Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich Sounds the Trump of Doom Again: And This Time It's A "Consensus"

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Four Horsemen
Credit: Philcold: Dreamstime

Way back in 1968, Paul Ehrlich asserted in The Population Bomb:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s* hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.

How did that work out for you Paul? Oh, yes, that pesky Green Revolution came along and ruined the prophecy.

But this time Ehrlich's got it right, because he's got a Consensus Statement to back him up over at the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. It forthrightly declares:

Earth is rapidly approaching a tipping point. Human impacts are causing alarming levels of harm to our planet. As scientists who study the interaction of people with the rest of the biosphere using a wide range of approaches, we agree that the evidence that humans are damaging their ecological life-support systems is overwhelming.

The Five Horsepersons of the Ecological Apocalypse are:

  Climate disruption—more, faster climate change than since humans first became a species.

  Extinctions—not since the dinosaurs went extinct have so many species and populations died out so fast, both on land and in the oceans.

   Wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems—we have plowed, paved, or otherwise transformed more than 40% of Earth's ice-free land, and no place on land or in the sea is free of our direct or indirect influences.

   Pollution—environmental contaminants in the air, water and land are at record levels and increasing, seriously harming people and wildlife in unforeseen ways.

   Human population growth and consumption patterns—seven billion people alive today will likely grow to 9.5 billion by 2050, and the pressures of heavy material consumption among the middle class and wealthy may well intensify.

Never mind that estimates of climate sensitivity and thus the pace and severity of future man-made climate change are trending down; that humanity has reached peak farmland which will have big follow-on benefits with regard to species extinctions (which have been exaggerated in any case) and the restoration of more land for nature; that pollution levels in modern countries have been falling for decades and there is every prospect that they will do so for developing countries as they become wealthier; and finally, economic growth and wealth creation is increasingly decoupled from material resource use.

It just so happens that I am working on a new book, The End of Doom, showing that the balance of the scientific and economic evidence, well, contradicts this "consensus."

*Actually he added the "1980s" to the 1973 edition. In 1968, massive famines were definitely going to happen in the 1970s.

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  1. Not to worry. The next ice age will wipe out 80% of the population over the course of a few hundred years.

  2. There should be a plaque somewhere, dedicated to Paul Ehrlich, for his tireless work in proving wrong, once and for all, the stopped clock theorem.

    1. Should we start another hops thread?

      1. You’re a bad man.

        1. Yes. Yes, I am.

      2. Got so much citra in my system my piss smells like mangoes.

      3. I’m attempting to grow some Cascade this year. I have about six plants, the tallest maybe 6-8 inches at this point. But they’ve been laid flat by Chicago wind and rain. I’m having a sad.

  3. Species are going extinct?! You mean that natural selection thing keeps happening?? OH NOOOOOOES

    It’s hard to distinguish environmentalists and fundamentalists. Evolution stops mattering when humans are involved, because humans are special and unique.

    1. Didn’t I see something from Matt Ridley showing that of the recent extinctions everybody flips out about, the vast majority were sort of exotic species living on isolated islands, and only 7 documented extinctions outside of that?

    2. “because humans are special and unique.”

      normally i’d probably say you’re exaggerating but I had a conversation with this aged hippie in my comparative religions class and I was saying nature shouldn’t get a free pass for the horrors it inflicts. He disagreed cause it’s “natural” this led me to ask him if human action lead to the extinction of 1000 species or a meteor would to strike and wipe out the same 1000 species he would be ok with the meteor doing that? He said yes cause it’s natural. Same exact consequences but one is fine and the other is a tragedy, this is means justify the ends kind of thinking.

      1. We use means justifying ends reasoning all the time. Is it worse for me to drown 100 people or just not step in to rescue them from drowning? Natural rights supporters would obviously say that I’m morally culpable in the first case and probably not the second.

        I’m not denying that the hippie you spoke to is a moron. But it’s not because he was using an invalid argument.

        1. In each scenario 100 people drown, I doubt it’s much comfort to the 100 in scenario 2 that their suffering isn’t intentional.

        2. My local liquor store offers a 5% discount for cash vs. a 5% surcharge for plastic. They realize that most of us are still dealing with our caveman brains.

  4. showing that the balance of the scientific and economic evidence, well, contradicts this “consensus.”

