By Chloe Ward:
I wonder if any CAT members are like me, fans of the podcasts from Radiolab? From New York, it’s part of the movement to make science more accessible to ordinary mortals – something which must be essential if we are to make progress in good decision making.
The subject of one episode has been going around my head for a while now. It was about Fritz Haber – known to many as the inventer of the Haber Bosch process for fixing nitrogen (along with Carl Bosch). This is the chemical process by which artificial fertilisers are made – a subject which makes an organic gardener sit up and listen.
The podcast was all about the concept of “bad” and what makes a bad person. The Haber Bosch process wasn’t all that Fritz Haber invented. He was also responsible for developing the chemical process for gassing huge numbers of soldiers in the first world war trenches. Radiolab tells us that not only did he invent the process, but he personally oversaw its implementation.
So, the radiolab presenters are discussing “badness” and weighing up Fritz Haber’s moral credentials. One the one hand, they say, he killed great numbers of people in a nasty, painful way. On the other hand, he saved many from starvation by increasing agricultural yields with the invention of artificial fertilisers.
But, to those of us who like our nitrogen fixed by bacteria, there’s another issue here – was the invention of the Haber Bosch process a good thing at all, or was it the cause of deeper food security inequalities, and mass destruction by agriculture on an unprecedented scale? Or is it another example of something which could be put to good use at appropriate times if only the human species had a little more wisdom?
Lots to think about, lots of questions – no answers from me. But visit Radiolab here.
Chloe is a tutor on the CAT Gardening for a Sustainable Future course in Late July.