (Taranaki, Ngāti Haupoto).  https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/24-01-2020/jack-mcdonald-maori-party-candidate/

    "I was grounded in an indigenous and anti-establishment world view. But they were never party political nor were they activists; we didn’t go on marches when I was young like the children of many left-wing people do.  That was until I was 12, when my mum and my nana took me out of school for the day to join them on the Foreshore and Seabed hīkoi on the final leg from Te Papa to parliament."

    "That day was a defining one in my early life, and it politicised me like nothing else could have. I will always remember arriving at parliament and seeing the Green Party’s Pākehā MPs holding their “Honour Te Tiriti” banner on the forecourt."

    "I joined the Greens when I was 16, and less than two years later in 2011 I was asked to stand for the party in the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate. While I look back in amazement at the audacity and self-confidence that I must have had to stand for parliament as an 18-year-old, my candidacy was significant in that it was the first time the Greens had stood in the electorate."

    "Today I am announcing that I am endorsing my whanaunga, Māori Party candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, for the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate in 2020.  I couldn’t be more impressed with Debbie, whether it’s through her work as CEO of Ngāti Ruanui, as an environmental advocate or as a grassroots indigenous activist."

    "I’m still a member of the Greens and intend to give them my party vote this election, as they are still the party that best represents my progressive politics.  I want to use this as an opportunity to model a different way of doing politics. In Te Tai Hauāuru we demonstrate that you can work cooperatively alongside aligned parties to push forward shared kaupapa, in a way that does not undermine either party."

    Kia kaha Jack.  Collaboration is praxis when sustained, and we need more.  Pan-tribal thinking, based on common ground, helps to extend consensus.  Working with others opens pathways to the future that, when followed, deepens the collaborative ethos via flexible option-taking.

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