Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Studium Generale

The Edge of the Petri dish: Wizards and Prophets

Thursday 31 October 2019
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

In 30 to 40 years, Earth’s population will reach ten billion people, most of whom will be middle-class. Can our world support all those affluent people? Can we provide enough food, water, and energy while avoiding the worst effects of climate change? For decades the intellectual blueprints for answering these urgent questions have been provided by two deeply divided groups, “Wizards” and “Prophets", each inspired by a little-known twentieth-century scientist. Wizards follow Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), the Nobel-winning plant breeder who was the main figure in the "Green Revolution", which doubled or even tripled global grain yields in the 1970s and 1980s, preventing millions of deaths from hunger. Borlaug has become the emblem of the belief that science and technology, when properly applied, can help us produce our way out of our most pressing problems. Ornithologist William Vogt (1902-68) was the principle founder of the environmental movement, the 20th century's only enduring ideology. In best-selling books and powerful species, he laid down the Prophets’ fundamental argument: that the world has limits that humankind transgresses at its peril. The two proposed solutions oppose each other, and provide radically different visions of the world to come.

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