John Holdren and Anti-Growth Malthusianism (Revisited)
[Editor Note: An earlier series at MasterResource on John Holdren, President Obama's science and technology advisor, is being reprinted given the recent controversy surrounding Dr. Holdren's earlier views. This original post is dated January 5, 2009.]
If there is one quotation by Obama’s new science advisor that every American should hear, it is this:
“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” (italics added).
- John Holdren, Anne Ehrlich, and Paul Ehrlich, Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions (San Francisco; W.H. Freeman and Company, 1973), p. 279.
Holdren’s deep-seated belief of the human “predicament” as a zero-sum game–America must lose for other countries to win–was also stated by him two years before:
“Only one rational path is open to us—simultaneous de-development of the [overdeveloped countries] 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, 1971, p. 3.
Holdren and the Ehrlichs paid homage to the gloomy worldview of Thomas Robert Malthus, who saw “misery or vice” as the necessary equalizer between growing population and the means of subsistence in An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798):
“We find ourselves firmly in the neo-Malthusian camp. We hold this view not because we believe the world to be running out of materials in an absolute sense, but rather because the barriers to continued material growth, in the form of problems of economics, logistics, management, and environmental impact, are so formidable.”
- Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich, and John Holdren, Ecoscience: Population, Resources, and Environment (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1977), p. 954.
Holdren and Paul Ehrlich put their anti-growth philosophy into a mathematical equation, I=PAT, where a negative environmental impact was linked to any combination of population growth, increasing affluence, and improving technology. This “gloomy prognosis” required, according to the three:
“organized evasive action: population control, limitation of material consumption, redistribution of wealth, transitions to technologies that are environmentally and socially less disruptive than today’s, and movement toward some kind of world government” (1977: p. 5).
Does Dr. Doom still believe all this? I had an email exchange with him on this very point in 2003, and he conceded nothing (see Part V of this series, forthcoming). But perhaps in his upcoming confirmation hearings he can be more forthcoming for the record.