Paul Ehrlich wants us dead

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I typically don’t like or trust YouTube documentaries, but this one is well-researched, good for explaining the start of the anti-human depopulation mindset and agenda’s to those new to it, and kept me engaged the whole way through.

The Man Who Wants Us Dead

31 Oct 2023 YouTube | Rumble-Mirror

Intro

We’ve lit the fuse on a population bomb that will wipe out all of humanity. There is no tomorrow—mass starvation and genocidal wars over dwindling finite resources. The long-prophesied Norse Ragnarok, the Abrahamist Last Judgment, the Nuutungk Talongvaqa, the Hopi tribe’s “Last Day”.

If you’re an attractive, charming doomsday showman, the end is near, and if you’re a nerd whose best works solve the problem of airline overbooking, things have never been better because Armageddon is not just mythological; it’s a battle of science, nature, human behaviour, and two men. One, a goliath celebrated with academic accolades and public popularity. The other, a David relegated to relative obscurity.

It’s the story of a bet that bound them together eternally—a bet over a handful of natural resources that served as a proxy for our destiny. The lessons we learned from it have almost been entirely ignored because they defy every instinct we have about how to survive. (01)

The foundational question of their wager is more relevant now than ever. Are we paradoxically killing ourselves by existing? And if the facts say everything you think and feel is wrong, would you even care?

The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death despite any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date, nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world’s death rate.

Paul R. Ehrlich

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich opened his doomsday prediction book, “The Population Bomb,” with those three sentences. (02) (03) (04)

Ehrlich was and still is an entomologist. His particular field of study is butterflies, and four years before publishing a book that would change the world, he popularized a theory of co-evolution—the concept that natural selection doesn’t happen in isolation, and that plants and insects can have a reciprocal relationship affecting both their evolutionary paths.

He spent decades thinking about how the world and all the matter and life within its ecosystem worked—minerals, water, plants, animals, humans—and he concluded that it didn’t. Or that it didn’t anymore.

He saw the end of the world as we know it, and he knew not only why it would happen, but he also knew how to stop it. (05)

When he was catching butterflies as a kid in 1930s New Jersey, his collection grew so large that it filled his bedroom, and he had to sleep in a different room.

He had no idea that his life was on a collision course with a boy born in the same year living just a few miles away.

Julian Simon

Julian Simon’s interest was ultimately in economics, and the clash between Ehrlich and Simon was a decades-long debate to decide the fate of humanity, and… you? It’s a debate over morals, mankind, and math.

Nearly 200 years before the public wager between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon became the most famous bet in history, it started with a political economist whose students affectionately referred to as “Web-Toe”.

Thomas Robert Malthus

Thomas Malthus focused on economics and demography. (06)

In his 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus wrote:

It has been said that the great question is now at issue, whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal. (07) (08)

Malthus T.R. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population

Okay…? :/

His lifespan almost perfectly covered the beginning and end of the Industrial Revolution. He was at the centre of it in Great Britain. It was an unprecedented period of innovation. For the first time, machines operated by a growing urban population wove textiles, which were then traded throughout a global market of raw materials and finished goods. Improvements in mining and refining made iron production soar, and after 100 years, steam power had finally matured.

Life was getting better fast, but if you watched my video on Ignaz Semmelweis and the disgusting state of medicine in the early 1800s, you know that it was also quickly getting worse. (09) (10)

Despite all of these material improvements and increases in overall wealth, human suffering seemed more severe than at any point in history. Poverty, disease, and strife ravaged the lower classes of the England that surrounded Malthus, and the environment was being degraded, too.

River Thames

The River Thames had been the lifeblood of the southeast of England since before Julius Caesar’s invasion, and Malthus watched it turn into a cesspool in real-time. Factories dumped waste directly into the river, including tannery chemicals and animal parts from slaughterhouses. Garbage was also just thrown in because why not? It’ll just wash away, and it was the perfect outlet for human sewage.

Treating the Thames like a living dumpster and infinite toilet killed wildlife, made London stink, and fuelled cholera outbreaks that killed tens of thousands at a time, and it really stunk. July and August of 1858 is known as the Great Stink, and Michael Faraday described the Thames as “feculence rolled up in clouds so dense that they were visible at the surface“. (11)

The point is, Malthus was witnessing progress that even his grandparents couldn’t have fathomed, and he was also seeing misery, social, and biological putrefaction, and an obviously unsustainable future.

