April 18, 2002
Tapped on Ehrlich

The American Prospect has this to say about Paul Ehrlich in their "Tapped" column:

EHRLICH ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION. For anti-environmental conservatives, there's simply no whipping boy like Stanford's Paul Ehrlich, author of 1968's The Population Bomb. The latest example is former Delaware governor Pete du Pont's OpinionJournal column, written for the occasion of Earth Day, arguing that "It's time to stop taking the likes of Paul Ehrlich seriously." Why? Because Ehrlich made an incorrect prediction about widespread famines back in the 1970s. Now, we know this is the Wall Street Journal and all. But seriously, is a person's entire life's work discredited by an error, or even several errors?

They say that Ehrlich made an incorrect prediction.... This implies one. No, Ehrlich was not content with just one prediction. He wrote three separate books (The Population Bomb-1968, The End of the Affluence-1974, and The Population Explosion-1990) that all stated that mass starvation was imminent. He predicted (in his 1968 book) that by the 1980s the US would be using insecticides so toxic that the rest of the Earth would launch a nuclear attack upon us to forestall the environmental damage (I'm not making this up). His 1974 opus anticipates a "nutritional disaster that seems likely to overcome humanity in the 1970s (or, at the latest, in the 1980s)." He believes that "a situation has been created that could lead to a billion or more people starving to death." He imagines the President dissolving congress during the food riots of the 1980's (gee, I must've missed them). His 1990 book reintroduces the prophesies of his earlier books, despite the fact that none of what he had predicted came to pass. In fact, I'd like to see anything that Ehrlich predicted that came true.

Economist Julian Simon made a bet with Ehrlich and two of Ehrlich's environmental compatriots. He offered $10,000 that *any* given raw material, to be picked by his opponents, would be cheaper at least one year later. The results were, um, informative.

(quoting Bjorn Lomborg from The Skeptical Environmentalist):

Ehrlich, Harte, and Holdren...staked their bets on chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten, and they picked a time frame of ten years. The bet was to be determined ten years later, assessing whether the real (inflation adjusted) prices had gone up or down . In September 1990 not only had the total basket of raw materials but also each individual raw material dropped in price. Chromium had dropped 5 percent, tin a whopping 74 percent. The doomsayers had lost.
Truth is they could not have won. [author's emphasis] Ehrlich and Co. would have lost no matter whether they had staked their money on petroleum, foodstuffs, sugar, coffee, cotton, wool, minerals or phosphates. They had all become cheaper.

So much for Paul Ehrlich and his credibility. Nonetheless, he still gets admiring press from The American Prospect and its lefty relatives Mother Jones and The Nation.

posted on April 18, 2002 09:50 PM


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