Green Room

Ehrlich’s Lifetime Of Hot Air

posted at 1:30 pm on March 6, 2010 by

I was reading Ed’s piece yesterday on the apparent attempt by “human-caused global warming” partisans at the National Academy of Sciences to attack their detractors (via the NYTimes, naturally, rather than via actual science or anything), and I came across this bit here (emphasis added):

“Most of our colleagues don’t seem to grasp that we’re not in a gentlepersons’ debate, we’re in a street fight against well-funded, merciless enemies who play by entirely different rules,” Paul R. Ehrlich, a Stanford University researcher, said in one of the e-mails.

Paul Ehrlich.  Leading the attack.

Ladies and gentlemen, this battle may be over. 

Ehrlich started his academic career as an entomologist, an expert on Lepidoptera – butterflies.  But in 1968 he wrote one of the biggest best-sellers in the history of pseudo-scientific literature, The Population Bomb.  In it, Ehrlich reprised the work of Thomas Malthus, arguing that population growth would eventually, inevitably lead mankind to three choices:  Stop making new humans, stop consuming resources, or starve to death.  The book started “The battle to feed all of humanity is over … hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” He spent much of the next decade writing other books and articles in support of his thesis in Population Bomb, adding in a later article “By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.”  The book and his body of “work” through the seventies proposed a number of radical solutions to the overpopulation crisis; dumping sterilizing agents into water supplies, allowing only selected people the privilege of reproduction, and performing mass “triage” of nations, the same way an emergency room triages patients – between those who don’t need help (North America, Australia, parts of Europe), those who can be saved, and those who are behond help – India, Sub-Saharan Africa, and much of Asia, which he predicted would be hell on earth by the 1980’s; he essentially gave up all hope for Africa and India.  Our ecology was going to strike back at us; in a 1969 article, “Eco-Catastrophe!”, he predicted that by the end of the century the population of the US would be under 20 million, and our life expectancy would be around 40 years – due not to starvation, but to pesticides.

By the mid-seventies, though Ehrlich broadened his sights a bit, behond overpopulation and into geopolitics.  In 1975’s The End of Affluence, Ehrlich predicted cataclysmic food riots in America, leading the President to declare martial law.  But it did no good – in Ehrlich’s narrative – because the world was driven to destroy the US in a combined nuclear assault, spurred by our use of…


He broadened it further with 1978’s The Race Bomb, which was a paranoid melange on the dangers of racial diversity, followed by The Golden Door: International Migration, Mexico, and the United States, in which he called for sealing off the border long before it became Tom Tancredo’s issue. 

By the eighties, he’d joined with much of the left’s elite (who were, by the by, not busy participating in food riots or race wars, and were well-fed enough to go to protests) in warning about the danger of nuclear war, joining with Carl Sagan to write The Cold And The Dark, demanding the US disarm just in time for our generations of deterrence to render the point moot with the fall of the Soviet Union.

He was, of course, early on the Climate Change bandwagon, with Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environment Rhetoric Threatens Our Future, a 1998 book co-authored with his wife Anne, which basically served as a model for the left’s response to questions about Global Warming this past decade – he didnt’ call for Nuremberg trials per se, but he wasn’t that far off, either.

His body of work – at least, his work that impinges on politics and human events – has had three things in common. 

He’s blamed Western Civilization – especially our economic freedom – for successive waves of self-caused, predicted catastrophes.

He’s prescription to deal with these catastrophes has been, in every case, for the individual to surrender his/her autonomy, and even future, to an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful central entity that’ll make all the hard, life and death choices for them.

And he’s been wrong on every count.  Humans, rather than sitting in caves waiting to get eaten by sabre tooth tigers, invented spears.  Faced with floods, we invented the sandbag as an alternative to drowning and mildew.  And faced with shortage of resources, we adapt.  And humanity in the past forty years has adapted – learning to grow crops where we didn’t before, learning to conserve farmland and water, developing new crops and practices. 

Julian Simon, an American economist, placed a bet with Ehrlich:

Simon set up a bet wherein he would sell Ehrlich $1,000 dollars worth of any five commodities that Ehrlich chose. Ehrlich would hold the commodities for ten years. If the prices rose — meaning scarcity — Simon would buy the commodities back from Ehrlich at the higher price. If the prices fell, Ehrlich would pay Simon the difference. Professor Ehrlich jumped at the bet, noting that he wanted to “accept the offer before other greedy people jumped in.”

In October of 1990, Ehrlich mailed Simon a check for $570.07. As Simon predicted, free markets provided lower prices and more options. Simon would have won even if prices weren’t adjusted for inflation. He then offered to raise the wager to $20,000 and use any resources at any time that Ehrlich preferred.

The bet never happened.  Ehrlich moved on.

To global warming.

While Simon died, it’d seem that another bet was placed, if only in spirit.  Ehrlich is paying us all back with excess hot air.

Cross-posted at Shot In The Dark.

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great piece!

homesickamerican on March 6, 2010 at 2:05 PM

It’s heartening to know that one can spend 50 years being professionally wrong and still hold a highly paid position at Stanford University.

Techie on March 6, 2010 at 2:28 PM

There’s one other thing those books all have in common: they made Ehrlich a lot of money.

Steven Den Beste on March 6, 2010 at 6:45 PM

This post has been promoted to

Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Ed Morrissey on March 7, 2010 at 9:34 AM

God bless the late Julian Simon

thebrokenrattle on March 7, 2010 at 10:15 AM

If Ehrlich were to read Hot Air, he would generate less of it.

percysunshine on March 7, 2010 at 11:57 AM

Little know is that Ehrlich was one of the first ‘scientists’ to discuss the problems of carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect, when scientists were concerned with ‘global cooling’ (in Population Bomb of all places. From Wikipedia’s page on Global Cooling: In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Paul R. Ehrlich wrote “The greenhouse effect is being enhanced now by the greatly increased level of carbon dioxide… [this] is being countered by low-level clouds generated by contrails, dust, and other contaminants… At the moment we cannot predict what the overall climatic results will be of our using the atmosphere as a garbage dump.”[4]

phreshone on March 7, 2010 at 3:15 PM

I am giving a cyber-standing ovation to you, Mitch Berg.

While the Internet is even more of a vast wasteland than Newton Minow ever could have imagined, this is what makes it worth the price: Unknown, uncredentialed (to my knowledge) individuals like yourself, armed with a bandolier of facts, standing at the ready to decimate malicious propaganda that sounds so good to most people, they don’t bother double-checking.

This is the danger of giving in to unquestioned rulership by elites, regardless of ideology: A prestigious degree in and of itself cannot give any kind of insight into the motives of the person who has attained it. It could be a souvenir taken along in the course of a life dedicated to a worthy, noble cause, or it could be used as a shearing instrument to figuratively fleece every sheep caught between that haughty individual and the wolves they fear.

It’s clear into which of those two categories the Ehrlichs fall. And it says much about Obama that one of the Ehrlichs’ alarmist co-authors — John Holdren — is his “science czar.”

L.N. Smithee on March 8, 2010 at 4:19 AM

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