Paul Ehrlich

Civilization Is Doomed, Says Stanford Biologist Paul Ehrlich (Again)

Half a century after The Population Bomb, Ehrlich still thinks global catastrophe is just around the corner.

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PaulEhrlichwikimedia
Wikimedia Commons

"The battle to feed all of humanity is over," Paul Ehrlich declared in the prologue to his 1968 book The Population Bomb. "In the 1970's the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to 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." Still, he said, "We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail."

Half a century later, Ehrlich is still at it, notwithstanding the spectacular failure of his prior prophecies. "Collapse of civilization is a near certainty within decades," says the headline over a new Guardian article featuring Ehrlich's latest predictions. Ehrlich tells the paper "population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people."

According to The Guardian, Ehrlich concedes that "many details and timings of events" in The Population Bomb "were wrong," but "he says the book was correct overall." Hardly.

While far too many people did die of malnutrition in the decades following the 1970s, massive famines in which hundreds of millions starved to death did not occur. The world death rate fell from 12.5 per 1,000 people in 1968 to 7.6 people per 1,000 in 2015. The world's total fertility rate declined from about 5 children in 1968 to less than 2.5 children per woman now, largely without coercive population control measures (with the notable exception of China).

According to The Guardian, Ehrlich thinks "the world's optimum population is less than two billion people—5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today." As it happens, human population, will likely peak later in this century and begin falling, perhaps to as low as 2 billion by 2150, according to projections by demographer Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at Oxford University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

In one scenario, Lutz et al. assumed human life expectancy would rise to 120 years, from around 70 now. They reported:

A global move to the fertility levels seen in a number of Chinese urban centres (around 0.75) over the coming 40 years would result in a peaking of global population before 2050 and a decline to only 3.6 billion in 2100 and 150 million people by 2200. But even the more realistic range of long term fertility levels of 1.5-1.75 (higher than it has been in much of Europe for the past decades) would lead to declines in global population size of 2.6-5.6 billion by 2200 and even 0.9-3.2 billion by 2300. Therefore, even under conditions of further substantial increases in life expectancy, world population size would decline significantly if the world, in the longer run, followed the examples of Europe and East Asia.

LutzWorldPopulation120years
Wolfgang Lutz

Unlike his dire predictions in The Population Bomb, Ehrlich cannily does not specify in which upcoming decade civilization will finally collapse. Unless effective rejuvenation treatments kick in soon, the 85-year-old Ehrlich won't be around for me (and younger folks) to mock when his prophecies of doom fail yet again.

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  1. Stanford truly believes in second chances.

  2. Unless effective rejuvenation treatments kick in soon, the 85 year-old Ehrlich won’t be around for me (and younger folks) to make fun of when his predictions of doom fail yet again.

    It may not be as sweet, but i will certainly continue to make fun of him.

    1. It happens to the leadership of every Millenialist doctrine sooner or later. Of course, at some point old Sol is going to burn up all her hydrogen, so there is doom in the future.

      1. We’re in trouble well before that. The only hope life on this planet has is if we do the exact opposite of what the econuts want.

  3. Dire predictions are a stock in trade.

  4. “And with the notable exception of China, the world’s total fertility rate declined from about 5 children in 1968 to below 2.5 children per woman now largely without coercive population control measures.”

    With the most important factors–cross culturally and throughout history–being a drop in infant mortality rates and an increase the opportunities for women to contribute to family income by working outside the home.

    . . . both of which are highly correlated with economic growth.

  5. Paul Ehrlich: “I never get tired of being wrong.”

    1. Well, people keep paying him for it for some reason, so why would he be?

  6. Ron Bailey shall be incinerated by the fires of Malthusian Hell.

  7. Soylent Green is People!

    1. Fake news. Big brother sad so – – – – – –

  8. Wrong then, wrong now.
    Just like the global climate warming change prophets.

  9. True story. One of President Obama’s advisers on global warming was John Holdren, who was closely associated with Ehrlich and his ‘Population Bomb’ predictions. But, let’s continue to pretend like global warming alarmism isn’t just peak population dressed in a new garb.

  10. Remember, predictions such as, “Hey, you know what? Everything’s progressing nicely” don’t get you headlines in newspapers.

  11. I couldn’t finish that Dan Brown book about this topic because even if it was fiction, it was pretty obvious that the author believes that someone (presumably government or rogue evil doer) should sterlize groups of people and kill other groups of people (I’m just assuming Mr. Brown wouldn’t be in either group if he had his way).