Malthusian growth model

He concluded that the problem was people. There were simply too many of them to fathom. He wrote,

It is an obvious truth, which has been taken notice of by many writers, that population must always be kept down to the level of the means of subsistence(12)

An Essay on the Principle of Population

To Malthus, the math is what made the threat of overpopulation so obvious, and the Malthusian catastrophe came down to comparing exponential growth to linear growth. Malthus argued that the human population left unchecked grows exponentially because people like having babies. (13) (14)

In the 1700s, women of the lower class tended to have about 8 children, with maybe 5 of them reaching adulthood. If two parents produce 5 kids, and each of those produces 5 more, and each of those produces 5, your family grows from 2 to 7 to 32 to 157 in just 4 generations.

That’s an increase of 7,750% in the human footprint, and it was an economic problem; the more people, the more available labor. The more labor, the lower the wages, and the lower the wages, the harder it is to get increasingly expensive food that everyone is competing over. Contrast that with an increase in food production that is not exponential. According to Malthus, the available farmland can only produce so much food, so people must starve by the millions to restore the balance.

He wrote,

Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.

By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal.

This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind.

An Essay on the Principle of Population

and that was that. In the battle of geometric versus arithmetic progressions, the geometric side is going to win.

Malthus tried to depict man as he really is—inert, sluggish, and averse to labor, unless compelled by necessity. To him, humanity was dumb and lazy, especially the poor.

As Malthus wrote, England was the pinnacle of modern civilization, but it was also in the wake of having suffered through a costly 7 years war, the loss of its American empire, and the day-by-day threat of instability and conflict from Napoleon Bonaparte’s friends. If everything that got better also made things worse in the greatest country in the world, why would he have an optimistic outlook on the rest of humanity’s future?

Paul Ehrlich speech v Julian Simon real-world experience

In 1971, Paul Ehrlich agreed. He said,

By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people, of little or no concern to the other 5-7 billion inhabitants of a sick world. If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000. (15)

Paul Ehrlich speech, Institute for Biology, 1971

In 1980, Julian Simon noticed that England seemed to be doing just fine, and that what Ehrlich saw as a set of problems destined to threaten the fate of humanity were actually an incredible opportunity. The really interesting thing about Julian Simon is that he started out agreeing with Ehrlich.

In the 1960s, he published articles arguing for the importance of family planning, encouraging people to limit births on economic grounds. (16)

His path to economics was circuitous. He studied experimental psychology at Harvard, where he drove a cab, sold encyclopedias, and played poker to support himself. He also worked in a tin can factory, a grass seed factory, and a brewery, so he knew dirty work and manual labour, and he understood the problems with both.

After college, he enlisted in the Navy and spent time in some of these less glamorous working ports of the world, where he saw the struggles of poorer populations and the positive and negative impacts of mechanization. He left the Navy and took an interest in business and economics, studying in the University of Chicago Department, energized by the work of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.

Through the ’60s and ’70s, he noticed that the lives of the most vulnerable people in the world were improving, and he did what virtually no academic does not… changed his mind.

Post-War Era

Just like Malthus, it’s important to understand the time in which Simon and Ehrlich kicked off their debate. When Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb” in 1968, the world was one generation removed from the most terrible and destructive war it had ever seen.

Total military and civilian deaths from World War II and its effects were more than 80 million, and the war ended with the debut of the most terrifying weapon ever created. We had spent the 20 years since worrying about which of the two global superpowers would use it on the other.

Meanwhile, in the United States, social conflict drove riots in major cities. The last president had been assassinated, and in 1968, both Martin Luther King Jr, and Bobby Kennedy were killed, right as dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War was peaking. Countries like China and India were struggling to feed billions.

Ehrlich was in the same situation as Malthus, sitting in the country with the world’s highest standard of living. What reasonable person would look at all that evidence and conclude that, you know what, things are actually pretty good?

Environmentalism

Environmentalism had also branched out from the simple conservation of the Teddy Roosevelt era. By the time Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” in 1962, which detailed threats from pesticides used in agriculture, including DDT, a radical movement was already happening.

David Edinburgh said that her book changed the scientific world the most, behind only Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” and it opened up the floodgates not only on exposing problems in the environment but rushing to fix them.

