Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Political Nature of Education

In a recent Smithonian Magazine article, it quotes author Vaclav Smil as saying that "two of every five humans on earth today would not be alive if not for [this man's] invention". This inventor won the Nobel Prize in 1918 for drastically altering the future of humanity and probably had an effect on the opening to China to the West in the Nixon days when they recognized that this technology was necessary to them or the country would starve.

I have had a decent education, as had dh who also holds a degree in Agricultural Engineering, yet neither of us had ever heard of Fritz Haber. Neither have you? It may be that your world would have been radically different if not for this man, yet no one seems to know who he was. His contributions have also radically changed the ecology, some of it not for the good.

But Fritz Haber used his brilliance for both good and evil. He used his knowledge of synthetic nitrates to make bombs for the German war efforts, made poisonous gases with other chemicals. He later used his knowledge of synthetic nitrates to produce synthetic fertilizers, which is where the change to our world comes in. The combination of synthetic fertilizers with the development of hybrid corn around the same time revolutionized not only food production, but our entire economy.

I find it interesting that someone who had such an impact on our world would have been written out of history. It is true, a good deal of what he did was used in evil ways, and I am not saying he should be glorified. The truth is, however, that he was an inventor who changed our world, and we should have been taught how this invention has revolutionized our world. It make you wonder how the rest of history has been passed over or re-written for similar reasons. Are we taught in schools the real story?

The article itself has much more to offer about how corn is vital to the American economy and how it is tied to the petroleum industry and how it is affecting global warming. I highly recommend it and the Magazine.

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