The New York Times is taking a little walk down memory lane to look at what (did not) happen to the much-prophesied "Population Bomb." The Times interviews biologist Paul Ehrlich who wrote the book in 1968 which declared: "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."
Ehrlich went on to predict four billion deaths, including 65 million Americans. Didn't happen. The Times rehearses some of Ehrlich's failed predictions:
His 1968 book, "The Population Bomb," sold in the millions with a jeremiad that humankind stood on the brink of apocalypse because there were simply too many of us. Dr. Ehrlich's opening statement was the verbal equivalent of a punch to the gut: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over." He later went on to forecast that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were fair "England will not exist in the year 2000." Dr. Ehrlich was so sure of himself that he warned in 1970 that "sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come." By "the end," he meant "an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity."
As you may have noticed, England is still with us. So is India. Hundreds of millions did not die of starvation in the '70s.
And yet in the Times, Ehrlich, even now continues to insist:
After the passage of 47 years, Dr. Ehrlich offers little in the way of a mea culpa. Quite the contrary. Timetables for disaster like those he once offered have no significance, he told Retro Report, because to someone in his field they mean something "very, very different" from what they do to the average person. The end is still nigh, he asserted, and he stood unflinchingly by his 1960s insistence that population control was required, preferably through voluntary methods. But if need be, he said, he would endorse "various forms of coercion" like eliminating "tax benefits for having additional children." Allowing women to have as many babies as they wanted, he said, is akin to letting everyone "throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor's backyard as they want." …
Dr. Ehrlich, now 83, is not retreating from his bleak prophesies. He would not echo everything that he once wrote, he says. But his intention back then was to raise awareness of a menacing situation, he says, and he accomplished that. He remains convinced that doom lurks around the corner, not some distant prospect for the year 2525 and beyond. What he wrote in the 1960s was comparatively mild, he suggested, telling Retro Report: "My language would be even more apocalyptic today."
Shameless self promotion: My new book The End Of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century (July 21) explains in the first chapter why Ehrlich failed and how world population is set to peak later in this century and then begin to decline. You can pre-order the book now. Just saying.
For more background see my article, The Invisible Hand of Population Control, on how liberty and the rule of law strongly tend to lower total fertility rates.