Also, in 1968, ecologist Garrett Hardin published “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which tapped the metaphor of a public, unregulated plot of land used rationally by individuals to the point of total obliteration. Hardin wrote, “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all,” and the message was that left to our own devices, we were going to destroy everything. (17) (18)

Solution: Make Less Babies and/or Kill Existing Population

Modifying human behaviour is hard. The simplest solution was restricting the ability to make humans at all, and if we didn’t do it ourselves, nature would end up doing it for us.

In the 1969 essay “Eco Catastrophe,” Ehrlich wrote that “the shape of the population growth curve is one familiar to biologists” because, like butterflies who interact with and depend on their environment, populations swell and shrink based on what that environment can provide. He called it the outbreak-crash sequence, in which populations rise in times of abundance and crash or completely disappear when that abundance stops. A year later, he wrote that we’ve had most of the outbreak, what remains is mainly the crash.

The world population at that time was 3.7 billion and growing at a steady 2% per year, putting it on pace to reach 7 billion in 50 years. Malthus had already outlined two types of interventions to defuse what would eventually become Ehrlich’s population bomb: preventative checks and positive checks.

PREVENTATIVE CHECKS

A preventative check is an act that controls population by reducing fertility rates, deciding not to have kids, limiting the number of children parents can have, like China’s former one-child policy, and the wider availability of both contraception and abortion.

POSITIVE CHECKS

A positive check is actually not that positive. It’s something that limits the human lifespan like war, disease, famine, or murder.

It can be an active or passive depopulator, and you might be surprised at how many academics were happy to mete out misery in the name of eco-justice.

Forced Famine

In their 1967 book “Famine 1975! America’s Decision: Who Will Survive?” brothers William and Paul Paddock proposed that the United States should limit its foreign food aid based on the social behaviour of countries with growing populations. (19)

They categorized Egypt and India as can’t be saved, so no food for them. Pakistan scored higher, and the Paddocks’ thought they did deserve some food.

The idea to withhold food in an effort to encourage or really punish behaviour was typified by President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to send food aid to India during the Bihar famine of 1966. He told an advisor, “I’m not going to piss away foreign aid in nations where they refuse to deal with their own population problems.” (20) (21) (22)

Ehrlich supported food punishment. He said, “I have been citing Paddocks’ work in all my recent talks on the population crisis,” and he called food punishment coercion for a good cause because India was, quote, “hopeless“.

It was India that actually inspired Ehrlich to start thinking deeply about the Population Bomb. He had travelled to Delhi in 1965 with his family, and what he saw was like a reboot of London in the time of Malthus.

My wife and daughter and I were returning to our hotel in an ancient taxi. The seats were hopping with fleas. The only functional gear was third. As we crawled through the city, we entered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The street seemed alive with people, people eating, people watching, people sleeping, people visiting, arguing and screaming, people thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging, people defecating and urinating, people clinging to buses, people hurting animals, people, people, people, people. As we moved slowly through the mob, hand horns squawking, the dust, noise, heat and cooking fires gave the scene a hellish aspect. (23)

Paul R. Ehrlich

Ehrlich knew something had to be done.

Compulsory Birth Control—Freedom to breed is intolerable

Coercion wasn’t off the table for Ehrlich and his colleagues based on a tenet that parents did not have a natural right to have children in the first place. He toyed with a worldwide limit of two children per set of parents.

Martin agreed, saying, “The freedom to breed is intolerable,” but warned that we ought not to say anything foolish about coercion” because trying to control people by force would hurt the movement.

In “The Population Bomb,” Ehrlich said that the government should take whatever steps are necessary to establish a reasonable population size in the United States, with a department of population and environment that could fund research into mass-sterilizing agents.

Forced sterilization was an option for him, and so was introducing temporary infertility agents in public drinking water. He said that humanity will wake up one day to find that compulsory birth control offers the only hope of survival.

Club of Rome / Zero Population Growth

Some of his allies became increasingly nervous about the implications of Ehrlich’s more radical ideas, including members of the group he founded called Zero Population Growth, which still exists now called Population Connection, when they realized that the targets of their global sterilization efforts were not going to be well-educated, well-off white people.

Ehrlich wasn’t the only one sounding the alarm on a grand scale. One hundred politicians, diplomats, economists, and business leaders had founded the Club of Rome in 1965, and their 1972 report, “The Limits to Growth,” presented an MIT computer model factoring in population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources.

They called for an absolute halt to economic growth, warning that without it, industrial production would collapse, population would suffer a catastrophic decline, and the Air, Sea, and Land would be polluted beyond redemption, and the right time to intervene wasn’t today; it was actually yesterday because “the collapse will not come gradually, but with awesome suddenness, with no way of stopping it.”

