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Environmental Doomsayers Strike Again

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The latest environmental prediction is that planet earth has about ten good years left. “ I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change … no longer than a decade, at the most, ” says James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Just last year we were told that 2006 was going to be another overly active hurricane season based on global warming theories. We’ve heard these gloom and doom claims before. In an April 28, 1975 article, Newsweek reported on how global cooling might affect agriculture. Like James Hansen, climatologists in 1975 were “pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climate change [resulting in global cooling], or even to allay its effects .”[1] It wasn’t too long ago that population growth was going to be the end of us all, now Europe and Japan are experiencing a “birth dearth.”[2]

In his book The Population Bomb, first published in 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich made a number of predictions about the future of our planet based on his understanding of population growth and food supplies. Ehrlich’s projections were not new. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), a British political economist and mathematician, proposed that population growth would outstrip any increase in food supplies in his day.

Malthus theorized that food production follows an arithmetical growth rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so forth) while population growth follows a geometrical pattern (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, ad infinitum). The hypothesis seemed irrefutable because it was based on the exactitude of mathematics![3] These “irrefutable facts” meant to Malthus that mass starvation for Great Britain was imminent and inevitable. More than 200 years have passed since the publication of Malthus’s essay, and Great Britain is more populated and productive than it was when Malthus made his calculations.

The failure of the Malthusian worldview did not deter Ehrlich from making similar predictions. He asserted dogmatically, “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.”[4] In 1969, Ehrlich continued with his predictions, stating, “By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.” The same year, he predicted in an article entitled “Eco-Catastrophe!” that by 1980 the United States would see life expectancy drop to 42 years because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would plummet to 22.6 million. The facts tell a different story.

“All you can see is growing wealth around the world, increased caloric intake, increased life expectancy,[5] increased per-capita wealth,” says Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies for the Cato Institute, a Washington research center that opposes most government intervention.

“We are increasingly conquering death around the world,” Taylor adds. “A century ago, human life expectancy was about 30 years. Now it’s 60 or 70 years. People are not starving to death. They are getting better food and they are living longer.”

And because they are living better, Taylor said, people are having fewer children.[6]

In the mid-seventies, with the release of his book The End of Affluence,[7] Ehrlich outlined a Hollywood-style disaster scenario where he foresaw the President dissolving Congress “during the food riots of the 1980s,” followed by the United States suffering a nuclear attack for its mass use of insecticides. Like Malthus before him, in 1969 Ehrlich did not see much of a future for England. “I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”[8]

In 1976, he went beyond predicting food scarcity and took it upon himself to make unfounded pronouncements about natural resources. “Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity. . . in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.”[9] Economist Julian Simon won a bet with Paul Ehrlich on whether the price of five strategic metals which Ehrlich chose (copper, chrome, nickel, tin, tungsten) would rise or fall in a ten-year period from 1980 to 1990. All five metals went down in price. Ehrlich lost the bet.[10] Prices continue to fall. The year 2001 saw “the worst decline in commodity prices in at least 31 years. Copper fell to a 14-year low, coffee was the cheapest since 1971 and cotton dropped to its lowest price in more than two decades.”[11]

Ehrlich was not alone in adopting a Chicken-Little worldview. In the January 21, 1976, issue of Parade Magazine, an ad appeared that asserted the following: “It’s fact. The latest U.S. Government figures indicate our proven [oil] reserves will only last [12 years.] . . . These frightening numbers reveal our energy problem.”[12] It wasn’t a “fact” then, and it’s not a fact now as recent discoveries in deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has shown. Any shortage of oil today is the result of purposeful limiting of supplies by government-controlled cartels, governmental restrictions on new drilling ventures because of environmental concerns, geo-political uncertainties, and technological shortcomings.[13]

Despite being wrong on nearly every environmental prediction, Ehrlich and others who have adopted his worldview, continue to insist that overpopulation is an out-of-control problem. And yet Ehrlich has never explained how “overpopulated ” Japan, Belgium, and Holland, with more than 500 people per square mile, have a higher standard of living than Columbia, Kenya, and Ethiopia with less than 100 people per square mile. Why is it that “very densely populated places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore report no famines”?[14] Hong Kong has 20 times the number of people per square mile as India, and yet, the standard of living in India is one hundreth of what it is in Hong Kong. Consider Singapore. This tiny nation “has more than 10,000 people per square mile, and its income per capita is more than 200 times higher than that of Ethiopia.”[15]

