I promise that it will be the last time that I mention Paul Ehrlich on this blog, but I couldn’t help it when I saw his latest doom-projections in the Scotsman:
“But our guess is that the most serious threat to global sustainability in the next few decades will be one on which there is widespread agreement: the growing difficulty of avoiding large-scale famines… In fact, virtually all such warnings, in our view, underestimate the food problem. For example, micronutrient deficiencies may afflict as many as two billion additional people… Perhaps most important, virtually all analyses assume that the human population will grow by 2.5 billion people by 2050, rather than seeking ways to reduce that number. The optimism of many analysts concerning our ability to feed these additional billions is quite disturbing. ”
Of course, considering Paul Ehrlich was predicting wide spread famine that would wipe out hundreds of millions of people in 1968, I would hazard that most people are optimistic in comparison! Rather than re-hashing the same arguments that we’ve used against Ehrlich in the past, we luckily have some new analysis of him by Jonathan Last, author of “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting”. Here’s what Last had to say about Ehrlich in a recent interview in PJ Media:
“MR. LAST: Yeah, you know, and I say this to people, I say, you know, it’s one of these weird situations where everything we think we know is wrong, and it’s all wrong because of one guy, Paul Ehrlich. Paul Ehrlich is not a professional demographer. He only plays one on TV. And he wrote what I think of as the most spectacularly wrong book ever written.
He was wrong in the particulars. He said that within a couple years, hundreds of millions of people were going to starve to death, and that nothing could be done to stop this. He said the population growth was going to increase asymptotically to the moon. That — neither of these things happened.
But more to the point, he was wrong at the moment when the exact opposite thing was happening. He published his book in 1968. In 1968, the fertility rates across the Western countries fell off of the table and went into steep, prolonged, sustained decline; decline which they are still experiencing today. So he was exactly wrong.
And what’s funny — and also, you know, slightly frustrating — but funny, is that again, in the world of professional demographers, like the people who do this for a living, the people who are tenured professors and who work at the United Nations, they all — you know, for the last thirty-five, forty years, have basically ignored Ehrlich and viewed him as sort of a crank. And they’ve been actually focusing the bulk of their research on exactly the opposite question. Where has the global fertility decline come from?”
As we’ve mentioned before, why anyone listens to Ehrlich is beyond me. (I say as I disseminate his view to a wider audience). Perhaps we will struggle to feed more people in the future, but I am sceptical that that will be due to the greater numbers involved. But excuse me if I fail to take Mr Ehrlich seriously on this matter. On a completely unrelated note, I’m off to read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to my son.
PS In other exciting news, the 2013 New Zealand Census forms were delivered to our house last week. The Census is taking place next Tuesday and perhaps if it is exciting I will blog about it. New Zealand’s census results should be interesting as our last census was in 2006. In 2011 the census was due to take place but was postponed due to the Christchurch earthquake.