Forced Sterilization—UN Population Fund and World Bank

The movement’s most radical ideas became reality in India as part of a forced sterilization program in 1975. The BBC described the initiative:

The drive to sterilise began in the 1970s when, encouraged by loans amounting to tens of millions of dollars from the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Authority and the UN Population Fund, India embarked on an ambitious population control programme.

During the 1975 Emergency – when civil liberties were suspended – Sanjay Gandhi, son of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, began what was described by many as a “gruesome campaign” to sterilise poor men. There were reports of police cordoning off villages and virtually dragging the men to surgery.

An astonishing 6.2 million Indian men were sterilised in just a year, which was “15 times the number of people sterilised by the Nazis”. Two thousand men died from botched operations.

India has a dark history of state-sponsored population control, often with eugenic aims – targeting the poor and underprivileged,” (24)

BBC

In the “Population Bomb’s” chapter called “What Needs to be Done,” Ehrlich writes,

“When we suggested sterilizing all Indian males with three or more children, he should have encouraged the Indian government to go ahead with the plan. We, the United States, should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments. We should have sent doctors to aid in the program by setting up centre’s for training paramedical personnel to do vasectomies. Coercion, perhaps, but coercion in a good cause.”

Paul R. Ehrlich

His priority was to systematically eliminate the world’s fastest-growing populations, which were almost exclusively poor and non-white.

Larger population means more creators and innovators

Even in his days of population concern, Julian Simon had a softer approach than Ehrlich or the Club of Rome. He argued that avoiding a birth cost a developing nation about $5, and that it would save $114, which he called a fantastic bargain, and proposed offering payments to families not to have children as a mutually agreeable preventative check. His ideas rewarded people for their choices instead of sterilizing them against their will.

Simon eventually started to realize that people don’t work like butterflies. When he studied family dynamics and their economic rationalism, he found that increased income drove different behaviours among families. Small families used additional money to have larger families, and larger families didn’t. Education levels had a market effect on reproduction and still do.

He looked to Simon Cuznitz and Richard Easterlin, who concluded that a larger population means more creators and innovators, and Esther Boserip’s work that showed population density determines the type and scale of agricultural production and its efficiency.

Ehrlich featured everywhere in primetime

Simon realized that population growth was a lot more complex than Ehrlich made it out to be, and not simply subject to the conceptual human impact equation that Ehrlich created, which was:

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology (I=PxAxT)

But Ehrlich was the guy everyone wanted to talk to.

He was young, attractive, and highly charismatic, which made him totally unlike most academics. He was really funny and likable as he detailed humanity’s impending doom, which is why he was a guest on the Tonight Show over 20 times.

Here he is with Johnny Carson, talking about why he thinks the benefit of a growing population just isn’t really there.

“Why don’t we try doing a really good job with 4 billion people, see if we can do that. After we get 4 billion people well taken care of in a clean environment with good health, everybody’s fed, and everybody has opportunities and so on, then we can say, gee, all right, maybe we could do with 5. What would be the advantage of 5? Well, there would be another half a billion women, for instance, which I would find…

Do you like that?

Yeah, but I would like to have the 4 billion taken care of right first.

Yeah, I think you’re right.”

Ehrlich was masterful at presenting the science of demographics and environmental impact in moral and emotional terms. “Do you want kids to starve?” Well, no. “Do you want to perpetuate human suffering?” No. “Do you want to see the destruction of Earth, the human race, and all plant and animal life?” I don’t know, probably not. Any fermented guilt too, especially among high consumption societies like the United States and Western Europe, “Is your standard of living worth the price the rest of the world?

Harvard's Center for Population Studies

In The Bet, Yale history professor, Paul Sabin writes that Ehrlich’s brand of rhetoric played a significant part in whipping up Neo-Malthusian further. He points to a review of Ehrlich’s 1970 book, “Population Resources Environment, Issues in Human Ecology” by Roger Revelle, who founded Harvard’s Center for Population Studies that highlights Ehrlich’s rampant use of incendiary and apocalyptic adverbs and adjectives. (25) (26) (27) (28)

staggering, sobering, disaster (three times), enormously, drastically, catastrophic, dramatically, tremendous, highly lethal, extremely dangerous (twice), especially virulent, … biological doomsday, superlethal, disastrously effective. (29) (30)

Population Growth should Thrill Us, not Frighten us

Ehrlich had become a celebrity on TV, was writing in Playboy, and Julian Simon was not happy. The ’70s brought a series of energy crises starting with the 1973 oil embargo that resulted in a 43% increase in the price of gas. Gas rationing in California based on license plate numbers, and serious fears about dependence on fossil fuels.

