Posts Tagged ‘Paul Ehrlich’

Earth Day

April 22, 2017

Today is Earth Day and what better way to celebrate than to recall the predictions of the first Earth Day back in 1970. Here is a list, courtesy of Freedom Works.

  1. “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”  — Harvard biologist George Wald
  2. “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — Washington University biologist Barry Commoner
  3. “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”New York Times editorial
  4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” — Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich
  5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born… [By 1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” — Paul Ehrlich
  6. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” — Denis Hayes, Chief organizer for Earth Day
  7. “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter
  8. “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” — Life magazine
  9. “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
  10. “Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” — Paul Ehrlich
  11. “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.'” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
  12. “[One] theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes, and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.”Newsweek magazine
  13. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” — Kenneth Watt

For more information about these predictions, read this article from way back in 2000 in Reason.com. 

I grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s and heard these sorts of doomsday predictions all the time. I was young and foolish enough to believe them. I sincerely thought that the world of my future would be an overpopulated, polluted dystopia. As I got older, I happened to notice that none of these gloomy predictions seemed to be coming true. We were not all starving to death or choking on pollution. There was still enough gasoline to fill up our tanks and the price, adjusted for inflation, seemed to be constant. That didn’t stop the doomsday predictions. You might think that the people making these predictions would be relieved that none of them came true. Some them might even admit that they were wrong and try to find out where they erred. No, the predictions kept on coming. Now it is global warming/climate change that is going to destroy the world. Somehow, doomsday keeps getting put off. It is always ten to twenty years in the future.

This is one of the reasons I am skeptical about just about everything the environmentalists claim. I have a working memory and I remember very well the failed predictions that they have made. Since they have been wrong so many times before, why should I start believing them now? At some point you have to consider that they are either mistaken or lying.

Now, you can argue that the stricter pollution control laws enacted since that first Earth Day have prevented the dystopian future that had been predicted. That is undoubtedly true. Advancing technology has also helped. More efficient machines mean less pollution. The Green Revolution has helped to feed billions who would otherwise have starved. But, that also kind of proves my point, at least about predicting the future. People do not just stand by passively as the world falls apart around them. They take action to fix things. This is why future dystopias are never very accurate glimpses of the future. If the world is indeed warming, then people will take action to ameliorate any ill effects caused by changing climates. There is no reason to worry the future and every reason to be optimistic. And remember, we humans do not have the last word on what is going to happen to this world. That is the prerogative of the One who created it.

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Seven Billion and Counting

November 5, 2011

The fact that the the world’s population has increased to an estimated 7 billion people has been all over the news this week, with the appropriate amount of hand-wringing from the Greens. When I was growing up, I was terribly worried about overpopulation. The settled science of the day was that the increasing number of human beings in the world would inevitably lead to mass starvation. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” declared the first sentence of Paul Ehrlich‘s classic The Population Bomb, published just a year before I was born.

In his book, Dr Ehrlich predicted a dire future of mass starvation, general poverty and unrest, even in the richest and most developed countries in the world. In his most optimistic scenario, he had over half a billion people starving to death. The End of Affluence was upon his, to quote the title of another of his books. As far as Dr. Ehrlich was concerned, the only way to ameliorate the problem was to develop a totalitarian government that would be empowered to determined how many children each couple could have, as well as regulating their use of energy and resources. Does this sound a little familiar?

The facts have been rather different. The battle to feed all of humanity is not over yet, but we are clearly winning. The greatest health concern in the world today is the alarming increase in obesity. Although, this is a problem largely for the developed world, even nations generally considered poor or “third world” are beginning to have this problem. There are, of course, many hungry people in the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but this is not due to any lack of food in the world. Rather, it is a problem of distribution. Whenever you see a country or region lacking in food, I can guarantee you will find one of three things; primitive or non-existent infrastructure, a government that is trying some form of Socialism, or war. Often you will find all three factors in play.

This concern with over-population began way back in 1798 with the publication of Thomas Malthus’s essay “An Essay on the Principle of Population“. In this book, Malthus explores the relationship between the wealth and poverty of various nations and their populations. He covers a lot of ground on many subjects including, towards the end, an attempt to explain the problem of evil in terms of natural theology. The points that concern us, however,  are at the beginning, in the first two chapters. In these chapters, Malthus sets out his principle of population growth. To oversimplify the argument, he stated that population grows in geometric progression, or exponentially, while the production of food grows in arithmetic progression, or linearly. This means that population will inevitably  exceed the supply of food unless the population is checked, usually by famine or disease.

The logic seems unassailable. Yet empirical evidence suggests that there is a flaw in this argument. The population of the world when Malthus published his essay was about a billion people. In the two centuries since, the population has grown seven-fold, the great majority of those people are far better off in terms of standards of living than even the wealthiest kings were in 1800. Where did Malthus go wrong? And why, since he was wrong, why do his modern disciples continue to believe his message?

The problem with Malthus and Ehrlich is that they view each human being as simply a consumer of resources. They seem not to consider the idea that each person is also a producer. To put it another way, every one of the 7 billion people in the world is another mouth to feed, but is also a pair of hands that can grow food and manufacture the necessities of life and a brain that can work to solve our problems. Put that way, it is clear that a growing population is not a liability but an asset.

Another mistake that they seem to have made is not to have considered that most couples do not want an unlimited number of children. Malthus can be forgiven this error since he lived before the days of effective contraception but what about Ehrlich? The demographics of most developed countries and even an increasing number of undeveloped countries show that most families are content with two or fewer children, when given a choice, and many prefer to be childless.

If you think about it, the Malthusians don’t seem to have a very high opinion of their fellow human beings. They see a large population and see only so many bellies to fill. Their first impulse is always too many people in the world. Consider Dr. Ehrlich’s beginning to the first chapter of The Population Bomb. He describes his reactions to a busy street in India.

The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people.

since that night I’ve known the feel of overpopulation

I don’t like to be in crowds either, but I don’t usually think, “This world would be a whole lot better, if only there were a few billion fewer people in it. ” And, I have to wonder if he has the same sort of reaction in a shopping mall, or a crowded classroom, back home.

In any case I am not too proud to admit that my worries of my youth were unfounded. I welcome baby 7 billion to the world and I look forward to the contributions he or she will make.

 

 

Norman Borlaug

August 1, 2011
Dr. Norman Borlaug

Here I want to bring a little bit of attention to the greatest hero that you have never heard of, Norman Borlaug. What did he do that was so great. He only saved about a billion people from starvation. I know that is not quite as important as the latest celebrity antics but I think he deserves more recognition than he has gotten.

Borlaug lived from 1914-2009. He was an agronomist. He worked with wheat in Mexico, producing dwarfed varieties that had thicker stems, which effectively double the yield. He brought his expertise and his dwarf wheat to India and Pakistan averting the mass starvation predicted by Paul Ehrlich and other Malthusians. From there, he played a key role in launching the Green Revolution which helped to feed millions of people in Asia and Africa.

Naturally the environmentalists hated him. They tried to prevent his work in Africa. They condemned his methods as producing unnatural and possibly harmful crossbreeds. They objected to his bringing  large-scale agriculture to poor countries, which led to profits to large agricultural companies, and incidentally helped lift the subsidence farmers out of poverty. They didn’t like the development that his methods brought to previously undeveloped regions because roads, etc hurt the environment. Borlaug didn’t have much patience for this kind of criticism.

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

Norman Borlaug did get some recognition during his life. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, back when the Peace Prize was actually awarded to people who promoted peace. He also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 2006. Still, it would be a nobler world if his name were a household word.

Here is an interview which appeared in reason.com in 2000.

 


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