A feature from the Atlantic in 1997 about the scientist Norman Borlaug, who passed away this weekend:

America’s third (Nobel) peace-prize winner … has been the subject of little public notice, and has passed up every opportunity to parley his award into riches or personal distinction. And the third winner’s accomplishments, unlike Kissinger’s, are morally unambiguous.

One reason is that Borlaug’s deeds are done in nations remote from the media spotlight: the Western press covers tragedy and strife in poor countries, but has little to say about progress there. Another reason is that Borlaug’s mission — to cause the environment to produce significantly more food — has come to be seen, at least by some securely affluent commentators, as perhaps better left undone.

“Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

Perhaps the issue is more complicated than that. Perhaps there are some valid concerns regarding genetically modified food. Perhaps we’ll find better ways to increase yields, without the application of chemicals. Perhaps.

But to quote Cynical-C:

If you die after selling between 250 million and 700 million records you’ll be on the front page of every newspaper while the entire world mourns.

If you die after saving between 250 million and 700 million people from starvation, your death notice will be somewhere near the classifieds section.

Sad, but true.