So Ehrlich was looking pretty smart, but Simon insisted that population growth and its global problems should thrill rather than frighten us. How? How could he look at a world in crisis and possibly think that?

Simon had spent the ’70s writing about all the reasons the Ehrlich-style doomsayers were wrong, wrong about their models, wrong about humans, and really just wrong about the way the whole world works, and he was writing seemingly to no one.

In a 1997 interview with Wired titled “The Doomslayer,” he said seeing Ehrlich tout such damaging theories “absolutely drove me out of my skull. Here was a guy reaching a vast audience leading this juggernaut of environmentalists hysteria, and I felt utterly helpless. What could I do? Go talk to five people? (31)

Well, the truth of the matter is even those five people didn’t want to hear that between 1800 and 1980 the price of wheat in the United States dropped precipitously despite the population growing by about 4,500%.

Increased Life Expectancy and lowered birth-rates

It didn’t matter that Simon found that population did not actually increase geometrically, and birth rates had even begun to fall in developed countries, including below replacement rate, which is the minimum number of babies born to maintain current levels of population.

In 1950 global life expectancy was 45 years. By 1980, it was 61 years, and that happened due to better medicine, better technology, greater food production, and greater wealth. That’s about a 35% longer life in 30 years. All his frustration led to an article that brought Simon and his optimism into the international debate over humanity’s future. In the June 27, 1980 issue of Science, Simon published “Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of False Bad News.(32)

The introductory summary says it all:

False bad news about population growth, natural resources, and the environment is published widely in the face of contradictory evidence. For example, the world supply of arable land has actually been increasing, the scarcity of natural resources including food and energy has been decreasing, and basic measures of U.S. environmental quality show positive trends. The aggregate data show no long-run negative effect of population growth upon the standard of living. Models that embody forces omitted in the past, especially the influence of population size upon productivity increase, suggest a long-run positive effect of additional people.”

We Are Growing More Food on Less Land

Simon completely decimated claims that arable land had decreased worldwide. Instead, he noted that cultivated land was rising at 1% per year. He showed that farmers in industrialized nations were producing more food on less land. As populations grew, people were getting better at farming, and technology was making it cheaper and easier with fewer people involved.

To the charge that the world increasingly struggled with food, Simon showed that per capita food production had also grown at about 1% per year. Now, it wasn’t good news — yay, cotton candy and sunshine all around, and it never will be. Simon was honest about that, but he made the distinction that the food problems in vulnerable countries were overwhelmingly the result of restricted markets, war, and political instability.

Faulty Computer Doomsday Models

He called out The New York Times, the United Nations, the World Bank, and, of course, Ehrlich. He lamented the reliance on faulty computer models that delivered grim and ultimately wrong projections about our future.

He concluded that “Population growth and productivity increase are not independent forces running a race. Rather, additional persons cause technological advances by inventing, adapting, and diffusing new, productive knowledge.”

Marx and Engels vs Malthus

He also wasn’t the first to challenge Malthus and Ehrlich on these grounds, and he had some unexpected allies throughout history.

Karl Marx called Malthus a “plagiarist,” a “reverend scribbler“, a “shameless sycophant of the ruling classes” who perpetrated a “sin against science,”  and his population principle a “libel on the human race“. (33) (34)

Friedrich Engels refuted Malthus’ concept of nature’s inevitable processes, writing that “the determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life.” (35) (36)

Marx and Engels saw the solution in a tightly controlled collectivism that would eventually become communism, while Simon pointed to the power of freedom and markets, but they all believed that the way we organize society can address population problems that seem hopeless but aren’t.

Humans have adaptable food sources (unlike butterflies)

Simon argued that humanity has two superpowers: adaptability and innovation.

Economist Henry George stated the difference most simply in his 1879 “Progress and Poverty,” saying, “Both the Jayhawk and the man eat chickens, but the more Jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens.(37)

  • (If there are more men, there won’t be fewer chickens, humans would scale up the breeding of chickens to match the rising demand)

Monarch butterflies eat nectar produced from flowering plants. If there’s not enough nectar to support the monarch butterfly populations, some of them die until it reaches a sustainable level, but if humans have restricted access to a particular resource, like corn or something, or it becomes too expensive, we can just use something else.

