To Fix the Climate, We Need a Million Norman Borlaugs

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reenergized the debate about how to reduce risks from the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Many on the left are calling for a massive and expensive government-run Green New Deal, and President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending proposal includes billions to promote clean energy and reduce carbon emissions. On the right there are many who believe we should reduce the risk of climate change with a less costly and more effective innovation-led strategy.

History is on the side of an innovative technology approach. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were many who predicted that population growth would lead to massive starvation as the planet’s resources struggled to keep up with the growing number of mouths to feed. Instead of the predicted “population bomb,” however, we got the Green Revolution thanks to Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Prize for his work in creating strains of wheat that produced increased yields and were disease resistant.

On The Dispatch Podcast last week, Sarah Isgur and Jonah Goldberg expressed the hope that a future Norman Borlaug would do for reducing CO2 emissions what the original Borlaug did to feed the world. There may be a climate Borlaug out there, but it is far more likely that climate change will be solved by a million Borlaugs—small innovators whose efforts add up to big changes. The cost of innovation has declined radically since the Green Revolution of the 1960s, and we are already seeing an explosion of new carbon-reducing technologies.

We typically think that world-changing innovation is driven by a spark of insight in the mind of a genius. Borlaug certainly recognized the potential in crossbreeding strains of wheat to solve problems that plagued farmers. But perhaps more important was his commitment to the effort it took to find the right genetics. 

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