Gregg Easterbrook has a column about the American Nobel Peace Prize winner who isn't Jimmy Carter.
The greatest living American is Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and joins Jimmy Carter as the two living American-born laureates around whose necks this distinction as been placed. Do you know Borlaug's achievement? Would you recognize him if he sat on your lap? Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize, yet is anonymous in the land of his birth.
Born 1914 in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug has saved more lives than anyone else who has ever lived. A plant breeder, in the 1940s he moved to Mexico to study how to adopt high-yield crops to feed impoverished nations. Through the 1940s and 1950s, Borlaug developed high-yield wheat strains, then patiently taught the new science of Green Revolution agriculture to poor farmers of Mexico and nations to its south. When famine struck India and Pakistan in the mid-1960s, Borlaug and a team of Mexican assistants raced to the Subcontinent and, often working within sight of artillery flashes from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, sowed the first high-yield cereal crop in that region; in a decade, India's food production increased sevenfold, saving the Subcontinent from predicted Malthusian catastrophes. Borlaug moved on to working in South America. Every nation his green thumb touched has known dramatic food production increases plus falling fertility rates (as the transition from subsistence to high-tech farm production makes knowledge more important than brawn), higher girls' education rates (as girls and young women become seen as carriers of knowledge rather than water) and rising living standards for average people. Last fall, Borlaug crowned his magnificent career by persuading the Ford, Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations to begin a major push for high-yield farming in Africa, the one place the Green Revolution has not reached.
Basically, Borlaug single-handedly allowed the way of life most Americans enjoy. By inventing a process that increased crop yields exponentially, he created a way for food to stay cheap and easily available for both animals and humans.
I was talking to my dad along these lines just last night. One of the golden oldiest station was playing songs from 1969.
"Bread cost 23 cents a loaf in 1969," said the radio personality (are there disc jockeys anymore?), "and the average American made $5,000 per year."
$5,000? That's $2.60 an hour. So, a loaf of bread cost far more than the average loaf does these days (about $2).
If not for Borlaug's invention, that loaf of bread would be far higher and, rather than having a problem with obesity in this country, we'd have more malnutrition.
It's a pity that Borlaug's accomplishments are ignored by our society. And while I don't completely agree with Easterbrook's assessment, he is correct that it's a shame when body counts, political stunts, and a teenage wizard get far more notice than the accomplishments that have enriched all our lives.