Nothing will stop the starvation of HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of people during the 1970's! [no, this did not happen]
Here is the story about how one man's predictions of doom lead him being personally rewarded while creating untold misery on the other side of the world. It is fitting that the man who created this intellectual hurricane is a lepidopterist; since his intellectual butterfly effect was strong enough to delete 500 million Chinese people from human history.
It is also the story of another man, Julian Simon, who while crippled with depression managed to openly demonstrate that the world was getting better for the exact opposite reason's described by the doomsayer.
The doomsayer's name is Dr. Paul Ehrlich (pronounced Air-Lick). In 1968 he wrote a book titled the Population bomb:
As you can see the book describes itself well with it's jacket cover. There is a picture of a lit cartoon bomb, in case you can't read the word "bomb" in the title. It asked the question, "population control or race to oblivion?" There are only two choices? It also describes how many people have died of starvation during the time it took you to read the book cover itself. Incredible. The printed title of the book has a color gradient across its words, it says, we are moving from OK in black, into trouble, red.
The book increases its credibility by having the two letters, "DR" prior to the author's name.
You should know though, that the author, Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich got his Phd in biology, studying insects. Specifically, he studied butterflies.
Paul Ehrlich grew up in New Jersey in a time when there was undeveloped land around where he lived. As a young boy, Paul would roam this land and search for butterflies. As the population of New Jersey increased, so did the amount of land development in the area.
Paul was enraged to watch this undeveloped land transform into a suburban sprawl.
Unlike many who have gone through this, Dr. Paul Ehrlich did not re-frame, nor did he forgive or forget. Instead, he studied biology and using the knowledge of this field, formed a strong analogy between insect ecology and humans. He expounded his own personal experience across the whole of reality, then focused his ideas and his fury into "the Population Bomb".
The book was well received by the public and Dr. Paul Ehrlich entered the lime light. He became the expert who was called upon by the media to talk about this eminent human "threat". They didn't seem to want to know anything about butterflies.
At this point in time Dr. Paul Ehrlich stopped acting as a scientist and instead became a political animal, an icon, a profit of doom, one who espoused the destruction of a basic human need, control over one's fertility. He did not conduct experiments which could be used to disprove a theory, he used his simplistic analogies to push his own social agenda. He used the prestige of being a scientist to spread his message, while not practicing science at all. 1
With a charismatic presence, Dr. Paul Ehrlich carried himself especially well on television. Johnny Carson had him on his show many times. This might have something to do with him being so interestingly provocative, saying things like:
[T]he first task is population control at home. How do we go about it? Many of my colleagues feel that some sort of compulsory birth regulation would be necessary to achieve such control. One plan often mentioned involves the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired population size. 2
If Dr. Paul Ehrlich were in charge, I think I would be drinking bottled water.
Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who is now 83, still makes television appearances, and he holds the title of "President" at the Stanford Center for Conservation Biology. He has never admitted that he was wrong. In fact, lately he has been predicting that we will soon be eating our dead.3
Now, this is all very entertaining, but some people actually believe this stuff. In my own life I know two very smart men, who don't know each other, but came to the same conclusion and took action. They had themselves voluntarily sterilized at the legal age of 19. They did this "to help stop a massive overpopulation". I would like to remind anyone thinking about taking such action, that Dr. Paul Ehrlich himself has offspring.
I know another man who took time off from work and wrote a book about a population controlling satellite that would randomly kill people from space.4
These friends of mine, all grew up in sparsely populated cities. Didn't they use their eyes? How could they have believed these things?
Maybe they saw a graph like this in school5:
Well, that doesn't look too good does it. Suddenly these theories about how the food might run out seem less absurd.
Before you despair and run off and sterilize yourself, look at these population growth estimates:
Here we see that the population growth rate is slowing. If this trend continues, there will be a population contraction as soon as 2100.
In 1972, another book titled "Limits to growth" was released. Unlike the population bomb, this work was based on a computer model intended to predict the entire economic future for mankind. It was commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome and it was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. It had the gloss of something substantial and sophisticated, but how does one predict something as complicated as the human future to come with a computer from 1972? If you look at the wikipedia page for the book, you will see an number of equations and tables.6
Before you look too hard at these, consider the assumptions for their model. They assume their will be linear increase in humanity's ability to extract resources and implement technological improvements, while human growth and economic growth are permitted to increase exponentially. How this could happen is beyond me. I guess they are assuming that people will become worse and worse at doing things, or just get dumber and dumber over time. Well, maybe at Volkswagen.
