Do Monarchs need Paul Cherubini?
monarch at saber.net
Mon Apr 22 23:56:55 EDT 2002
The one question Pat raised that I did not address was:
> And don't you think that overpopulation, habitat degradation,
> resource over-exploitation and biodiversity loss are serious
> problems? If you think they are problems, why do you attack
> the people who are trying to find solutions to the problems?
Pat, I think the dire predictions of the CONSEQUENCES of these
"problems" (e.g. death of the world's oceans, mass human starvation)
have been greatly exaggerated by Stanford Professor Paul
R. Ehrlich and his supporters. And I think anyone - not just
me - but anyone who tries to explain why monarch butterflies
or the earth's ecosystems are not headed for imminent collapse
will be subject to ridicule, insults, anonymous smear campaign
"yellow cards" and such.
I feel the following article published by Stanford University's
alternative student newspaper the "Stanford Review" is right
on the money about Ehrlich and the future of the world's food
"Do you have trouble confusing fact and myth? Do you have a
penchant for spending days, months, years reaffirming what has
been uniformly proven false? Have you ever lost money because
of your unyielding faith in your nutty ideas? If you answered "Yes"
to one or more of these questions, fear not! -- you'll get an A
from at least one Stanford professor, tenured biologist Paul Ehrlich.
Author of the best-selling Population Bomb, an intellectual spark
for the modern ecological movement, Ehrlich has been a tenured
faculty member on the Farm since the early sixties. While his
early research centered on butterflies, Ehrlich reached national
prominence for the startling ecological predictions he made in his
1968 Population Bomb and on a famous Tonight Show interview
shortly after the release of his book.
The three-million copies of the Population Bomb that sold were
influential in the radicalizing of conservationist organizations
such as the Sierra Club, and in the creating new ones like
Greenpeace. A founding father of Earth Day, in 1990 Ehrlich won
a five-year MacArthur Foundation grant for $345,000 and shared
half of the Crafoord Prize, the ecologist's version of the Nobel.
Most recently, Ehrlich and his wife Anne published Betrayal of
Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens
our Future. This spring, he is teaching a Freshman Seminar entitled,
"Environmental Problems and Solutions."
So hurrah for Professor Ehrlich and hurrah for Stanford
University. Except for one problem. Since his foray into environmental
tomfoolery, Ehrlich's predictions have been consistently and tragically
wrong, for four decades and counting.
In the mid-sixties, Ehrlich began the modern ecological movement's
resurrection of Malthusian thought. Thomas Malthus was the British
economist who, in 1798, predicted that, because population growth
outstrips the growth in food supply, the starvation of Great
Britain was imminent and inevitable. Unfortunately for Malthus,
Great Britain was still alive and well two centuries later;
unfortunately for the world, Ehrlich made it his task to bring Malthus'
dead wrong ideas back to life.
After limiting his family size to one (Ehrlich had a vasectomy
shortly after receiving tenure at Stanford -- showing once again
that tenure does limit production), Ehrlich resolved in 1968 to
write an environmental text that would warn the world of the
immediate danger it faced. Ehrlich's logic was simple: a growing
population increasingly consumes the earth's finite resources.
This left humanity with three options: 1) stop producing, 2) stop
consuming, or 3) die from starvation.
His Population Bomb began, "The battle to feed all of humanity
is over ... hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to
death." In 1969, Ehrlich added, "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 its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides,
and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million. In the
mid-seventies, with the release of his The End of Affluence, Ehrlich
incorporated drama into his dire prophesies. He envisioned 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. That's right, Ehrlich
thought that the United States would get nuked in retaliation
for killing bugs.
As good as they were for the rest of us, the 1980s weren't so
kind to Prof. Ehrlich. There were no food riots of 1980, Congress
stayed in session (though perhaps Reagan should have taken a
hint from Ehrlich when the Senate started wondering why we
didn't send the Girl Scouts to deal with the Sandinistas), and in
general Americans got richer, fatter, and more numerous. As did
the rest of the world. According to the Food and Agriculture, the
Third World now consumes 27 percent more calories per person
per day than it did in 1963. India is now exporting food, and deaths
from famine, starvation, and malnutrition are fewer than ever
Despite the increase in population and consumption, there is no
sight of the shortages that Ehrlich predicted. Since 1980, The
Economist reports, the world food commodity index has fallen
50 percent. If there were no food left, it would make little
sense for farmers to lower the price on what little remains.
