Norman Borlaug 'helped provide bread for a hungry world'

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 13, 2009 11:15 am

I don’t know what we can do to help these people, but we’ve got to do something.

Norman E. Borlaug, the plant scientist who did more than anyone else in the 20th century to teach the world to feed itself and whose work was credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives, died Saturday night. (The New York Times)


Comments (6)

Links to this Post

  1. The Council for Biotechnology Information | September 15, 2009
  1. Cain

    I looked around myself today and realized Mr. Borlaug’s work was in the home countries of many of my friends. How do you properly thank someone who feed the people you love when they needed it most? I don’t know the words and doubt they exist but I will say, thank you very much Sir.

    To those that are interested, Mr. Boulaug was interviewed on the Penn Jillette Radio Show on 8/8/2006. It’s available on iTunes.

  2. Norman Borlaug was debatably the greatest person in the ‘green’ revolution, but where Norman would have been the first to have said that this is only just one of the pieces in the jigsaw of human survival. For the realisation of a world without starvation, great wars et al, we have to look eleswhere and fast, as time is simply running out.

    In this respect the way that our politicians are working and addressing mounting global problems is like Nero fiddling whilst Rome burns. They are oblivious to the strains on humankind’s constant growth and are impotent in preventing global Agamemnon coming in this present century. Whilst they try and fix the financial system through the people’s wealth, they impoverish tens of millions yearly. The system is a destructive force and where they are the conductors, forever adding fuel to the burning mass that goes on underneath. Over the next 20 years the world will start to witness a far more destabilised world, where wars become a common event. By then there will be over 8 billion humans on planet Earth, a significant number unable to sustain themselves. Indeed, the vast dwindling resources problem will create the base and start-line for global conflict, the size and ferocity never seen before. Therefore as Rome did indeed burn, so will humankind eventually. This is not pie-in-the-sky scare mongering, but sheer fact and is conditioned only by common sense and what will eventually come to pass. That is why armaments throughout the world are increasing every year and where by 2030 through this vast expenditure by governments worldwide, could well be the largest industry in the world turning over in excess of $5 trillion annually. Indeed in the case of the USA alone, the Friends Committee on National Legislation calculates for Fiscal Year 2009 that the majority of US tax payer’s money goes towards war – some 44.4% of all taxes. Therefore whilst our politicians continue to place their faith in that the strongest will prevail, they lose sight of any possibility of a peaceful future world. Indeed again, they fuel the whole process of human destruction and where their combined interests of relying upon weapons of mass destruction to protect themselves and the preservation of the capitalist system that supports such an unholy mechanism, is absolutely flawed. In time and when things are too late, politicians will realise the folly of their mismanagement of the world order, for by then all that they once held so dear will have disappeared completely – and the rest of humankind with it.

    And where all the above dictated by a vastly overpopulated world, unimaginable depletion of natural resources that will not be able to support all human life (it only takes 15% of the global population to be affected to cause an irreversible situation) , lack of energy and food, the destruction of arable land by continual erosion (both the hot climate effect and rise in sea levels) and the decimation of the oceans through industrial pollution and energy resources extraction on a momentous scale.

    Dr. David Hill, DSc(Hon)
    World Innovation Foundation Charity
    Bern, Switzerland

  3. MadScientist

    @Dr. Hill: I think society is indeed defective with these silly games of politics rather than informed discussion and action, but for now that is the framework within which we must work and humans have their peculiarities. Many people are oblivious to how they are supplied with their daily goods – food, fuel, electricity – it’s all magic. Few appreciate what goes on and the vast amount of resources consumed by people around the world. As Jared Diamond points out, “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron; unfortunately people around the globe love to parrot the phrase. Borlaug did contribute a lot to feeding people around the world and hopefully such work by Borlaug and others will buy a little time to start addressing the problem of an overpopulated globe. Resources are limited and no amount of technology can stretch dwindling resources. [You probably meant armageddon, not Agamemnon.]

  4. Guy

    Reading about Norman Borlaug is inspirational. I’m not as pessimistic as Dr. Hill. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles to get this far in terms of scientific and technological innovation. There’s no reason to think we can’t solve future crisis so long as good people like Norman Borlaug exists to confront them. We probably have several up and coming young scientists that will be the ones to tackle problems like overpopulation and climate change. The public needs get behind them instead of standing in their way.

  5. fams

    Norman was one of kind. “His total devotion to ending famine and hunger revolutionized food security ” – just read this from Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme. Worth a read:


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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