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Category — Ehrlich, Paul

The Great Energy Resource Debate (Part II: Neo-Malthusian Alarmism)

[Editor note: The other posts in this series are The Great Energy Resource Debate (Part I: Peak Oil was … is here!) and The Great Energy Resource Debate (Part III: Pessimists Turn Optimistic!). Part IV will look at the theoretical case for resource expansionism in light of the preceding posts.]

[Editor note: Part I


“All oil and gas resources should be carefully husbanded—i.e. extracted as late and as slowly as possible. Our descendents will be grateful. We, too, shall need a long bridge to the future.”

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

Yesterday's post provided quotations from a variety of sources espousing a pessimistic, closed view of the mineral resource world as it pertains to oil, gas, and even coal. The names included Daniel Yergin (circa 1979), Jimmy Carter, James Schlesinger, Matt Simmons, Colin Campbell, and John Holdren.

Today's post taps into the neo-Malthusian mainstays such as Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, Al Gore, Lester Brown, Amory Lovins, Christopher Flavin--all of whom forecast the coming end of the fossil fuel era.

Paul Ehrlich

“A genuine world shortage of pumpable petroleum appears certain by the turn of the century if demand continues to grow as it did in the 1960s.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 44.

“Most of the easily accessible sources of fossil fuels and mineral resources are long gone, and the rising prices reflect the necessity to dig deeper, travel farther, and refine lower-grade ore in order to obtain them.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 100.

“The seriousness of the raw material situation had been brought home during the Congressional Hard Resources hearing in 1971. The exposure of the cornucopian economists had been quite a spectacle—a spectacle brought into virtually every American’s home in living color. Few would forget the distinguished geologist from the University of California who suggested that economists be legally required to learn at least the elementary facts of geology. . . . The overall message was clear: America’s resource situation was bad and bound to get worse.”

- Paul Ehrlich, “Eco-Catastrophe,” Ramparts, September 1969, reprinted in Robert Crandall and Richard Eckaus, Contemporary Issues in Economics: Selected Readings (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972), p. 527.

“Compared to what will occur if we do not start seriously conserving energy—and compared to the food, environmental, and economic crises soon to come—the 1973–74 energy shortage was truly only a mini-crisis.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), pp. 48–49.

“By the 1980s, the depletion of accessible reserves of many nonrenewable resources—notably, but not exclusively, petroleum—was becoming more and more evident.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 57.

“We can be reasonably sure . . . that within the next quarter of a century mankind will be looking elsewhere than in oil wells for its main source of energy. . . . We can also be reasonably sure that the search for alternatives will be a frantic one.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 49. [Read more →]

May 13, 2011   6 Comments

Halloween Hangover: Ehrlich, Holdren, Hansen Unretracted

“If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

- Paul Ehrlich, quoted in Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 35.

“As University of California physicist John Holdren has said, it is possible that carbon-dioxide climate-induced famines could kill as many as a billion people before the year 2020.”

-  Paul Ehrlich, The Machinery of Nature, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1986, p. 274.

In the name of science, Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, and James Hansen (et al.) have made doom-and-gloom predictions about business-as-usual in an attempt to shock humanity into immediate legislative action and lifestyle changes.

It did not work. The elapsed predictions have failed to come to pass. Little wonder that new installments of climate alarmism, such as Juliet Eilperin’s ”25% of Wild Mammal Species Face Extinction: Global Assessment Paints ‘Bleak Picture,’ Scientists Say, and Figure of Those at Risk Could Be Higher” in the Washington Post (October 7), don’t register with voters.

Worsening their predicament, the perpetrators will not renounce their specious predictions. They remain the smartest guys in the room–versus all of us commoners, we the hundreds of millions of market-failure-ites.

Here are the Big Three: 1) the dean of modern alarmism, Paul Ehrlich; 2) Al Gore’s influential climate scientist James Hansen; and 3) Obama’s “dream ‘green’ team” member John Holdren.

Let’s start with Dr. Holdren.

Holdren’s Billion Deaths

It was Ehrlich who outed his protege on what is perhaps the most outlandish prediction of forthcoming doom of all: one billion potential deaths by 2020. That is about ten years and one in seven of us. Are you scared? [Read more →]

November 1, 2010   48 Comments

Howlin’ Wolf: Paul Ehrlich on Energy (Part III: Conservationism)

Editor note: Part I examined Dr. Ehrlich’s views on Julian Simon, growing energy usage, and depletion. Part II examined his errant energy forecasts. (Previous posts on the worldview and statements of Obama science advisor John Holdren are here.)