We can invent, improve, and substitute, all of which constitute less of a threat to resources than Ehrlich thought. Because, to Simon, those finite resources aren’t nearly as finite as they seem.

He used copper as an example, saying that “we can’t calculate future quantities of copper due to new loads, new methods of mining copper, variations in grades of copper loads, and because copper can be made from other metals, and the vagueness of the boundaries within which copper might be found, including the sea and other planets. Even less possible is a reasonable calculation of the amount of future services of the sort we are now accustomed to getting from copper, because of recycling and the substitution of other materials for copper, as seen in the case of communications satellites.?

In translation, we are good at finding more, becoming more efficient at extracting it, using it more smartly, and how we use it now doesn’t have any bearing on how we’ll use it in the future, if we use it at all.

We fund bad news

Simon wrote in Science that we have so much bad news about the world because that’s where the funding is for researchers, and that late-night talk shows don’t have guests who talk about everything getting better.

He also said that “The cumulative nature of exponential growth models has the power to seduce and bewitch“, especially because so many people compare the present with the potential future (idealized or awful) instead of comparing the present to the past.

Simon and his growing rank of optimists were derided as adhering to cornucopianism, referencing the Greek mythological horn of abundance that produced food and never ran out. Ehrlich said, “Simon is like the guy who jumps off the Empire State Building and says how great things are going so far as he passes the 10th floor.”

Endless Resources vs Finite Resources

Ehrlich insisted that not only did we have finite resources, but that we were using them up fast, while Simon was effectively arguing that resources were endless. It didn’t help that he wrote that humanity’s only real limit was the theoretical total weight of the universe.

To Ehrlich, we were doomed. To Simon, humans not only had the capacity to address our problems, but that we’d come out even better than before we had them. It was kind of a big difference.

The Bet

So the battle lines had been finally drawn, it was time to make a wager on the future of the human race. It was time for the bet. In Social Science Quarterly, Simon said he’d like to take that bet with Ehrlich about England’s still existing 20 years on, but instead, he proposed to stake $10,000 on my belief that the cost of non-government-controlled raw materials, including grain and oil, will not rise in the long run.

Simon said that Ehrlich could choose any five raw materials he wanted. Simon left it up to him, and they would track the prices of each commodity over the course of 10 years.

On September 29th, 1980, Ehrlich agreed to a reduced wager of $1,000, putting 200 bucks into each of five resources he and his colleagues had predicted would rise in price over the coming decade: copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten.

If the inflation-adjusted prices went up, Simon would pay Ehrlich the difference in values between 1980 and 1990. If their prices went down, Simon would win the bet, and Ehrlich would pay the difference.

  • Copper has been used in various capacities for over 10,000 years, from primitive tools to moderate conductors.
  • Chromium is a component of stainless steel, and it’s why your dad’s wrenches are hard and don’t rust.
  • Nickel is one of four ferromagnetic elements. We use it now in the rechargeable batteries of electric vehicles.
  • Tin is important for alloys and plating, which is why plated steel cans were referred to as tin cans.
  • Tungsten is extremely hard and dense, and it’s necessary in X-ray tubes and welding.

These five materials presented a cross-section of nature-dependent human activity that Ehrlich was convinced would force demand and scarcity to collide.

Despite 1980s Fear - Ozone Layer, Oil Spills, Nuclear threats - Simon won The Bet

The 1980s saw a dramatic policy shift in the United States under Ronald Reagan, who advocated for a freer market in line with Simon’s optimism.

Fears about endangered species became real, holes in the ozone layer threatened to increase exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill dominated the news at the end of the decade. The threat of nuclear war still loomed, and a nuclear disaster in Chernobyl came seven years after Three Mile Island. (38) (39)

So things did not seem awesome, but on September 29, 1990, it was time for someone to pay up.

In 1980, the price of chromium was $3.90 per pound. In 1990, it was $3.70. Tin dropped by half from $8.72 to $3.88. Three of the five metals had gone down in price despite inflation, and the other two both fell in inflation-adjusted terms. Simon won the bets on all five of the chosen metals, but more importantly to him, Ehrlich and his doomsday philosophy lost.

In October 1990, a check from Wells Fargo Bank in the amount of $576.07 arrived in Julian Simon’s mailbox. There was no note, and the check was signed by Anne Ehrlich, Paul’s wife.

