A Planet of Wizards & Prophets

I was reading The Wizard & The Prophet by Charles E Mann on a crowded train one evening, and a pair of young girls shared the seat with me. The name of the book is a highly appealing one especially to little girls, and it piqued their interest too.

One of them was probably in the 1st or 2nd grade, and showed a precocious interest in my reading material. Her curly hair was made into numerous tiny plaits, and her eyes shone with a curiosity that would make her teacher’s heart sing. Her mother’s heart though, quailed. She said, “Now…now don’t bother the nice lady there, let her get on with it. “ I looked up at the mother, and told her that I love reading to children, and though this particular book sounds pedantic when read to children, I did it anyway. It taught me never to under-estimate children – the child soaked in everything, and asked the most engaging questions.


I saw a certain amount of editing would need to be done if I were to sustain the interest of a 6 year old. The book is a non-fiction tome going strong at 678 pages – pages richly adorned with facts and figures, and life histories of all the people involved. I had already been through about 300 pages, so I knew the interesting bits, I knew the bits where a child’s wonder can be kindled. For the rest of the hour, I told her about wheat strains, water tables, and climate change.

The Wizard & The Prophet is a marvelous title because it encapsulates the polarity of our thinking so beautifully, and in this sense, they are both required for us to thrive. The Wizard in the book is Norman Borlaug, who is credited with leading the way for GMO strains of wheat production that along with stalwarts in the field such as Dr M.S. Swaminathan saved billions of people from hunger and starvation. 

William Vogt is the Prophet, who during his study in the Mexican coastal areas observed how we are stretching our natural resources and the effects it has on things as far-flung as bird migratory patterns and climate. In many ways, he is the one who set up the first bells of Global warming and Climate Change. He is the Prophet.

Do you believe in Climate Change? asked the girl wide-eyed.

I told her I did not need to believe Climate Change at all, and the experiments were here to show me how we are changing the air around us, and I showed her the pages outlining the experiment where humanity managed to pin down Carbon Dioxide as the problem-maker in the first place. 

I cannot deny that global warming and climate change has always intrigued me. Carbon Dioxide only accounts for 0.03 % of the atmospheric gases, a remarkably small proportion for it to be causing global warming on such a scale as to change weather patters and cause severe climatic catastrophes, is it not? 

In The Wizard & The Prophet, the author outlines the experiments used in determining that it is indeed carbon dioxide that is the culprit and how our industries are directly contributing to its increase. The correlation between carbon-dioxide levels increasing and global warming followed. I found it a fascinating experiment and one that school laboratories can demonstrate I hope. 

By Scrippsnews [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

(During the spring, there are dips because the Arctic tundra sprouts plant life and plants absorb Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. )

Looking at the worried expression in the child’s face, I asked her, Did she know what we can do to reduce the carbon dioxide?

Trees? she said, and I nodded yes.

I went on to tell her about the excellent example set forth for us by the Kenyans in The Green Belt movement, and how a person called Dr Wangari Maathai helped the Kenyans plant millions of trees over the past 30 years.

Planting the Trees of Kenya, by Claire A Nivola, The Story of Wangari Maathai

Planting the trees of Kenya - Wangari Maathai
Planting the trees of Kenya – Wangari Maathai

She glowed at the simple solution thought of by Dr Wangari Maathai, but her stop had come, and she stepped off the train with her mother who was now listening to her daughter talk to her about The Wizard & The Prophet.

As I reflected on the chat with her, I realized that the narrative around Climate change and Global warming is quite confusing.  It is no wonder that the child framed her question as – “Do you believe in Climate Change?” The prophets in this case are doing their job, but the question of : “How does one realize when an extreme storm or flood is part of a natural occurrence and when it is a direct result of our tampering with the delicate balance of the climate?” is a vexing one.  

The Prophets have sounded the alarm bell often enough, and the Wizards have yet to think of a sustainable solution to it. But there is hope: I am glad to read that China proposes to plant and nurture a forest the size of Ireland to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. 

China to create new forests covering area size of Ireland


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