    I don’t understand. I thought a consensus among scientists was itself scientific evidence. And what does economics have to do with a consensus among scientists?

    1. That was the old Dead White Euro-Male Science. New Science is consensus. If we all clap then Tinkerbell Socialism will live.

  5. So I like both TMP and Into Darkness. What does that make me? The former is the closest to Real Trek out of any of the movies. Hell it practically is one of those pretentious episodes of the TV show stretched out to two hours.

    1. What does that make me?

      Someone with very questionable tastes.

      1. Shouldn’t you be busy downloading your fatty food porn videos?

    2. What does that make me?

      Apostate!

    3. Somehow Wrath of Khan managed to keep the best of both worlds (pun intended).

      1. Harve Bennett did that because Paramount thought that TMP was a too expensive boring disappointment. Sellout whore!

    4. TMP was much more like TNG than TOS. In fact I think that’s the reason Roddenberry went and did TNG, because the movie was still too fast paced for his tastes.

      p.s. Of course Berman transformed it into a fantasy series, complete with elfs and dorfs, when he got hold of it, but that’s another topic.

      1. elfs and dorfs

        I didn’t know Stephen Dorff was in TNG, DS9 or VOY.

        Well if we define Real Trek as Roddenberry’s vision (and yes there are Trekkies that berate B&B and Abrams for betraying it) then TMP and the first two seasons of TNG are the closest to that vision.

    5. Mr. Plinkett likes ’em both (at least, he liked the 2009 ST). Of course, he also likes to **** his cat, so…

  6. Looks like the consensus is that Ehrlich is an asshole who could have done Gaia a favor and died already.

    1. You just made me realize that the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement has the wrong model – they should go kick-starter.

  7. Climate disruption?more, faster climate change than since humans first became a species.

    What? We’ve survived fucking ice ages before.

    1. See, this is why we need to colonize Nunavut and space.

  8. Wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems?we have plowed, paved, or otherwise transformed more than 40% of Earth’s ice-free land, and no place on land or in the sea is free of our direct or indirect influences.

    So the consensus in the scientific community today is that we’re NOT growing more food on less land, returning a lot of prior farm land to the wild? Or that it doesn’t matter because of our nebulous influences?

    1. Also, you can tell someone who’s never taken the time to take the slightest peek out of their window on the airplane.

      Sure, if you’re in the northeast the world seems really crowded, but go to Alaska, Montana, Siberia, etc and tell me we’ve paved over the world.

      Here’s some perspective on how much land people actually take up. With the density of NY we could fit every human being in the state of texas.

      1. “[P]lowed, paved, or otherwise transformed” is so vague I’m surprised it’s not more like 100%.

        1. Plus, in and of itself, why is it bad? Is there something intrinsically wrong with transforming nature?

          1. Stupid hippy: Dude, it’s NAY-CHUR, it isn’t natural to fuck with it.

            1. It sounds like you’re one of those intolerant bigots who thinks that Interspecies marriage will destroy “traditional marriage”.

      2. Woot Houston, sprawlin baby.

  9. Watch this trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwjCTjdDyvw

    Now reread the quoted report in that voice:

    Climate disruption?more, faster climate change than since humans first became a species.

    Extinctions?not since the dinosaurs went extinct have so many species and populations died out so fast, both on land and in the oceans.

    Wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems?we have plowed, paved, or otherwise transformed more than 40% of Earth’s ice-free land, and no place on land or in the sea is free of our direct or indirect influences.

    Pollution?environmental contaminants in the air, water and land are at record levels and increasing, seriously harming people and wildlife in unforeseen ways.

    Better science through melodrama!

  10. Paul Erlich is like a modern-day Cassandra, except everyone believes him and all of his prophecies are wrong.

    1. Upmod.

  11. The fact that Ehrlich is still alive and Julian Simon is dead sometimes makes me question my faith.

    1. It’s a test. Or a trap. I can’t make up my mind.

      1. Get thee behind me, Bailey.

  12. There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas…

  13. And just a few days ago there was the Australan metastudy that was widely reported as showing 97% of scientific studies agreed that AGW was real. Only if you bothered to read the actual report you would find out that it would be more accurate to say that 97% of scientific studies that agreed that AGW was real agreed that AGW was real – two thirds of the studies did not, in fact, take a position on whether or not AGW was real. Another way of saying a study did not take a position on AGW is to say they did not agree that AGW was real. Nevertheless, the author of the metastudy simply asserted that the reason two-thirds of the studies neglected to mention that AGW was real is the same reason authors of geography books neglect to mention that the Earth is round – it’s such commonplace knowledge that AGW is real that nobody bothers to mention it any more. In this way, two thirds of studies saying it’s not proven that AGW is real becomes 97% of studies agree that AGW is real. The science is settled.