During the 1980s thirty-three of thirty-five common minerals
fell in price. In 1990, unexploited reserves of oil amounted to
900 billion barrels, 350 billion more than the total oil reserves
of the 1970s, when Paul Ehrlich asked poignantly, "What will we
do when the pumps run dry?"
For those wondering why things are so good when they should
be so bad, the answer is not Al Gore. Rather, we're richer,
fatter, and more populous because technology -- the gift of
free minds -- has again advanced us. When scarcity rears its
angry head, historically it's been techies (the types that consider
the "outdoors" to be the parking lot outside the lab) that have
kept humanity afloat, and not academic doomsayers or pretentious
tie-dyed greens. The Iron Age began after wars in the eastern
Mediterranean caused tin shortages; the age of coal
resulted from timber shortages in 16th century Britain; the
1850s shortage of whale oil translated into the first oil well
in 1859; as pessimists began worrying about the copper
shortage that telephone wiring would cause, fiber optic
This was at least the theory of a lone American economist,
Julian Simon. And after a decade of being attacked or ignored
by Ehrlich, Simon resolved to show Ehrlich what a joke the
doomsayers were. The two never debated (Ehrlich refused,
calling Simon a "fringe character"), rather he put his money
were his mouth was. In 1980, when Ehrlich was still predicting
imminent scarcity, Simon set up a bet wherein he would sell
Ehrlich $1,000 dollars worth of any five commodities that
Ehrlich chose. Ehrlich would hold the commodities for ten
years. If the prices rose -- meaning scarcity -- Simon would
buy the commodities back from Ehrlich at the higher price.
If the prices fell, Ehrlich would pay Simon the difference.
Professor Ehrlich jumped at the bet, noting that he wanted
to "accept the offer before other greedy people jumped
In October of 1990, Ehrlich mailed Simon a check for $570.07.
As Simon predicted, free markets provided lower prices and
more options. Simon would have won even if prices weren't
adjusted for inflation. He then offered to raise the wager to
$20,000 and use any resources at any time that Ehrlich
preferred. The Stanford professor was slightly less bold
this time. He refused Simon's offers, mailing him only a
check and a table of his calculations, with no note attached.
No longer was the bet Ehrlich's way of saving Simon from
greedy speculators. Looking back, Ehrlich claimed that he
was "goaded into making a bet with Simon on a matter of
marginal environmental importance."
Like any good loser, the Stanford biologist has yet to
acknowledge any fault in his career of failed predictions,
and frankly, The Review is not holding its breath, expecting Ehrlich
to take a trip to Damascus. To some there seems little relevance
to focus on a scientist whose predictions were never realized.
History is already in the course of forgetting Professor Ehrlich.
Fortune magazine recently listed Simon among "the world's most
stimulating thinkers." Ehrlich's name didn't appear. But before
we forget Professor Ehrlich, we must remember the influence
his ideas have had on the world. Ehrlich has suggested that
governments should consider using coercion to limit family size
and that the United States should end food aid for countries
that refuse population control. His fellow eco-nut Garrett
Hardin said bluntly the"freedom to breed is intolerable."
Coerced birth control had its day; China adopted the one child per
family policy and slaughtered a disproportionate number of female
children, as birth control advocates stood in silent assent. The
Third World has grown healthier, richer, and more populous as
Mr. Ehrlich"s predictions have failed. But if Professor Ehrlich's
ideas were left unchecked, we would have scores of nations that
would have not been allowed to enjoy the same material progress
we have enjoyed. Often it's difficult to miss in the rhetoric of
population controllers like Professor Ehrlich a message that
endorses a world in which there are more of us -- clean,
earth-conscious First Worlders -- than them -- the
rest of the world. It's tragic to think of a world in which a
mother in Zaire is told what her family must look like, while
Paul Ehrlich lives well in Palo Alto."
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