Paul Ehrlich famously predicted that the end was nigh in 1968’s The Population Bomb. The book was a huge best-seller that made a memorable companion to The Greening of America, Our Bodies, Ourselves, The Whole Earth Catalog and other classics of the era. I’m sticking with R. Crumb.
Ehrlich’s book engaged the attention of the late Julian Simon. Simon famously challenged Ehrlich to The Bet based on Ehrlich’s predictions. Simon won the bet.
The Ehrlich-Simon bet is of something more than merely historical interest, though there is that. Obama science adviser John Holdren was on Erhlich’s team of advisers as they settled on the specific terms of the bet with Simon. In late 2008 Ross Douthat recalled this element of the story here.
Ehrlich now presents as a case study in the thesis that only the wrong survive. He’s still around, he’s still peddling a new book, he still envisions a nightmarish future, and he still proclaims that the end is nigh. We need to prepare to “eat the bodies of [our] dead.”
STEVE adds: I used Sabin’s book The Bet as a text in my environment class this spring, and while a lot of students recognize the fundamental flaws of the 1970s-era Malthusianism at the heart of Ehrlich’s shtick, many hold fast to the essential doomsaying of Ehrlich because it assuages their environmental romanticism.
I’ve squared off with Ehrlich twice, once at the New School in New York in 2006, and on Peter Robinson’s TV show “Uncommon Knowledge” way back in 2003. Here’s the Uncommon Knowledge show, if you have 26 minutes to spare. But if you have the time, you’ll see that I manage to wring some grudging concessions from Ehrlich: