Despite utter failure of predictions of deadly ‘population bomb,’ biologist still preaching humanity’s doom while ignoring role of human ingenuity
Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2023
We’ll say this for Paul Ehrlich—at least he’s consistent. In 1968 the Stanford biologist famously declared that “the battle to feed all humanity is over,” at a time when the earth’s population was about 3.5 billion. Today we have a population of eight billion (better fed than ever), yet there was Mr. Ehrlich, on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night, still predicting that “humanity is very busily sitting on a limb that we’re sawing off.”
The CBS narrator acknowledged that the green revolution in agriculture disproved Mr. Ehrlich’s prediction of mass famine. But the show went on to suggest that Mr. Ehrlich’s repackaged gloom about melting icecaps and the rate of extinction may finally prove him right in saying we are still heading the way of the dinosaurs.
As with Thomas Malthus, the father of doom-and-gloomers, the repeated failures of Mr. Ehrlich’s predictions of catastrophe to materialize never seem to discourage those who believe human beings are breeding and consuming our way to destruction.
The reason these dire prophecies fail is that they ignore the most decisive variable: human ingenuity. In the years since Mr. Ehrlich first forecast apocalypse, human beings have found untold new ways to improve life on earth—e.g., by reclaiming arable land, inventing new medicines, increasing food production, making clean water more available and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.
Mr. Ehrlich is 90 years old and looking spry. When he was born in 1932, life expectancy for an American baby was 61 years. For Americans who will be born in 2023, it’s 79.11 years. One explanation is that much of what Mr. Ehrlich considers to be a population “crisis” is simply because people are living longer and much less likely to die as infants.
Another way of putting it is that Mr. Ehrlich is living proof that we are living through what his intellectual nemesis, Julian Simon, liked to call an “epidemic of life.” We’d say that’s a cause for celebration.