This year marks my 20th year writing for Progressive Dairyman. I began when I was 40 years old, and just a month ago I turned 60. I have written to you from a dozen countries, including some of the most challenging environments anywhere.

I have consistently made the case for bringing meaning to our lives through our own interpretation of our environment rather than sitting in a chair waiting for someone to tell us what to do, where to go, who to work with and what course or path we should go down.

I think about this approach given my age now. My father, Jack Gangwer, died of cancer at age 72, a year not too distant for me. My grandfather, Everett Gangwer, died at 92 of old age.

I often think about which age period I will reach. My point is that every so often we pause and reflect about where we are in our lives, if we are bringing meaning to it and what the future may hold.

In this column, I write about the future. Specifically, my basis is a website I have followed for several years. Click here to view this website.


The site is a place for readers to discover what some of the great thinkers of the world think about. The writers are scientists, theologians, philosophers and academics from the entire world.

Every year, an annual question is asked, and the writers reply. This year, 2013, the question is “What should we be worried about?”

Here are three of mine. These are not about me in particular but about humankind specifically.

The first is a black swan event (BSE). These are abrupt, sudden and overwhelming events that significantly change the quality of life for a huge number of people. This is an event that we humans cannot react to in such a manner to prevent suffering and extraordinary shifts in the quality of life.

Consider, for instance, a plant disease that is airborne with multiple vectors. The disease affects cereal crops like wheat, barley, rice and corn – in other words, some of the world’s primary food and feed production.

If our scientists could not find an antidote through treatment and prevention soon enough, the decrease in yield might be so drastic that the food shock, in all parts of the world, would dramatically increase costs and certainly put vast numbers (billions) of people on the edge for finding enough food and paying for it.

Yes, we agricultural scientists think a lot about water and nutrient availability, but I suggest we have multiple workarounds to these challenges.

We may include desalination plants for water, shifting crop type to those with higher transpiration efficiency and the distribution of plant-essential nutrients across the globe to properly apply them at scientific rates.

I also believe that the research into GMO seeds is sufficient to avoid a BSE of inadequate seed germ vigor. But the event of a bacterial or viral plant disease that has adapted so quickly to a genome that we have no mitigating answer to is a gamechanger to be sure.

We cannot prepare very well for this kind of event because we do not know the speed and type of mutation or change in genotype.

The second is governance and those that we elect to govern. I am reasonably sure that the method for selecting leaders is fine; it is the process that is a concern. I suggest the process of how a candidate is selected to run in an election is flawed.

Who decides? What is the influence of money in the selection criteria? And most importantly, what are the minimum qualifications necessary for being elected to a government office?

We know that governance is largely about public service, about honesty with those in the electorate and the wisdom of knowing how to provide services that make the best use of public revenue.

I would like to have an elected official tell me that, before taxes or revenue are discussed, we first need to ask what the government should provide for the good of society that society cannot provide on its own. Then the revenue or tax structure is based on this level and capacity of providing goods and services.

We cannot, in this country or anywhere else, live beyond our means for any long period of time. If we try this approach, the entire global financial structure collapses.

My point is that governance is all about the real world of leaders actually leading to where we think we want to go. And if unrealistic, financially or culturally, then leaders must make that case to us.

My expeditionary work overseas brought this home to me: that eventually as humans begin living and working in groups and these groups become large, societies must figure out how to live together. This is the rule of law that keeps us reasonably safe and thriving.

But those who we elect to govern must also put the interests of those electing them before their own. We expect honesty and a vision for peace and prosperity based on what we expect, what we pay for as we go; therefore we do not live in the world of living beyond our own means.

The third is one I write often about, and that is entitlements. I do not believe humans were made to receive the substances of life, the essentials if you will, without some semblance of earning it.

Again, my work overseas was in the midst of huge entitlement programs. I am against them to the core. Being clear, I am not writing about helping people. What I am writing about is helping people that help themselves.

There is much in the news these days about our U.S. government withdrawal or downsizing in Afghanistan. I lived there in 2006 and 2007. My take is that so much money, our U.S. government money, was spent in this country that the Afghans, for the most part, become enslaved to the year-after-year flow of dollars into Afghanistan.

Now we are soon to significantly reduce this flow of money. My question is: Do we have an Afghan government capable of public service? Have we done our part to find, train and mentor the Afghan leadership so they can do the work of rule of law and governance on their own?

Often, I make the case that our foreign aid should be dedicated first and foremost to finding, training and mentoring the public service officials.

This approach is dedicating our resources toward an outcome of changing human behavior instead of delivering outputs of things, of structures and of stuff that is all part of an entitlement program.

One good place to begin is not with 60-year-olds like me, but someone half my age that comes to view public service as just that … service and not entitlement. No doubt vast numbers of people feel this way too, and this is the root cause of revolutions.

Revolutions are about change and demanding our public servants, as elected officials, begin with honesty and end with sacrifice. Indeed, elected officials who promote an approach of self-dignity and respect, rather than keeping an electorate enslaved to unrealistic expectations and an entitlement system.

These are three huge topics I think about all the time. Admittedly, the first one is out of our realm to do much about, but the second and third ones are ones we can do something about. A society that is proactive instead of reactive is helpful, and so is an educated electorate.

The course ahead seems to me based in an open mind, living in reality, understanding that we demand honesty from our elected officials, and that our future is found in our young people.

They are the ones with the greatest stake in the world, and they are the ones we should encourage to, at the end of the day, bring meaning to their lives by knowing that only together can that meaning be manifest individually.

If the individual fails, so does society. Only if we are self-contemplative will we ask society and those who lead us to do the same. PD


Mike Gangwer

Agricultural Scientist