    1. Dan Brown: Creative typist.

  12. It’s certainly fair to criticize Ehrlich for repeatedly predicting doom that never arrives, but I wonder how Reason would fare in an analysis of how many times articles predicted that budget deficits would result in hyperinflation, collapsing economies, and the like.

    1. Did Reason’s predictions also result in forced sterilization and abortions in India and in other developing third world countries?

      Ehrlich’s prediction was not some benign prophecy. His nonsense provided justification for developed countries to leverage financial support to the developing world in exchange for instituting some horrible and illiberal practices meant to retard population growth in those countries.

      1. Did Reason’s predictions also result in forced sterilization and abortions in India and in other developing third world countries?

        Also, Reason’s raison d’etre isn’t economic doom the way Ehrlich’s is population doom. Reason’s growth and advance of the state are empirically visible and statements about the advance or retreat of liberty debated internally. Regardless of whether Too Big Too Fail bolstered the economy or caused it to flag, the taking was immoral.

  13. What was that complaint about games breeding meritocracies? Here’s an excellent example of why the elites hate meritocracies.

  14. ” Unless effective rejuvenation treatments kick in soon, the 85-year-old Ehrlich won’t be around for me (and younger folks) to mock when his prophecies of doom fail yet again.”

    Ok, that was absolutely hilarious Ron.

    1. Check his alt-text.

  15. Ron,
    I’m in shock that I did not see a shameless plug for your book: “The End of Doom”. You had the perfect opportunity.

  16. Unless effective rejuvenation treatments kick in soon, the 85-year-old Ehrlich won’t be around for me (and younger folks) to mock when his prophecies of doom fail yet again.

    Actually, his head’s been frozen for some time.

    1. His rectum must maintain sub-zero temperatures, eh?

  17. Every reference to Paul Ehrlich in a Reason article should refer to him as “Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon’s bitch” or some variation thereof.

    1. Second that.

  18. Paul Erlich is the epitome of the saying, “better to sit quietly and have people think you’re a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

  19. Ehrlich is a fraud
    That people still take anything this idiot says seriously is the real story here

    This monster lobbied against Borlaug being funded for his research to increase crop yields and to start the green revolution. Borlaug saved around a billion lives and is secular saint but hardly known, while this misanthrope is still being feted.

    1. Every death cult needs a prophet.

    2. Real talk: Norman Borlaug is straight-up my hero. I consider him quite possibly the greatest man who ever lived. Without him, Mao’s starvations kill a LOT more than five million?and that’s just the start of what he did for the world. Ehrlich might have been right about the 70s were it not for Borlaug. He deserves more than just a goddamn Nobel Prize; he deserves to be taught in science classes alongside Einstein, Edison, and George Washington “Token Black Guy” Carver.

  20. i like the juxtaposition with the Pinker interview upblog.


  21. Unlike his dire predictions in The Population Bomb, Ehrlich cannily does not specify in which upcoming decade civilization will finally collapse.

    I see he finally learned the pertinent lessons from Nostradamus.

  22. I’ve come to the conclusion that end time predictions, whether they are secular or religious, are often about the predictors’ narcissism combined with their own sense of mortality. They know they are going to die, but have a hard time with the idea that the world will continue on quite happily without their “greatness” once they are gone. So, they feel comfort in the idea that everyone will die soon after them.

    Well, Mr Ehrlich, the end is indeed finally nigh: for you! Give it a decade or two, and your scholarly work will be about as well-regarded as phrenology.

    1. I’m beginning to believe that end time predictions and the gullibles’ enthusiastic consumption of it may be a driving force of civilization and therefore completely futile to fight against.

  23. Ehrlich thinks “the world’s optimum population is less than two billion people?5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today.”

    Dreams of the death of 5.6 billion people. I wish he’d do us all a favor and jump off a bridge to do his part.

    Why isn’t this guy jeered at and pelted with garbage everywhere he goes?

    1. Because everyone always thinks they wont be part of the 2 billion. Or part of the marginalized group, it will be the other guy. More or less naivety.

  24. Speaking of people who were wrong, is Michael Fumento still bashing Gary Taubes or did he go crawl into a cave of shame?

  25. Ever dependable, like a compass that always points south

  26. The World Will End At Midnight! (12:30 Newfoundland).

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