    1. And then this morning on NPR news – even if the science isn’t settled, we have Pascal’s Wager to contend with. If there is even a small chance that AGW is real, the catastrophic implications demand that we do something. No mention of the easy refutation of Pascal’s Wager – given the infinite number of things we could do, what are the chances we pick the right something to do when we do something? Making people like Paul Ehrlich the Supreme High Lords of the Planet is almost certainly not the right something to do.

      1. Why are the folks at the reality based community using Pascal’s wager?

        1. I thought they just renamed it the Precautionary Principle.

        2. Because Fuck You, that’s why.

      2. There’s a far greater chance that a large asteroid or comet will collide with the Earth, resulting in a massive and immediate catastrophe. Yet we’re doing almost nothing about that event, which will certainly happen within some unknown amount of time.

        1. Yeah, well, an asteroid is a natural event, so…not a problem.

          They’re only concerned about human activity, which is evil and unnatural. Unless of course it involves picking berries or building wigwams.

          Come to think of it, the only thing they seem to have a problem with is humans using their brain.

          1. Well, you’re only allowed to build wig-wams if you can prove that you’re an authentic native American – for the rest of us that would be an act of cultural appropriation (whatever the hell that is).

  14. So what’s the solution, exactly? Unplug all the power plants and go live off twigs and berries?

    That reminded me of this ridiculous item that is making the rounds on Facebook recently: http://gaasedal.wordpress.com/…..ds-status/

    Sample:

    We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 240 volts ? wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days…. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.

    1. “Joe M| 5.24.13 @ 4:20PM |#

      So what’s the solution, exactly?”

      Every Malthusian argument about looming Environmental collapse is simply a case for giving the State TOTAL CONTROL over resources and restricting human activity.

      Its the scam that never grows old.

  15. “Human population growth and consumption patterns?seven billion people alive today will likely grow to 9.5 billion by 2050.”

    They always quote this statistic, but what they don’t tell you is that at current growth rates, the 9.5 billion your reach in 2050 is the peak, and from then on, population begins to fall.

    1. Also, that estimate of peak population keeps dropping. I can remember back in the ’80s when estimates typically went over 15 million. It was down to 12 during the ’90s, and 10-11 at the beginning of this century.

      I suppose the figure will get more accurate as we get closer to the time of the peak. (Unless there’s a reversal in the trends, which can’t be ruled out. Birthrates have recently risen in Europe, for instance, though not nearly enough to outweigh the continuous and rapid decline in most of the world.)

  16. You don’t have to go full erhlichan or malthusian, but is there any downside to say moving to 5 billion in 2050 as opposed to the 9billion predicted? Sure we may not be at carrying capacity but quality of life could be higher with a lower population and it could be a little insulation against possible problems whether natural or artificial.

    1. Except 9 billion isn’t capacity, and in fact isn’t even close.

      1. Sure but why even get close, the closer we get the lower our standard of living. And the greater risk in case there is some freak of nature event like a big drought or that asteroid someone mentioned upthread wipes out some farmland.

        1. quality of life is not contingent on total population. it is political systems that determine quality of life. that is why we are so passionate at this site.

    2. moving to 5 billion in 2050

      You would have to convince lots of women worldwide to squirt out much fewer puppies. Essentially you would have to make Nigerian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Brazilian and Indonesian women into European ones, at least as far as their reproductive rate goes. I’m not sure that can be reached in four decades.

      1. It can – we just need the NGO’s to get out of the way, stop sending our tax money to their government kleptocrats, and eliminate trade and investment barriers between the developed countries and the developing.

        1. Even those immigrant women who are “dropped” into European countries have a higher reproductive rate than the locally born ones.

          I’m absolutely supportive of free (and peaceful) trade, but I suspect that its effect on women’s reproductive rates probably would take at least a couple of generations (maybe by 2050 it would start to lower the birthrate).

