Stanford University’s Paul Ehrlich continues to spread pseudoscience about climate change and overpopulation
By Michael Shellenberger, Jan. 3, 2023
On Sunday night, CBS’s flagship news program, “60 Minutes,” highlighted warnings from a Stanford University biologist named Paul Ehrlich. In the broadcast, Ehrlich claimed, “humanity is not sustainable… for the entire planet, you’d need five more Earths.”
But that claim was debunked in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Plos Biology, by leading scientists, including the Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy, nearly a decade ago.
And newly available archival footage shows Ehrlich claiming that global cooling, not global warming, would result in global famine. “As you know, we’re already cooling the planet,” he said in a 1970 speech (click on this link).
Today, Ehrlich claims global warming will result in famine, but back in 1970, he claimed global cooling would do so.
“If the weather changes,” he said, “we may be hungry very, very fast because we do not have that large a reserve supply in the United States.”
Ehrlich wrong on overpopulation, poverty
Ehrlich also claimed, “There will never be 7 billion people in the year 2000.” Last year, the United Nations announced that there were 8 billion people in the world.
Ehrlich has long sought to shut down the oil and gas industry, a big reason for the decline in extreme poverty.
Today, Ehrlich blames fossil fuels for global warming. In the past, he blamed it for global cooling. “By the end of the next decade, the world will be pitched in the worst famines it’s ever seen,” he said. “Almost certainly, civilization will collapse. That’s the kind of threat that the petrochemical industry represents to us.”
In truth, the switch from coal to natural gas is the main reason that emissions have declined significantly in rich nations, including the US and in Europe. In the US, carbon emissions declined 22% between 2005 and 2020. The main reason, or 61% of the decline, was from the switch from coal to natural gas.
The whole idea of running out of food, like global cooling, is a fantasy and not grounded in the reality on the ground.
Ehrlich has long displayed extreme confidence in his views. “My biggest fault,” he told an interviewer in 1970, “is I’ve never learned to suffer fools gladly.”
Ehrlich hasn’t changed his core beliefs, which include coercing people to have fewer children. “The idea that every woman should have as many babies as she wants,” he told The New York Times a few years ago, “is to me exactly the same kind of idea as everybody ought to be permitted to throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.”
Deadliness of pandemic overestimated
Ehrlich also overestimated the deadliness of the threat of a pandemic. “This is something that concerns biologists a great deal,” he said in 1970. “The denser, the larger, the weaker the population gets, the more we are a set up for a virus, it’ll just run through, and it’ll be so long for three-quarters of the people.”
In truth, the world just suffered the worst pandemic since the 1918 flu. But whereas the 1918-20 Spanish Flu killed 50 million people, mostly young and healthy adults, the 2020-2022 coronavirus pandemic killed fewer than 7 million, the vast majority of whom were over the age of 70 and of poor health.
Neither approached the 2-3 billion person death toll that Ehrlich predicted.
Deforestation and climate change are real environmental problems humans can and should do more to mitigate. But those solutions involve using more fertilizer to produce more food on less land, which reduces deforestation and moving from coal to natural gas and nuclear.
Ehrlich has opposed all of the key solutions to resource scarcity, including fertilizer, nuclear energy, and desalination.
Ehrlich engaged in chronic fear-mongering. “The Fermi fast breeder reactor,” said Ehrlich in 1970, “almost blew up outside of Detroit. If it had gone, it would’ve made more than 10 percent of the United States uninhabitable and killed several million people. If the weather conditions had been right, that’s the kind of risk you’re running. I don’t know a single nuclear physicist who would be willing to live downwind of a nuclear power plant.”
Nuclear energy is, in reality, the safest way to make reliable electricity, according to every major scientific study.
Ehrlich also opposed desalination. “The way to solve our power problems is not to build more power plants is to decrease the demand for power. No one in the next 30 years will desalinate one drop of water for standard agriculture. In fact, it’s marginal. Desalting with nuclear power is marginal for drinking water in most areas and only in coastal areas.”
Hyping the apocalyse
But most of all, Ehrlich hyped a coming eco-apocalypse:
- “The disaster will take the form of famine, plague, and war. Every person you add to the planet increases the chances of a thermonuclear war. Everybody in this room may die 20 years young simply because we’re using hard pesticides.
- “We’re close to famine in the United States . We’re very close to a worldwide plague that could kill virtually everybody.
- “Sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come, and by the end, I mean an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.”
- “Every person you add to the planet dramatically increases the chances of having a worldwide plague, which could kill almost everyone.”
- “These growth rates are preposterous. They cannot be sustained. We face colossal disasters in the future simply because of the food population gap that is inevitable.
- “We’ll run out of a lot of things before the first part of the next century it’s very difficult for me to picture things holding together for more than another decade or so
- “We’re losing 10 to 20 million people a year to DA to starvation right now. That’s a big disaster already. And that will inevitably increase. It may not increase. That’s speaking Worldwide. Worldwide.”
Some of the results of such anti-natalism were quite dark. The Indian government in the 1970s encouraged mass sterilization and sometimes withheld food, and housing to achieve it. Over 8 million people were sterilized, often forcibly.
Ehrlich blamed many problems on overpopulation. “We’re 6% of the world’s people. We now consume something like 30% of the natural resources of the world. That, of course is why we’re in Vietnam. We’re down there because we’re trying to get our share of one of the last large unoccupied resource pools in Southeast Asia. That’s why our CIA’s in South America. That’s why our Middle East policy is what it is because of oil.”
The original version of this article is available at this link.