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The next time you hear someone predict environmental doom, remember Paul R. Ehrlich. In his book The Population Bomb, first published in 1968, Ehrlich made a number of predictions about the future of our planet based on a faulty 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. 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.”
 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, 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.
In the mid-seventies, with the release of his book The End of Affluence,4 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.”
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.” 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. 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.”
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.” 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 have 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.
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.’”