Energy conservation(ism) was the Ehrlichs’ silver bullet for fossil-fuel depletion. Current usage levels were decried as enormously wasteful. Depletion and climate change called for “a reorganization of the American way of life” to cut energy usage in half or else “the nation would go bankrupt.” [1] The bankruptcy would come after “frequent unpredictable blackouts and brownouts, the continual need to devise more ‘emergency’ measures, and the return of closed gasoline stations.” [2]

Transportation Usage

On the transportation side, smaller cars, alternative vehicles (even with “miserable pickup”), “slower coast-to-coast transportation,” and an end to two-car families were recommended as, potentially, “the cost of survival.” [3] Paul Ehrlich took on automobiles as status symbols with sarcasm:

“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.” [4]

Another part of his “auto-control program” was a ban on motorized camping on public land so “people could be encouraged to regain an appreciation of their place in nature.” An exception was made “for those physically unable to back-pack.” [5] The use of off-road vehicles (dirt bikes, dune buggies, all-terrain vehicles, etc.) was censured as devastating the environment. [6] Government agencies could lease “special purpose vehicles . . . to provide whatever level of usage is determined to be ecologically acceptable” on public lands.[7] In 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.” [8] Trains and planes as public transportation (“mass transportation”) were to be utilized for long distances. [9] This makeover of the transportation system “means our settlement patterns must also change” toward urbanization and away from “leapfrogging suburbs.” [10]

So long as cars existed, their number, size, mechanics, and fuel consumption had to be regulated to minimize oil usage.[11] “The large automobile should disappear entirely, except for some taxis, and these could be designed to run economically.” [12] Lower speed limits were suggested. [13] Cars should be designed to be recyclable. [14] Consumers were invited to boycott “one or more” of the automobile manufacturers’ products. [15] Consumers were also urged to buy used cars rather than new ones. [16] Automobile vacations were discouraged, as were three-day weekends responsible for “enormous jams on highways.” [17] A monthly step-up in motor fuel taxes was recommended “until gasoline costs $2.50-$3.00 per gallon, comparable to [1990] prices in Europe and Japan.” [18] In the long run, Paul Ehrlich believed, cars would have to be powered by an energy source other than gasoline. [19]

“Many other restrictions,” such as banning power lawnmowers in the suburbs, were part of Paul Ehrlich’s ideal world. [20] A side benefit (he liked to tie-in his policy objectives) was offered:

“People in those areas might learn to plant attractive displays of native plants rather than struggling with pesticides, fertilizers, and mowers to keep a monoculture of grass under control. And as a result their lives, and those of their neighbors, will become quieter, more relaxed, and less polluted.” [21]

Electricity Usage

Ehrlich and Harriman considered “the generation and use of electric power . . . [as] one of the prime activities that results in environmental deterioration.” [22] They worried that at the usage growth rates encouraged by electric utilities, “every square inch of the United States would be covered with conventional power plants in two hundred years or so.” [23] Consequently, [Read more →]

March 23, 2010   3 Comments

Howlin’ Wolf: Paul Ehrlich on Energy (Part II: Failed Predictions)

[Editor's note: Part I in this five-part series examined Dr. Ehrlich's views on Julian Simon, growing energy usage, and depletion. Part III examines Ehrlich's conservation(ism) views.]

The Ehrlichs’ angst about the energy future was rife with forecasts that have been proven false–and embarrassingly so. As mentioned in Part I, the Ehrlichs’ protégé John Holdren has made similar radical pronouncements and wild exaggerations (see here and here) and even joined Stephen Schneider and other climate scientists in the global cooling scare.

Running Out of Oil

Writing in 1974, the Ehrlichs predicted that “we can be reasonably sure . . . that within the next quarter of a century mankind will be looking elsewhere than in oil wells for its main source of energy.” [1] Consequently, “we can also be reasonably sure that the search for alternatives will be a frantic one.” [2] He predicted that proved world oil reserves were no more than 35 years of supply at current demand levels. [3]

“The energy mini-crisis [of the 1970s],” the Ehrlichs confidently concluded, “illuminated once and for all the hopeless incompetence of our political leaders and our institutions when it comes to coping with fundamental change.” [4] More generally, the Ehrlichs predicted that “America’s economic joyride is coming to an end: there will be no more cheap, abundant energy, no more cheap abundant food.” [5] Thus, “continuing to increase our dependence on petroleum consumption is clearly a suicidal course of action.” [6] [Read more →]

March 20, 2010   10 Comments

Howlin’ Wolf: Paul Ehrlich on Energy (Part I: Demeaning Julian Simon; Energy as Desecrator; Doom from Depletion)

[Editor's note: Part II in this five-part series examines Dr. Ehrlich's failed predictions in energy. Part III examines Ehrlich's conservation(ism) views.]

