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Is Neo-Malthusianism Halloween Crazy?

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 31, 2011

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children. It has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate.’”

     – Joe Romm, quoted in Thomas Friedman, Is the Inflection Point Near?, New York Times, March 7, 2009.

“Is there any more single-minded, simple pleasure than viewing with alarm? At times it is even better than sex.”

    —Kenneth Boulding (1970), p. 160. [1]

I know…. We free-market optimists–and we ObamaCare, ObamaEnergy, etc. pessimists–are like the chap who jumps off the skyscraper and reports that everything is breezy on the way down.

But we have been jumping off buildings ever since Robert Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on Population was published in 1798. And we have been jumping off tall places regarding a variety of minerals ever since the 1960s and 1970s when Paul Ehrlich and others proclaimed the end was in sight!

Just maybe the Julian Simon school is grounded with their private property rights, free-market optimism–and the neo-Malthusians are bungee jumping with their fears of insufficiently regulated and regimented humankind.

Three Fearmongers (aka ‘smartest guys in the room’)

Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, and James Hansen, among other prominent neo-Malthusians, have made doom-and-gloom predictions about business-as-usual in an attempt to shock humanity into immediate legislative action and lifestyle changes.

Big Government and Self-Denial: what a perverted path to ‘sustainable’ living!  Is it any wonder that the Obama Administration is back on its heels on energy and climate issues with voters-qua-consumers-and-taxpayers rejecting their reasoning and conclusion?

Here are the Big Three:

1) Obama’s current science advisor and “dream ‘green’ team” member John Holdren.

2) Al Gore’s influential climate scientist James Hansen; and

3) the dean of modern alarmism, Paul Ehrlich;

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.

“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. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986, p. 274.

That is about ten years–and one in seven of us. Are you scared?

At his confirmation hearings as Obama’s science advisor, Holdren did not disown this prediction–in fact he defended it three times.

Background: Paul Ehrlich fathered the neo-Malthusian movement with his 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, and John Holdren was an instant convert. In 1971, mentor-and-disciple wrote:

“We are not, of course, optimistic about our chances of success. Some form of ecocatastrophe, if not thermonuclear war, seems almost certain to overtake us before the end of the century. (The inability to forecast exactly which one – whether plague, famine, the poisoning of the oceans, drastic climatic change, or some disaster entirely unforeseen – is hardly grounds for complacency.)”

–  John Holdren and Paul Ehrlich, ‘What We Must Do, and the Cost of Failure’, in Holdren and Ehrlich, Global Ecology, p. 279

And Dr. Doom senior and junior have been at it ever since, as chronicled in a series of posts at MasterResource.

James Hansen: Five Years to ‘Too Late’

In the face of believed-to-be certain doom, NASA scientist James Hansen said in mid-2006:

“We have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.”

– James Hansen, “The Threat to the Planet,” New York Review of Books, July 13, 2006.

It is known that a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels is not going to happen domestically on internationally. So can we give up the futile climate crusade, Dr. Hansen, based on your belief? Can we replace mitigation with adaptation and think about unleashing that incredible bread machine called Capitalism to best address real and imagined challenges to come?

Ken Green has noted: “Desperation is setting in among climate alarmists who by their own math can see that the window is rapidly closing on ’saving the planet’.” Again, with the window closing, can we ‘get real’ and try freedom over statism?

Paul Ehrlich: The World Ended Yesterday (oops!)

Where does one begin with Paul Ehrlich, the arch enemy and intellectual loser to the late Julian Simon? MasterResource has extensively examined Ehrlich’s oeuvre , but here are just two of the more outlandish of his predictions.

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines–hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

– Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, (New York: Ballentine Books, 1968),  p. 13.

“We can be reasonably sure . . . that within the next quarter of a century [by 2000] mankind will be looking elsewhere than in oil wells for its main source of energy.”