They also assumed that the resource categories that we will use will remain the same -- there is no allowance for brand new categories of resources being discovered and consumed -- say like a move from whale oil to petroleum, or from petroleum to h3 (fusion).
Furthermore, the model was not based on data. Let me repeat this, there was no data used by the "Limits to Growth" model.
So while their model was basted in "scientism", it was half-baked. Unfortunately, it influenced key policy makers in China. In 1978, one of China's top officials, Song Jian got in touch with this book and another book, called "A Blueprint for Survival" while visiting Europe. He then worked with a number of mathematicians and somehow determined that the optimal population for China was 700 million. Instead of putting sterilants in the water supply, or just heavily taxing diapers -- another Dr. Paul Ehrlich idea -- the Chinese took a more direct approach, the one child policy.
This policy went into full effect in 1980, and it is estimated that 13 million annual FORCED abortions a year have happened as a result. This means that 1500 children were being aborted per hour. In researching this article I was alarmed by the details of this policy. It's easy to look at the number on a spread sheet, but when you delve into the specifics about how to take a woman, who is late in her pregnancy, away from her family and then forcefully extract her child from her body, it's heartbreaking. This type of tragedy is happening at least once every 2.4 seconds, or it was, until yesterday. Sept 29th 2015.
There are some cold and hard people in China, and they work at the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
China estimates that it's population would be 30 percent greater without the one child intervention. That would mean it would currently have a population of around 1.8 billion people. Assuming that this is true, would it have caused the massive starvation or other environmental calamities predicted by the likes of Dr. Paul Ehrlich?
No. It would not. Not according to the data, as demonstrated by Julian Simon.
Julian Simon liked to watch the Johnny Carson show, and he got sick of this Paul Ehrlich character running his mouth unchecked and unchallenged.
You see Julian Simon had studied the works of the economic demographer Simon Kuznets. Kuznets had analysed population statistics of different countries and how those numbers were related to that country's economic prosperity. Kuznets discovered that people did not become poorer as a population expanded. They produced more than what they needed to support themselves, moreover, they collectively prospered.
The trends were the same for food supply. Rising population did not mean less food, just the opposite: instead of skyrocketing as predicted by the [traditional biological theory], food prices, relative to wages, had declined historically. In the United States, for example, between 1800 and 1980, the price of wheat plummeted while the population grew from 5 million to 226 million. According to [traditional biological theory], all those people should have been long dead, the country reduced to a handful of fur trappers on the brink of starvation. In fact, there was a booming and flourishing populace, one that was better-fed, taller, healthier, more disease-free, with far less infant mortality and longer life expectancy than ever before in human history. Obesity, not starvation, was the major American food problem in 1980.7
On June 27th 1980, Julian Simon published an article in Science, titled "Resources, Environment: An Oversupply of False Bad News". This paper demonstrated that the data pointed to a reality that was exactly opposite of Dr. Paul Ehrlich's prediction. In response to Simon's sunny article, Science was inundated with letters to the editor. Most of which were very much against Simon and Simon's position.8
One of these letter's came from Dr. Paul Ehrlich and a number of energy resource experts. They unsuccessfully challenged his position based on some incorrect facts. When this was all cleared up, Julian Simon in turn called out Dr. Paul Ehrlich in the pages of the Social Science Quarterly in 1980, egging him on with:
How often does a prophet have to be wrong before we no longer believe that [he] is a true prophet?
Then he goaded Dr. Paul Ehrlich into taking on a public bet9.
It worked like this: Dr. Paul Ehrlich's professed doom (resource scarcity) could be linked to the price of raw materials. Dr. Paul Ehrlich could gamble using 5 metals, with a $200 contract on each metal. The bet would last for 10 years. "If the inflation-adjusted price of the metals rose from 1980 to 1990, [Julian] Simon would pay the difference; if the prices went down, [Dr. Paul Ehrlich] would pay the difference to Simon."10
This was a crazy bet, for Julian Simon's side anyway: at most, he could have won $1000, and this could only have occurred if all 5 metals were so cheap as to be free, in 1990. However, Simon could have lost tremendous amounts of money, even if any one of these metal prices had jumped well above their 1980's cost. Sudden spikes in commodity prices happen all of the time. Even if the trend of all metal prices were consistently going down over the 10 year period, Simon still could have lost a lot of money, simply from a market hiccup. If you were to take me back in time, to 1980 and ask my opinion, I would have agreed with Julian Simon. His position was based on the data. However, I still would have taken the bet against him, given how he structured the bet.