“Most of our colleagues don’t seem to grasp that we’re not in a gentlepersons’ debate, we’re in a street fight against well-funded, merciless enemies who play by entirely different rules.”

- Paul R. Ehrlich, quoted in Stephen Dinan, “Climate Scientists to Fight Back Against Skeptics,” Washington Times, March 5, 2010.

“Everyone is scared shitless [about the attacks from climate-science critics], but they don’t know what to do.”

- Paul Ehrlich. Quoted in “Climate of Fear,” Nature, March 11, 2010.

Paul Ehrlich is back in the news regarding Climategate and the IPCC controversy.  How ironic!  Dr. Ehrlich’s multi-decadal over-the-top pronouncements of doom-and-gloom, and his arrogant behavior towards his critics (Julian Simon in particular), might qualify as Malthusgate.

And part of Malthusgate is Dr. Ehrlich’s protégé on energy, John Holdren, who has been prone to radical pronouncements and wild exaggeration time and again (and even joining in on the global cooling scare)–and with little remorse.

I do not know of any mainstream scientist who has been more errant in his worldview predictions and who has gotten away with more sub-intellectual behavior. When the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) dared publish an essay by Simon, Ehrlich fumed: “Could the editors have found someone to review Simon’s manuscript who had to take off his shoes to count to 20?”

Name calling, ignoring contrary evidence, perverting the peer review process–this did not start with Climategate.

Julian Simon–Ehrlich’s Victor

Julian Simon (1932-98) tirelessly examined the statistical record relating to human welfare[1] to conclude, “Malthusian diminishing returns theory does not fit these observed facts and is not compelling intellectually; a theory of endogenous invention is more persuasive, in my view.”[2] Elsewhere he added, “I’m not an optimist, I’m a realist.”[3]

For three decades, Paul Ehrlich (1932- ), a biologist at Stanford University, has been the arch foe of Julian Simon’s views of natural resource scarcity, population growth, and the future human condition. Ehrlich’s dissatisfaction with Simon carried over to the personal realm. He likened Simon to “an imbecile,” a “flat earther,” and a “fringe character.”[4] As late as 1991 Paul and Anne Ehrlich belittled Simon as “an economist specializing in mail-order marketing.”[5] Only in their 1996 book did the Ehrlichs refer to Simon by his professional affiliation—Professor of Business Administration at the University of Maryland.[6]

Ehrlich’s doomsayer worldview proved popular, drowning out Simon’s optimistic but less newsworthy view from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s books attracted a variety of top publishing houses and sold in the millions. Simon’s empirically laden books, confined to the academic market, sold in the thousands. Paul Ehrlich appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over a dozen times, reaching millions more with his message of impending crises. Simon was able to give some major lectures, but he was never able to share his views with a national audience in any medium.[7] Ehrlich, meanwhile, refused to give Simon an opportunity to debate him.[8] [Read more →]

March 13, 2010   6 Comments

Climategate Did Not Begin With Climate (Remembering Julian Simon and the storied intolerance of neo-Malthusians)

A powerful argument against climate alarmism is the failed worldview of modern neo-Malthusianism, which has promoted fear after fear with an intolerant, smartest-guys-in-the-room mentality. Remember the “population bomb” where many millions would die in food riots? Well, obesity turned out to be the real problem.

Remember the Club of Rome’s resource scare? In 1972, 57 predictions of exhaustion were made regarding 19 different minerals. All either have been falsified or will be.

Remember the global-cooling scare promoted by, among others, the Obama administration’s science czar, John Holdren? (Yes, global cooling was a big deal, although it was not a “consensus.”)

And all of the above doom merchants were uber-confident and still are loath to admit they were ever wrong. Holdren, for example, is sticking to his prediction that as many as one billion people could die by 2020 from (man-made) climate change. That’s about ten years, folks.

Climategate/Climate McCarthyism

Now to today. Error and intolerance rule in the global warming scare. Read the flaming emails from the principals of Climategate. Read about Joseph “Climate McCarthyism” Romm by his critics on the Left.  Read the latest from (non-Climategater) Michael Schlesinger, who lost his cool against New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin.