The Ultimate Resource is People - Why Things Are Better Than You Think

In his book, “The Ultimate Resource,” Julian Simon wrote, “Adding more people causes problems, but people are also the means to solve these problems. The main fuel to speed the world’s progress is our stock of knowledge. The breaks are our lack of imagination and unsound social regulations of these activities. The ultimate resource is people, especially skilled, spirited, and hopeful young people endowed with liberty, who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefits, and so inevitably will they benefit the rest of us as well.”

It was truly a triumph of hope and optimism over doom and gloom.

Or did Julian Simon just get lucky? A 2009 paper called “Luck or skill? An examination of the Ehrlich–Simon bet” reveals that had the bet been run one more time from 1990 to 2000, Simon would have triumphed again, but had the wager taken place for any of the possible 10-year periods between 1900 and 2007, Ehrlich would have won 61.2% of the time. So maybe Ehrlich was right. Actually, the data shows a massive crash in commodity prices following World War I, which means they spent the rest of the century slowly rising back to their former levels, creating an artificial bias towards Ehrlich’s rising prices theory and proving Simon’s exact point about the power of human cooperation, or in the case of a World War, the lack of cooperation, to determine how we use and value resources. (40)

It’s really easy to look at the results of the Ehrlich-Simon wager and scoff at the loser, and it’s even easier to revisit failed doomsday predictions of a disappearing England and worldwide famine killing billions and laugh at how wrong it always is.

It’s much harder to understand why those predictions happen in the first place and why it’s completely natural to think everything is bad and getting worse. It’s why the doomsayers are so seductive and popular and why the doom slayers aren’t.

Rosling was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He began writing “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” as what he called his last battle in my lifelong mission to fight devastating ignorance. It was published in 2018, a year after he died. Rosling detailed 10 human instincts that conspire to convince us that the world is forever going in the wrong direction, which can inform devastatingly wrong reactions to our problems. (41)

  • The first is the gap instinct, which is to consider the differences between the top and the bottom rather than focusing on the majority or whether all levels of society are improving in spite of relative differences, and he argues that our negative instinct programs us not to bother noticing improvements at all.
  • Our straight-line instinct causes us to assume that our current trends will continue exactly as they are right now rather than accelerating or decelerating, and our fear instinct distorts our perception of risk to make us overvalue possible negatives.
  • Our size instinct makes us feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of a problem.
  • Our generalization instinct lumps all our problems together as being equally threatened.
  • Our destiny instinct makes us feel like none of our problems ever get solved even though they tend to get better slowly.
  • Our single perspective instinct hyper-focuses on just one possible solution rather than considering many solutions that work in combination, and our blame instinct makes us focus on the bad guys who we’re convinced are responsible for the problem.
  • But the most threatening might be the urgency instinct, which drives us to feel that there’s an impending catastrophe if we don’t do something immediately rather than one step at a time.

Only a single comma separates “do something, stupid” from “do something stupid.”

Ehrlich may have been 0-5 on his bet with Julian Simon, but he’s 10 for 10 on Rosling’s checklist of instinctual pathologies.

Paul Ehrlich still insists he is Science lol - just like Fraud-chi

Paul Ehrlich is now in his 90s and he’s vibrant, energetic, and still insisting that he’s right or that he was never really that wrong.

YouTube (42)

In January of this year, Ehrlich tweeted: 60 Minutes extinction story has brought the usual right-wing out in force. If I’m always wrong so is science, since my work is always peer-reviewed, including the POPULATION BOMB and I’ve gotten virtually every scientific honor. Sure I’ve made some mistakes, but no basic ones. (43)

Elon tweetedEhrlich is mad as a hatter. He is someone who regards humanity as bad in and of itself – anti-human to the core.” and in June, he tweeted, “Paul Ehrlich has done immense damage to humanity. Immense. I despise him. (44) (45)

Predicting that civilization would end by 1985 counts as a pretty basic error, I’d think. To the extent he’s received scientific accolades, it shows how unseriously the scientific community takes prediction. ~ Nate Silver’s response

National Review and Federalist editor David Harsanyi’s response, “Your entire career of malthusian scaremongering has been a giant mistake.” 