To sweeten the bet even more, Simon let Dr. Paul Ehrlich pick the 5 metals to gamble with.
Dr. Paul Ehrlich, accepted the bet and, true to form, didn't bother to research what was actually going on with his chosen metal prices. Instead, he arbitrarily picked 5 metals. Had he paid attention to the data, he would have not picked copper to bet on, since at the time of his choice, it was priced abnormally high. There had been a recent strike in Chile "and political disruptions in Zaire and Zimbabwe."11 As a result copper was going through a temporary spike in its price. This was not a smart way to start a contest.
What happened? Well, in 1990 Dr. Paul Ehrlich LOST on EVERY one of his metal predictions. In October of 1990 he sent a cheque for $576.07, to his rival Julian Simon12. I'm sure Dr. Paul Ehrlich, accepted the bet and, true to form, didn't bother to research what was actually going on with his chosen metal prices. Instead, he arbitrarily picked 5 metals. Had he paid attention to the data, he would have not picked copper to bet on, since at the time of his choice, it was priced abnormally high. There had been a recent strike in Chile "and political disruptions in Zaire and Zimbabwe."13 As a result copper was going through a temporary spike in its price. This was not a smart way to start a contest.
I'm sure Dr. Paul Ehrlich didn't feel too bad about the money though, because in August of the same year, he was awarded $345,000.00 by the MacArthur foundation for being a "genius". Since then he has been given other awards and monetary windfalls for being such a good profit of doom.
Julian Simon was never awarded a MacArthur fellowship and when asked about it:
didn't feel too bad about the money though, because in August of the same year, he was awarded $345,000.00 by the MacArthur foundation for being a "genius". Since then he has been given other awards and monetary windfalls for being such a good profit of doom.
Julian Simon was never awarded a MacArthur fellowship and when asked about it:
MacArthur! I can't even get a McDonald's!
Julian Simon continued his career as a professor, and wrote various books about how things are a lot better than the popular thought leaders would have you believe. In one of his books, entitled "the Ultimate Resource", he argued that the most valuable resource of all is humanity itself.14 People produce more than they consume, they invent entirely new ways of doing things, finding entirely new resource categories where there were none before. Collectively, working in groups we are even more productive.
I wonder what the world would be like if Song Jian had met Julian Simon instead of the likes of Dr. Paul Ehrlich. Maybe we would have a world where the Chinese would have both embraced free market economics and had the human capital and energy to have gone even further than they have gone already. There would not have been any forced abortion agencies, yet their population would have experienced the same downward pressure seen by other industrialized nations.
According to the Chinese numbers, without their one child policy they would have a population 30 percent greater than it is now. If you believe this, it means that 500 million Han Chinese were not permitted to be born. If this is true, I would call the "Club of Rome", limits-of-growth computer model the biggest software bug to have existed in human history.
Dr. Paul Ehrlich was obviously much better at self promotion than Julian Simon. His ideas were like earworms, his sentences sticky slogans. They were easy to transmit to signal that you were in the know, that you knew what was best. They somehow became fashionable. He had such a strong effect across our society that I propose that we add his name as a word to the English language.
To Airlick: to wrongly pronounce ecological doom and receive rewards and accolades for the act.
I have a copy of Julian Simon's book on my book shelf, and I haven't read it -- it is a dense tome. It is full of facts and figures, and it is very academic. I bought it as a kind of religious artifact. To me is says, "There is hope for us, we are getting better -- but there is no guarantee of this, we must remain vigilant."
Something similar had happened before in recent history. The so-called science of "eugenics" (which had also sprung from the belly of biology), oddly enough was a very popular idea before the Nazis used it as the philosophical basis for their death camps. ↩
pages 130-131 The Population Bomb ↩
He wasn't writing about the random American drone strikes on those abstract people in Yemen, or Pakistan, it was a satellite that could kill anyone anywhere -- even you and me! ↩
Hey, it's Nortel stock! ↩
Don't look too hard or you might believe it! ↩
If you have said something, based on data, that causes a lot of angry letters to a science journal, you know that you have discovered something interesting. ↩
The idea came from Ehrlich's published claim that "If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000" ↩
I bought a copy of this, this afternoon. ↩