And of course there is John Holdren, now science advisor to President Obama, who said this to me when I asked him to critically review my essay evaluating his 2003 criticism of Bjorn Lomborg, “The Heated Energy Debate.”  Holdren responded:

What exactly entitles you to the evidently self-applied label of ‘energy expert’?  …. You are of course entitled to (verbally) attack me in any legal way you like, but please don’t then pretend in personal notes to me that we are colleagues, each doing our best to get at the truth…. [Y]ou appear to be … lacking both discernible qualifications in the real world and the ability to tell a good argument from a bad one. I want nothing further to do with you.

A strange intellectual dude.

Remember Julian Simon

Today’s Climategate is predictable with some of the same players at work–and many new ones as well. Remember how Paul R. Ehrlich treated his intellectual rival Julian Simon? The Stanford University biologist refused to debate Simon or even meet him in person. He insulted Simon repeatedly in print. Ehrlich even scolded Science magazine for publishing Simon’s 1980 breakthrough essay “Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of Bad News,” with the words: “Could the editors have found someone to review Simon’s manuscript who had to take off this shoes to count to 20?” (quoted in Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource II, 1996, p. 612). [Read more →]

December 8, 2009   9 Comments

The Intellectual Roots of Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb (and the pre-prehistory of climate alarmism)

[Editor note: Pierre Desrochers, who guest posts with us for the first time, is Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Toronto.]

Paul Ehrlich’s best-seller The Population Bomb  turned 40 last year. The latest issue of the peer-reviewed (and somewhat iconoclastic) Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development is devoted to the book, its impact, and the validity of its main message. It features contributions by both Paul and Anne Ehrlich, who mostly stand by their original analysis, and some of their critics who challenge their basic premise and supportive evidence.

Despite a now widespread popular perception that The Population Bomb was a pioneering work, it originally drew little attention. In fact, it was just the latest in a long line of books, reports, essays and pamphlets on the population issue published in post-World War II America.

Ehrlich’s success, it turns out, owed more to his alarmist rhetoric and a lucky break on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show “ (on which he would eventually appear several times) than to any original insight or idea.

The real roots of what is sometimes referred to as modern “neo- Malthusian ecology” in the United States long predates the Stanford’s biologist contribution. It can be ultimately traced back, at least in terms of reaching a large popular audience, including a young Paul Ehrlich himself, to two now largely forgotten best-sellers published in 1948: Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet and William Vogt’s Road to Survival. [Read more →]

July 14, 2009   6 Comments

Energy as the Master Resource: Where Left, Right, and Center Agree

“A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not.”

- John Holdren, “Memorandum to the President: The Energy-Climate Challenge,” in Donald Kennedy and John Riggs, eds., U.S. Policy and the Global Environment: Memos to the President (Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 2000), p. 21.

Julian Simon (1932–98) is an inspiration to many of us here at MasterResource. Indeed, this blog is named for Simon’s characterization of energy as the master resource. In honor of Simon, I have reproduced some quotations from the vast literature on that theme.

The primal importance of energy is recognized across the political spectrum as the views of John Holdren, Paul Ehrlich, and Amory Lovins attest. Affordable, reliable energy is thus the starting point for public policy debate. And oil, gas, and coal are the backbone of energy plenty, as even politicians are realizing now that government-forced energy transformation (energy rationing) is under debate.

“The future belongs to the efficient,” it has been said. And the foreseeable future belongs to the carbon-based energies.

Here are some quotations, beginning with Julian Simon’s classic. [Read more →]

July 3, 2009   4 Comments

Challenging Alarmism: John Maddox (1925–2009), RIP

It was nice to see John Tierney in his blog post, The Skeptical Prophet, pay tribute to John Maddox, the scientist and revered long-time editor of Nature. “He debunked the catastrophists, most notably in his 1972 book, The Doomsday Syndrome,” noted Tierney, “in which he argued that Spaceship Earth had more carrying capacity and ecological resilience than environmentalists realized.”

Tierney adds: “His book was denounced at the time by John P. Holdren, who is today the White House science advisor. In a 1972 article in the Times of London, Dr. Holdren and his frequent collaborator, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, dismissed Dr. Maddox as ‘uninformed’ and clearly unable to understand ‘simple concepts’ of population theory.” Stated Ehrlich/Holdren (as quoted by Tierney): [Read more →]

April 21, 2009   1 Comment

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): [Read more →]

March 1, 2009   9 Comments