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

And then there was Ehrlich’s prediction in 1970 that Julian Simon jumped all over to get Sir Paul to enter into his ill-fated bet on the future of mineral resource prices as a measure of scarcity: “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”


Why won’t the perpetrators of exaggeration and falsity renounce their specious predictions? These ‘smartest guys in the room’ owe some explanation and even some apology to the rest of us–the 99 percent–who are supposedly to blame for (imagined) eco-catastrophe.

Halloween is every day with the fear mongers. But the sunshine of reality intervenes time and again to demonstrate that Julian Simon is right and the neo-Malthusians wrong.

Big Government know-it-all’s–the coercionistsrant and rave how the public ignores their forewarned peril. But humility and mid-course corrections are called for. It is their intellectual Enron that needs a bankruptcy filing for cleanup and a better future.


[1] Boulding, Kenneth. “Fun and Games with the Gross National Product—The Role of Misleading Indicators in Social Policy.” In The Environmental Crisis, edited by Harold Helfrich Jr., 157–70. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970. Quoted in Robert Bradley, Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy. Salem, MA: M&M Scrivener Press, 2009,  p. 238.


  1. sams  

    “Is there any more single-minded, simple pleasure than viewing with alarm? At times it is even better than sex.”

    —Kenneth Boulding (1970), p. 160

    Fun and kind of truth, nothing like a sense of purpose and the ego maniacal satisfaction of being the only who gets it.


  2. nofreewind  

    Nice article as usual. The book that goes along with this is titled Future Babble by Dan Gardner.


  3. Marlo Lewis  

    Thanks, Rob. Reading this, I am definitely having a Happy Halloween!


  4. Tom Tanton  

    The issue is more like “Groundhog Day” than any of the Holloween scare-fest movies. We never seem to move to the next day (All Saints Day) but night after night return to the ghosts and goblins and malthusians. Will tomorrow never come?


  5. Joseph A Olson  

    Unfortunaltely GHOULISH Green Energy is a 24/7 monster. For a complete analysis of the failures of EVERY form of “Green Energy” read “Another Green Energy Never Neverland” posted here http://fauxscienceslayer.com/pdf/Green_Energy_Neverland.pdf
    be kind and share with others….thanks

    Faux Science Slayer


  6. TomFP  

    Rob – this is a reply to your last to me at Judith Curry’s Climate, Inc. – I felt it belonged here

    “Neo-Malthusian” is perfect, IMO – don’t change it. It doesn’t account for ALL of the CAGW catastrophe narrative, but what it does account for it does better than any phrase I have yet encountered.

    I believe, though, that CAGW was a “perfect storm” of mutually-reinforcing social phenomena of the second half of the 20th C:

    *Incontrovertible success of “science” in so many fields of human suffering/convenience, leading to a “scientistic” world-view among “educated” westerners.

    *Decline in religious faith among the same group, leaving an unacknowledged, and now frustrated, need to repent/propitiate. (“Neo-piety”, to borrow your formulation)

    *Decline in “real” risk experienced by “educated” westerners, leading to an appetite for Great Big Scares. Similar demand for scary movies, since each provides the same commodity.
    Fixed (seemingly) percentage in any generation, of “messianic” personality types able to exploit the above.

    And probably more!

    For a structured analysis of past Great Big Scares (Perverse Extensions of Uncontroversial Science) you may be interested in:


    He covers the usual analogies to CAGW – Eugenics, DDT (another folly of the mendacious Gore), but also a charmingly obscure little panic in the mid-19thC about running out of sparring timber…


  7. geridene  

    This is a very specious article, because many of the predictions of the “disastrists” have certainly come true. 15 to 18 million people die of hunger each year. This is not counting deaths due to poor hygiene and other forms of poverty. Shame on your simple-minded article.


    • rbradley  


      The critic can respond to your comment by saying that statism is the number one human killer. I recommend a book, “Death By Government,” by RJ Rummel on this point.

      The problem with neo-Malthusianism is that it endorses statism to address human challenges. The latest threat is posed by Bill McKibben as Alex Epstein’s post at MasterResource document: http://www.masterresource.org/category/epstein-alex/,


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