    3. I think a large part of the reason the current trend peaks is because people are realizing that fewer children = higher standard of living, although that’s only really true in developed countries.

      China does have the one child policy, but then again, China was basically a 3rd-world country for much longer than they should have been thanks to 70 years of socialism, so maybe without that they wouldn’t need the one child policy.

    4. The idea that quality of life is inversely proportional to population density is an idea that has been disproved pretty thoroughly by the continued existence of large scale cities all over the world.

      In addition – more people means more smart people making the shit that makes life good.

      1. “The idea that quality of life is inversely proportional to population density is an idea that has been disproved pretty thoroughly ”

        To an extent of course, a population of 1 is going to missing out on a lot of the benefits of specialization and trade, but we can easily see that a population of 1 trillion would probably be even worse.

        “In addition – more people means more smart people making the shit that makes life good.”

        and all the bad ones making it worse.

        1. “but we can easily see that a population of 1 trillion would probably be even worse.”

          A population of 1 trillion when? After 20 generations or 200 generations?

          It’s hard to foresee technological advances that would maintain the current quality of life for everyone in the planet, much less increase it, in that short period of time.

          In 4,000 years? Definitely foreseeable.

    5. Are you sure you’re at the right place? First the bullshit about banning foie gras because maybe animals feel pain just like humans (with the obligatory comparison to slavery of blacks, because you are a disingenuous fuckweasel), and now reducing the population by over a billion because what, “it could be” insurance against blah-blah what-the-fuck-ever?

      Just how do you intent on making the world’s population decrease by over a billion people pray tell????

  17. “Climate disruption?more, faster climate change than since humans first became a species.”

    Uhm, that’s not true.

    “Extinctions?not since the dinosaurs went extinct have so many species and populations died out so fast, both on land and in the oceans.”

    Uhm, that’s not actually happening.

    “Wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems?we have plowed, paved, or otherwise transformed more than 40% of Earth’s ice-free land, and no place on land or in the sea is free of our direct or indirect influences.”

    Uhm, no we haven’t

    “Pollution?environmental contaminants in the air, water and land are at record levels and increasing, seriously harming people and wildlife in unforeseen ways.”

    Uhm, in *some* areas this is true, but in the vast majority of the world pollution levels haven’t ben this low since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

    “Human population growth and consumption patterns?seven billion people alive today will likely grow to 9.5 billion by 2050, and the pressures of heavy material consumption among the middle class and wealthy may well intensify.”

    Uhm, you said, in your first edition, that most of the people would be dead *RIGHT NOW* due to overpopulation and excessive resource consumption. Practically every edition you pushed the date back, why should we believe that you’ve got it right this time?

  18. Paul Erlich does serve a useful function in society. Very few have ever been as consistently wrong in their predictions, therefore, the louder his shrill screeching becomes, it has almost become a comforting noise that notifies us that things are actually going along pretty damned well.

  19. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows; and you don’t need a Ronald Bailey (who TF is that anyway?) either. So ideological. Tell the Chinese Communist Party how stupid they were to institute one-child when bodies dead from starvation were floating down the rivers every year. Yes, if they’d just followed your certified, awarded genius advice…. I read this rag because I used to know Bob Poole, but I genuflect to NO ONE.

    1. C’mon, Ronald is the Science Editor at this site. Reason is an ideological site: Free markets, free minds. Geesh.
      Maybe starvation had to do with the Great Leap Forward? I think there is enough scholarly activity around that question to call bullshit on your self-righteousness.
      As Bob Dylan would say: ‘Things have changed, I used to care’.

    2. C’mon, Ronald is the Science Editor at this site. Reason is an ideological site: Free markets, free minds. Geesh.
      Maybe starvation had to do with the Great Leap Forward? I think there is enough scholarly activity around that question to call bullshit on your self-righteousness.
      As Bob Dylan would say: ‘Things have changed, I used to care’.

    3. Why should a country that’s experienced double-digit growth for decades need to worry about starvation?

      Oh yeah, now I remember….

      You clearly genuflect to someone, it’s just someone we would all spit on.

    4. Wait, you mean that the central planning of farms and the abandonment of the market price system can lead to mass starvation?

      The world must be informed! Some Austrian economist must write an influential paper about this that will debated for a century!

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