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The Malthusian Wing of the Party in Power: When Will They Speak Up?

“The economic recession/depression is good, not bad. It lowers our carbon footprint in countless ways. It saves resources. It throttles back industrial society to sustainable levels that were exceeded long ago. Let the downturn continue to get us out of the growth mentality. Let rising expectations fall! Less is more!”

When will some prominent Left environmentalist slip and say something like this? No doubt the tongues are tied right now, but as time goes on it will be harder to keep the Malthusians muted.

Consider Paul Ehrlich’s advice for families, which can be extended to the economy as a whole:

Once a cooperative movement had gained momentum, it could also engage in an enormous campaign to re-educate other consumers and to change their buying habits. The pitch might be: ‘Try to live below your means! It will be good for your family’s economic situation, and may also help to save the world.’

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be a Survivor (Rivercity, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), p. 149.

The literature is chock full of anti-growth, anti-industrial sentiment, including statements from John Holdren, Obama’s confirmed top science advisor, who said (with Ehrlich):

Only one rational path is open to us—simultaneous de-development of the [over developed countries or] ODC’s and semi-development of the underdeveloped countries (UDC’s), in order to approach a decent and ecologically sustainable standard of living for all in between. By de-development we mean lower per-capita energy consumption, fewer gadgets, and the abolition of planned obsolescence.

- John Holdren and Paul Ehrlich, “Introduction,” in Holdren and Ehrlich, eds., Global Ecology (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), p. 3.

and:

A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States. . . . Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses in overdeveloped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries. This effort must be largely political.

- John Holdren, Anne Ehrlich, and Paul Ehrlich, Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions (San Francisco; W.H. Freeman and Company, 1973), p. 279.

Al Gore has blessed a “wrenching transformation of society,” which does not bode well for a future of economic prosperity:

Minor shifts in policy, marginal adjustments in ongoing programs, moderate improvements in laws and regulations, rhetoric offered in lieu of genuine change—these are all forms of appeasement, designed to satisfy the public’s desire to believe that sacrifice, struggle, and a wrenching transformation of society will not be necessary.”

- Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (New York: Plume/Penguin, 1992, 1993), p. 274.

Lifestyle changes are required, notes Amory Lovins:

Governments and their constituencies in rich countries should begin to contemplate seriously and to decide upon the changes in lifestyles that energetic and other constraints will soon impose—changes that may well be desirable on other grounds.

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 127.

Adds Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute:

Global climate change will not be slowed with a simple law or regulation. More than any other environmental problem, climate change is woven into the very structure of today’s societies. . . . Major changes in technology, infrastructure, and even life-style are needed to slow it.

- Christopher Flavin and Odil Tunali, Climate of Hope: New Strategies for Stabilizing the World’s Atmosphere (Washington: Worldwatch Institute, 1996), p. 53.

Laws, laws, more laws

What might some of these lifestyle changes entail. Paul Ehrlich, the mentor of John Holdren, has been explicit:

Laws may well be passed strictly limiting the number of appliances a single family may possess. Learning to survive with only one TV set will, for instance, be simpler than learning to live on a planet made uninhabitable by an unending quest for material possessions.

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be a Survivor (Rivercity, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), p. 69.

Many of the conservation measures temporarily undertaken when the mini-crisis was in its acute stage—lowered speed limits, car-pools, reset thermostats, etc.—should be instituted on a permanent basis. . . . In the long run, energy should be made expensive, especially for large users, as an incentive to conservation.

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 48.

The large automobile should disappear entirely, except for some taxis, and these could be designed to run economically.

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 223.

Except in special circumstances, all construction of power generating facilities should cease immediately. . . . Power is much too cheap. It should certainly be made more expensive and perhaps rationed, in order to reduce its frivolous use.

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be A Survivor (Rivercity, Mass.: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), p. 72.

Unnecessary lighting in offices and factories should . . . be banned.

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 226.

It should immediately be made illegal to construct a building with windows which cannot be opened.

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be A Survivor (Rivercity, Mass.: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), pp. 73-74.

Completely frivolous uses of power, such as gas yard lamps that are permanently lit, should be outlawed altogether.

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 227.

Who, for instance, benefits from the garish use of electric signs that deface the nighttime sky of our cities? Many of then, of course, carry the kind of deceptive advertising that fuels our frenzied economy. . . . Advertising signs on restaurants, motels, and the like could be shut off by law at night when the establishment was not open. If everyone had to do it there would be little, if any, competitive loss.

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be a Survivor (Rivercity, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), p. 73.

Making Fun of Consumption

Somewhere shortly after the Second World War the people of the United States made a colossal blunder. . . . TVs, boats, hi-fi’s, driers, disposals, and a myriad other items appeared on the lists of ‘musts.’ Suddenly we needed two or three of everything, and a new model of each every year.

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be a Survivor (Rivercity, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), pp. 58-59.

Cars are for transportation, and proper use of the media could once again persuade American men to get their sexual kicks out of sex (not reproduction) instead of a series of automotive sexual surrogates. Restriction of families to ownership of single small cars also would put some pressure against over-reproducers. Our stress on the world’s supply of nonrenewable resources would be greatly alleviated by limiting the fuel consumption of the cars and by designing them for recycling.

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be a Survivor (Rivercity, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), p. 67.

First everyone had to have a small black-and-white TV set, then a large screen, then color, then a VCR, then a Dolby stereo sound system, then a VCR with a Dolby stereo sound system. Soon anyone who can’t download any of 514 European, Asian, and cable television channels into his TV’s quadraplexed digital memory over the cellular modem in his moving car, transmit it to his home while moving, and play it back for his kids later than night will probably feel deprived.

- Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich, New World New Mind: Moving Toward Conscious Evolution (New York: Doubleday, 1989), p. 56.

Over the longer term, America’s transportation system could be redesigned to minimize the need for automobiles and trucks and maximize the use of feet and bicycles for local transport and trains and aircraft, i.e. public transport, for long distances.

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be a Survivor (Rivercity, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), p. 68.

It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that the carbon police will be need to enforce all of the carbon laws that would be needed in an Ehrlich-Holdren-Gore-Lovins-Flavin world. Will civil libertarians catch on and turn against the “Limits to Growth” wing of today’s dominant political party?

9 comments

1 Tom Tanton { 03.01.09 at 11:22 am }

“When will some prominent Left environmentalist slip and say something like this? ” The extensive quotes you’ve provided Rob are unequivocal–the have already slipped and made such statements. Or they’re just trying to hide themselves from their own past.

2 bottomofthe9th { 03.01.09 at 12:46 pm }

Well I for one have changed my mind on quite a few things since the mid-70s. The vast majority of the quotes above are from 20+ years ago–presumably these guys have said some stuff since then, so the dated-ness of the quotes makes the argument not very compelling to me.

3 rbradley { 03.01.09 at 1:09 pm }

Good point Mr. 9th–but what is important to me is that these authors have not come out and said they no longer believe what was once said. I tried to get retractions from John Holdren, and he would have none of it. Holdren did backpeddle in his recent confirmation hearing on some things–calling “de-develop” an choice of terms–but there is little doubt in my mind that the anti-growth mentality is alive and well but just suppressed.

We will be hearing from the Malthusians when the “green” growth does not translate into economic recovery–indeed it is an anti-stimulus from an economic viewpoint.

4 Thin king Man { 03.01.09 at 3:52 pm }

bottomofthe9th, you needn’t worry at all: as you will see in seconds, by clicking on the links below, neither Paul Ehrlich nor his little buddy John Holdren nor Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Albert Gore have altered their neo-Malthusian views in any way whatsoever. On the contrary, those views have only solidified, which is why they strike us now as a kind of frozen dogma.

Here are a few of the more half-assed current examples:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7796209187825965419

http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2007/1029barnard.shtml

http://books.google.com/books?id=1vkYnktbFK4C&dq=Betrayal+of+Science+and+Reason:+How+Anti-Environment+Rhetoric+Threatens+Our+Future&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=h-2qSanTF4HasAPZuMXtDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result

http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/itgg.2006.1.2.3?journalCode=itgg

http://www.amazon.com/Dominant-Animal-Human-Evolution-Environment/dp/1597260967

http://members.optusnet.com.au/exponentialist/Ehrlich.htm

http://www.opinionjournal.com/la/?id=110005103

I should caution you, however: it’s not very pretty — that is, unless you call environmental propaganda pretty, and you might, I honestly don’t know.

You may also find interesting the Epilogue below from Julian Simon’s excellent book, The Ultimate Resource 2, which excellent book neither Paul Ehrlich nor his wife Anne nor their little buddy John Holdren — nor, for that matter, anyone in the world — ever successfully refuted. (I won’t bore you with another recapitulation of the infamous bet Ehrlich and Holdren lost to Julian Simon, to their everlasting shame). In fact, the word on the street is that The Skeptical Environmentalist was born out of Lomborg’s (and his students’) attempt to refute Julian Simon’s book, but in finding that most of it is irrefutable, Lomborg experienced something like a conversion; for he was at that time a dyed-in-the-skein Greenpeacer, this by his own account, which you may read in the Introduction to The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Julian Simon’s Epilogue can be found here:

http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Ultimate_Resource/

Scroll down. The Epilogue is titled “My critics and I.”

5 quanticle { 03.01.09 at 4:50 pm }

Will civil libertarians catch on and turn against the “Limits to Growth” wing of today’s dominant political party?

Given how the civil libertarian wing of yesterday’s dominant political party failed to catch on and limit the greatest expansion in government power over private individuals since the second world war, I have little hope.

6 Wallace Kaufman { 03.01.09 at 8:23 pm }

Add to the recent comments President Obama’s promise during the campaign to “use whatever policy tools are necessary, including standards that ban new traditional coal facilities … a stringent cap on carbon will also make it uneconomic to site traditional coal facilities and discourage the use of existing inefficient coal facilities.” This goes hand in hand with creating more competition for coal by subsidizing other forms of energy. Combine new regulations, cap and trade, and subsidizing his favored energy sources, he has already implemented a policy that says energy should be more expensive.

7 rbradley { 03.02.09 at 9:39 am }

For the record, I have emailed the above post to Paul Ehrlich at Stanford University asking him if he still stands by his quotations. I will share any response I get.

8 TokyoTom { 03.03.09 at 2:16 am }

Rob, it seems that my comments – posted at my blog – on your Malthusian-like warnings about Malthusians didn’t make it past moderation. Guess your filter doesn’t like links.

My full comments can be found by clicking on my name above; the short version? Rather crying “Wolf! Malthusian!”, why not try enage both them and your readers in good faith by demonstrating that their premises are wrong and their proposed solutions are counterproductive? IOW, why not show that (1) there ARE clear and effective property rights and shared institutions to deal with what Marlo Lewis has called “collective action problems” relating to the atmosphere, oceans, tropical forests, etc., or (2) failing that, that the right approach to these problems is to do nothing?

9 Is Joe Romm a ‘Global Lukewarmer’? — MasterResource { 09.24.09 at 5:31 am }

[...] He is emotionally attached to the issue with a track record of alarmism that is beginning to put Paul Ehrlich in the [...]

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