INF 4210 (Information Design) Course  Project
  About Paul R. Ehrlich  

I have gathered a good set of writings of both sides on this issue. It seems that –as in all other cases- none of them are neither %100 correct nor %100 wrong. Both are to some extent right and to some extent wrong. I have mentioned his major claim as well as his critics' opinions earlier in my essay and other pages of this site. So we can continue with a fast overview on his critics’ opinions.

The main problem that this group of authorities have with Ehrlich, is that none of his predictions, or “doom sayings” -as they believe- have ever come true. For example Ronald Bailey, the science correspondent for Reason magazine, in his article in “Opinion Journal”, from The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, writes:


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We're Doomed Again
Paul Ehrlich has never been right. Why does anyone still listen to him?

Thursday, May 20, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

Environmentalist Paul Ehrlich has proved himself to be a stupendously bad prophet. In 1968 he declared: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." They didn't. Indeed, a "green revolution" nearly tripled the world's food supply. In 1975, he predicted that, by the mid-1980s, "mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity," in which "accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion." Far from it. Between 1975 and 2000 the World Bank's commodity price index for minerals and metals fell by nearly 50%. In other words, we abound in "key minerals."

Or, Mike Toth in Stanford Reviewed, declares that:

Paul Ehrlich gets Stanford "Reviewed"
by Mike Toth
Stanford Review, March 10, 1998

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 communication emerged.

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.

The major point that these critics disregard, is the situation that the world could have had now, without terrible warnings of people like Paul Ehrlich. I mean, he has sure had a major role in evoking food production activities and child birth control during the last decades.  I only a decade after Ehrlich published his first book, “The Population Bomb”, birth rate in the United States fell down to almost half of its previous rate (from 3.7 to 1.8) and it is unfair to believe that Ehrlich’s works have had no effect on this trend.

Yet, anyhow, the fact that none of his prediction has come true, shows both that he has been too stubborn in his forecasts, and that he has gained rather a big success in his task, warning against food shortage. In other words, nobody can say that our world would not have been much different today without Ehrlich’s warnings and of course, nobody can say that radical changes have not happened in the last four decades.

Finally I have to confess that I am personally in complete agreement with Ehrlich and his coauthors where they warn us that an environmental disaster is about to happen, and I regard it really foolish to deny that:

It was while doing field study on butterflies, reef fish and birds in the 1950s that the Ehrlichs first began to think about human population impact on a rapidly disappearing ecosystem. "Around the world," they write in Betrayal, "we have watched humanity consuming its natural capital and degrading its own life-support systems. Virtually everywhere--be it the Conoros Islands or California, Dehli or Detroit, Antarctica or Alaska, Fiji or Florence, Tanzania or Tokyo, Australia or the Amazon, Beijing or Bora Bora--we've seen the results of gradually building pressures caused by increasing human numbers, overconsumption, and the use of environmentally damaging technologies and practices."