A Free-Market Energy Blog

John Holdren and Global Warming (Revisited)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 13, 2009

[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 December 31, 2008]

Paul Ehrlich founded 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

The year 2000 has come and gone, making this prediction a little more errant with each passing year. The question must be asked: if Holdren had been given the reigns of government in the 1970s to avoid this ec0-Y2K, what would he had done? What problem would have been solved? He didn’t even know what the problem was–just that man and economic growth were responsible.

Global cooling was on the mind of Ehrlich and Holdren (see Part I in this series), but so was global warming. Holdren stated in a 1981 essay:

“Too much fossil fuel means flirtation with a CO2-induced climate change potentially catastrophic for world food production.”

–  John Holdren, ‘Renewables in the US Energy Future: How Much, How Fast?’, Energy 6(9), p. 913

From this came Holdren’s most infamous prediction as documented by Paul Ehrlich:

“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

That is one in seven of all of us–and with about 11 years to go. But he did say “could” rather than “will.”

What would ‘Dr. Doom’ do today to avoid eco-catastrophe? How would his plan reconcile with a free society and consumer-driven economic growth? Needless to say, the track record of John Holdren on global cooling, global warming, and the environment in general does not inspire confidence about his understanding of problems or solutions.


  1. Andrew  

    Off topic Rob, but, I was wondering if you could inform Chip Knappenberger that my copy of “Climate of Extremes” is missing figure 1.5, something I would hope he, having been given a credit for aid in writing the book, would have caught.

    And tell him to tell Michaels that so far I have few problems with it other than that (except that when mentioning the Diurnal Temperature Range, they neglect to mention the influence of land-use on said trends (a la Christy et al. 2009 and earlier papers). But I’m just starting on it, so we’ll see! 🙂


  2. Andrew  

    CORRECTION (to my post, not the head post)-I found the insert (do’h!) and realized that I couldn’t find the picture because it was one of the color ones…


  3. Ken Maize  

    Ehrlich, Holdren, and Lester Brown have been so wrong for so long that their only response is to insist that they have been right, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
    I’m an Obama supporter (not for his environmental views) but he could not have chosen a worse science advisor (unless he picked Paul Ehrlich). My hope is that he will not listen to Holdren, and instead consult other folks in the administration who have a more balanced approach — for example, Nancy Sutley at CEQ.


  4. Obama Ridicules President Rutherford B. Hayes for Own Gain  

    […] Holdren wrote “Some form of ecocatastrophe, if not thermonuclear war, seems almost certain to overtake us before the end of the century”—he was talking about the twentieth century, not the […]


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