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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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Feb 19, 2018

In forty years, some scientists project that Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that many people? What kind of world will it be? According to Charles Mann’s newest book The Wizard and the Prophet, the experts answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups—Wizards and Prophets. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding ecologist and environmentalist who believed that if we use more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. The Wizards are the heirs of agronomist and humanitarian Norman Borlaug, whose research effectively wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation.

Mann, author of the seminal environmental histories 1491 and 1493, joined us to discuss the nuance of these diverging viewpoints and assessed the four great challenges humanity’s growing population faces—food, water, energy, and climate change—grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. He offered an insightful analysis about the outlook for our increasingly crowded Earth, and opened the conversation to lay groundwork for how the people of the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow’s world. Charles Mann was joined in conversation by Edward Wolcher, Town Hall Seattle’s Curator of Lectures.

Charles C. Mann is a correspondent for The AtlanticScience, and Wired, and has written for FortuneThe New York TimesSmithsonian, Technology Review, Vanity FairThe Washington Post, as well as the TV network HBO and the series Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation.

Recorded live at Seattle University by Town Hall Seattle on Thursday, January 25, 2018.