Paul Ehrlich: Still Wrong

Paul Ehrlich has not merely been wrong in his long career as a “population expert”: he has been demonstrably, repeatedly, spectacularly wrong about almost everything. Somehow, he’s not only failed to offer groveling apologies for a lifetime of saying stupid things, but continues to claim he was right all along.

Ehrlich is most famous as the author of the Population Bomb, a book of almost sublime evil and stupidity. He dusted off the creaky old theories of Thomas Malthus (yet another person who learned about exponential growth and then never quite got over it) and gave them a healthy coating of panic that drove the great overpopulation scares that still swirl through intellectual circles.

According to the Population Bomb and Ehrlich’s subsequent work, we should all be dead right now. His book began with the infamous sentence, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”

Except that never happened. Not in the 1970s … not ever. The localized (not global) famines were not caused by a collapse of the food supply, but by political instability. He insisted that the global death rate would skyrocket. It’s fallen. He swore that India could never feed 200 million people. It feeds over a billion.

He suggested or supported all kinds of draconian solutions to this imaginary problem, including putting birth control in the water supply, forced abortions, coercive sterilization, forcibly starving countries who refused to implement radical population controls, punitive taxes on people who have children and on childcare products, and good old fashioned jack-booted totalitarianism in order to “fix” the problem of global famine from overpopulation. He now claims that he didn’t really mean to suggest these as viable options, but merely was working through various potential scenarios.

And yet this utter sham of a man made a career as a public intellectual while being not just occasionally wrong and offering challenging solutions to real problems, but being spectacularly wrong while offering objectively evil solutions to imaginary problems. The stunning thing is that he’s still talking, and people are–inexplicably–not only failing to throw a net over him, but they’re writing down what he’s saying and publishing it in major newspapers rather than transcribing it as evidence for a commitment hearing.

Here he is saying that the current global population of 7 billion people is too big because … well, I’m not sure why. Because every single one of them can’t have a Lexus and an iPod?

“How many you support depends on lifestyles. We came up with 1.5 to 2 billion because you can have big active cities and wilderness. If you want a battery chicken world where everyone has minimum space and food and everyone is kept just about alive you might be able to support in the long term about 4 or 5 billion people. But you already have 7 billion. So we have to humanely and as rapidly as possible move to population shrinkage.”

Love that phrase: “population shrinkage.” You can almost smell the Zyklon B.

Notice that’s he’s saying that a world population of a 4-5  billion people is a “battery chicken world,” and we already have a population of 7 billion. That must explain why my family and I live in a tiny cage and are fed Soylent Green through a chute while waiting for the Carrousel.

Then the article lets loose this whopper:

Ehrlich, who was described as alarmist in the 1970s but who says most of his predictions have proved correct [!!!!] says he was gloomy about humanity’s ability to feed over 9 billion people. “We have 1 billion people hungry now and we are going to add 2.5 billion. They are going to have to be fed on more marginal land, from water that is purified more or transported further, we’re going to have disproportionate impacts on how we feed people from the population increase itself,” he said.

The planet is quite capable of feeding all of them. The hunger issue isn’t tied to the ability of agriculture to produce enough food, but is instead tied to politics, war, and economics.

Look, Paul Ehrlich is the academic version of this guy:

And he’s been playing this same song for over 40 years. Yet the Guardian has the chutzpah to call him the “world’s most renowned population analyst.” How does that happen?

And, lest we forget the ongoing impact of Ehrlich’s crackpot theories, one of his collaborators has a very prominent position among the shapers of the new world order.

If you want a teriffic little summary of why Malthusianism is bunk, watch these:

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Turn Your Finger into a Speaker
Frozen Eggs? Apple & Facebook Have You Covered
Pat Robertson on Young Earth Creationism
A Guide to Spiders
About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Mike

    Well spake, but I think you meant 7 Billion, not million in “Here he is saying that the current global population of 7 million people is too big”.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Good catch. Thanks.

  • Dennis Mahon

    I remember seeing Mr. Ehrlich in the “Demographic Winter” cd; I cannot see why any one would continue to listen to a man with such an abysmal track record.

  • Kristen indallas

    Sad thing is, many of those “evil solutions to imaginary problems” have already been implemented. Correct me if I’m repeating a false sentiment… but didn’t the “population control” methods over in China start right after the US threatened to cut off aid if they didn’t? Isn’t that essentially “forcibly starving countries who refused to implement radical population controls”? And aren’t there still, today, punitive taxes on people who have children, forced abortions, and coercive sterilization?

  • Nicole

    I would just like to add: if you could achieve human overpopulation, you wouldn’t at that point need to bulldoze entire empty city blocks to avoid rat overpopulation. When (usually older) people worry about overpopulation, I shock them by pointing out that I fully expect the greatest problem my generation has to deal with will be UNDER population. Given current birthrates, and the very, very small percentage of the population that can actually birth children, and the much smaller percentage who actually do, I expect sooner or later to see a full switch in the global secular culture, and celibate women vilified for not doing their part to bear children (which will be just as stupid as vilifying mothers is now).

  • bullshit

    “there can be no infinite growth (including population growth) in a finite world”. I’m stating the obvious here. And Paul Ehrlich too. If you believe otherwise, you are bonkers.
    And unfortunately a lot of people today, seemingly rational like you,, believe otherwise, and no amount of proof or research will make them change their opinion. That’s why our world is slowly but surely going to the doldrums. And wait till Peak Oil arrives…

  • Winnifred Armstrong

    Fantastic article. Food for thought : if all the 6 billion people on earth relocated to Texas tomorrow, the population density of Texas would be 22,000 people per square mile which is less than the current density of the city of Paris. Paul Erlich should know this.

  • pamela mawbey

    Paul Erlich is now in Sydney Australia and was spruiking his anti-growth and sustainability views to alumni of UTS (University of Technology Sydney) at a breakfast last week. He has just been appointed to a position there. He wants women (in the west) to stop producing children to prevent more demand on natural resources. BUT this means they are freed up to join the workforce thereby heightening demand for products depleting our natural resources NOW rather than in the future. Sounded like he was shooting from the hip trying to be hip.

  • http://pathios Christian

    My friend, relax. Pick up a copy of Bjorn Lomborg’s book, the Skeptical Environmentalist. He is from Denmark and not a conservative, yet his book debunks the scare tactics of the Left. In it you can read about scarcity of resources, food supply, etc. What’s really great about this book is that he takes the very numbers from people like Ehrlich, the WWF’s clarion calls on species extinction, Rachel Carson’s chemical scare, acid rain and many other topics.