“The fact that your work passes peer review is perhaps the best possible argument against peer review being even a marginally beneficial or conclusive measurement of accuracy” ~ Ian Miller

“I can’t think of anyone else in history who is so clearly wrong about everything…while so clearly in denial of the most basic facts.” ~ Andrew Follett, a senior analyst at the Club for Growth, “Ehrlich is objectively flat out wrong in the fundamental predictions his conspiratorial hypothesis made…this is blindingly obvious. So he instead hides behind “my work is peer-reviewed and I’ve gotten honors.” Pure credentialism masquerading as science.”

Truthstream Media pointed out Ehrlich’s suggestion to “add a sterilant to the drinking water for involuntary fertility control“, and that his book talks about coercive measures such as “vasectomizing all fathers of three or more children“.

Science is a method of inquiry. Maybe you don’t use it very effectively. The fact that ur “always peer reviewed” (yet proven wrong by reality) says more about the peer review process than about science. U get honours because you say things that please the ppl who award honours.” ~ @RB3475

It just goes to show that scientific honours are awarded for reasons other than correctness.” ~ Ron Dunn

If you have lots of children - you are considered evil

In April of 2023, Ehrlich gave an interview at Stanford in which he said he wouldn’t deny anyone the opportunity to have children, but that if you have 10 children, you’re an evil person trying to basically destroy the world.

Birth-rates and Life-Expectancy

The birth rate in Somalia is 7.5 times higher than in South Korea, but it isn’t clear whether Ehrlich thinks Somalis are 7.5 times more evil.

In 1981, the year after the Ehrlich-Simon Wager and the year in which Simon’s “The Ultimate Resource” came out, 88% of the population of China lived in extreme poverty. Deng Xiaoping‘s market reforms then fuelled tremendous economic growth and an increased standard of living. China’s extreme poverty rate today is under 1%. There are no longer any restrictions on reproduction, and China has more billionaires than any country in the world. (46)

In 1980, the average daily caloric intake globally was 2,487. Today, it’s 2,928. In India, it rose from 1,994 fifty years ago to 2,533 today, and in a long list of countries, we now have a new problem of consuming too many calories.

Life expectancy globally was just 61 years in 1980. Today, it’s about 73.

In 2022, about 630,000 people worldwide died from AIDS-related illnesses, down 69% from about 2 million per year just 20 years ago, and you’ll now find TV commercials for competing combination antiretroviral drugs that reduce the HIV virus to undetectable levels.

Julian died upon announcement of his first grandchild

In 1998, Julian Simon was jumping rope when the phone rang, and his wife went upstairs to answer. It was their daughter, Judith, with news that she was pregnant with Julian’s first grandchild.

A grandchild that was not just one more mouth to feed but another human, with potentially unlimited creative capacity. A brand new human mind added on to the 6 billion of the time, one with the power to innovate, to identify new problems, and to solve the old ones. Or maybe just one more human to make life worth living. Not an insect whose primitive cerebral ganglia draw it into a flame to its own death, but a person who can harness that flame to cook, heat their houses, and smelt ore from the rocks they dig up. Julian Simon’s grandchild would be one more soul in a world that he knew got a little better every day, even when it didn’t feel that way.

Julian’s wife ran down the stairs to give him the great news. She found him dead on the living room floor. He’d had a heart attack at 65. Paul Ehrlich’s population bomb theory was right about butterflies. Since his 1980 bet with Simon, the western monarch butterfly has seen a population reduction of over 95%. We cleared forests for farming, and the milkweed that monarchs feed on flourished. Herbicides to control weeds in crops shrunk available milkweed, and butterfly populations were devastated, but we’ve responded by doing exactly what Simon said we would, creating a rehabilitation plan that includes planting 1.3 billion milkweed stems through the central migratory flyway.

Everyone knows we are mired in problems and the consequences of our progress, but the one way to avoid Armageddon is to think beyond the doom, to resist the siren song of our most basic instincts, and to make use of our one ultimate finite resource: You.

Because it has been agreed by the nations of the world that the earth can no longer sustain a continuously increasing population, childbearing is here for business. ~ Z.P.G. (Zero Population Growth)

Spooky coincidence: another Paul Ehrlich is credited as being the founder of chemotherapy lol.. #can’t make this up (47)

Great related articles:

The best is reading all the twitter responses:

References[+]

Penny (PennyButler.com)
Penny (PennyButler.com)

Truth-seeker, ever-questioning, ever-learning, ever-researching, ever delving further and deeper, ever trying to 'figure it out'. This site is a legacy of sorts, a place to collect thoughts, notes, book summaries, & random points of interests.