Ehrlich’s claim that natural resources are the deciding factor in determining whether a nation will be prosperous enough to feed its population cannot be substantiated by a rehearsal of the facts.[16] “Japan has no petroleum and imports most of the natural resources needed to produce its large industrial output. Yet it has a much higher per capita income than Mexico, which has abundant minerals, fertile soil, large petroleum deposits, and rivers capable of producing much hydroelectric power.”[17]

In reality, civil war, socialist and Marxist economic policies, nature worship, and bureaucratic obstacles contribute more to famine and poor living conditions than overpopulation.[18]

Ehrlich’s dire predictions were overshadowed by “a British scientist in the early 1960s [who] calculated that in less than a thousand years, ‘people will be jammed together so tightly that the earth itself will glow orange-red from the heat.’ An article in the July 23, 1962, issue of Newsweek warned that ‘By the year 6000, the solid mass of humanity would be expanding outward into space at the speed of light.’”[19]

Endnotes:

[1] http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/993807/posts
[2] Michael Myer, “Birth Dearth,” Newsweek online
[3] Thomas R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 2 vols., Everyman’s Library (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., [1798]), 1958.
[4] Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, rev. ed. (Rivercity, MA: Rivercity Press, 1975), xi. Quoted in Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 67. In the first edition, Ehrlich stated: “There is not enough food today. How much there will be tomorrow is open to debate. If the optimists are correct, today’s level of misery will be perpetuated for perhaps two decades into the future. If the pessimists are correct, massive famines will occur soon, possibly in the early 1970’s, certainly by the early 1980’s. So far most of the evidence seems to be on the side of the pessimists, and we should plan on the assumption that they are correct. After all, some two billion people aren’t being properly fed in 1968!” (Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb [Binghamton, NY: Sierra Club, 1969], 36–37).
[5] The exception to “increased life expectancy” is the rampage of AIDS-like diseases in African nations. This epidemic has little to do with population growth and more to do with lifestyle choices and poor sanitary conditions. Africa’s inability to deal with these problems is the result of mistaken ideological, political, and spiritual assumptions about reality.
[6] Jeff Nesmith, “6 Billion and Growing Fast,” The Atlanta Journal/Constitution (October 10, 1999), D3. Large families were often necessary because of high infant mortality, long-term family care (true social security), and the need for manual labor. With better medical care, capitalist economies, and advances in technology, families, on average, choose to have fewer children.
[7] Paul R. Ehrlich, The End of Affluence: A Blueprint for Your Future (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974).
[8] Michael Fumento, “Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich Strikes Out Again,” Investor’s Business Daily (December 16, 1997).
[9] Quoted in Fumento, “Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich Strikes Out Again.”
[10] For an account of the wager, see John Tierney, “Betting the Planet,” New York Times Magazine (December 2, 1990), 52. Copper is being replaced in the communication’s industry by “fiber optics.” Two hair-thin fiber optic strands can carry 24,000 telephone calls. It would take 48,000 copper wires to carry the same number of calls.
[11] Bloomberg News, “Commodity prices hit worst decline in 31 years,” Atlanta Journal/Constitution (January 2, 2002), D3.
[12] See Arnold Hite, “Chicken Little Was Wrong About Oil, Too,”Wall Street Journal (February 3, 1988).
[13] Madeleine Nash, “Grains of Hope,” Time (July 31, 2000), 38–46.
[14] Thomas Sowell, The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective (New York: William Morrow, 1983), 212.
[15] Sowell, Economics and Politics of Race, 211.
[16] Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 37–40.
[17] Sowell, The Economics and Politics of Race, 214.
[18] David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, 3rd rev. ed. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1996), 113–21, esp. 119.
[19] http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=3452. Also see http://users.characterlink.net/acorduan/y2k.html

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