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John Holdren the Fisherman: Thrice Guilty of I = PAT (lecture today at the Willard Hotel)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 17, 2018

[Editor Note: Today, Moynihan Prize winner John Holdren will give a public lecture in Washington, DC at the Willard Intercontinental (1401 Pennsylvania Avenue) at 4:00 pm eastern. What might he say about I = PAT and his fishing hobby?]

He loves to fish. His is a motor boat, not a kayak, a row boat, or canoe.  AND he has employed his very own electronic fish finder.

As such, he violates all three independent variables of his own I = P A T equation! But then like most others in the Malthusian intelligensia, and a few others like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, the equation just does not apply to him.

His name is John Paul Holdren, Obama’s eight-year science advisor, Harvard Professor of Environmental Policy, MacArthur genius (one of the first), and overall “powerhouse.” But another designation might be Dr. Incorrect.

What is I = PAT?

I equals negative impact on the environment from Population, Affluence, and Technology. According to Wikipedia:

The equation was developed in 1970 during the course of a debate between Barry Commoner, Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren. Commoner argued that environmental impacts in the United States were caused primarily by changes in its production technology following World War II and aimed his thoughts on present day deteriorating environmental conditions in the U.S. Ehrlich and Holdren argued that all three factors were important and emphasized in particular the role of human population growth, but focused more on a broader scale, being less specific in space and time.

As I explained in Capitalism at Work (2009: p. 229):

In 1971, [Paul] Ehrlich and [John] Holdren formulated the first version of what became the I=PAT equation…. The greater the impact, the worse the ecological consequences (and vice versa), which make population, affluence, and technology bad in themselves.

“The Impact of Population Growth.” Science, March 26, 1971, pp. 1212–13.

Exactly Wrong (but just reverse)

The Malthusian equation is exactly wrong. Positive (not negative) environmental impacts result from increases in population, affluence, and technology. This gets right back to Julian’s Simon’s robust takedown of the Malthusian worldview with his 1977 book, The Economics of Population Growth , popularized in 1981 as The Ultimate Resource. Who can forget the bold claims made on the dust jacket of the latter (verbatim):

  • Natural resources and energy are getting less scarce;
  • Pollution in the U.S. has been decreasing.
  • The world’s food supply is improving”
  • Population growth has long-term benefits…..”

And the title of his last public lecture given in Houston, Texas (12/4/1997): “More People, Greater Wealth, Expanded Resources, Cleaner Environment.”

So Simon simply reversed the I=PAT equation!

Poor Wikipedia: gets it exactly wrong:

Criticisms of the “I=PAT” formula

  • Too Simplistic for complex problems
  • Inter dependencies between variables
  • General sweeping assumptions of variables’ effect toward environmental impact
  • Cultural differences cause wide variation in impact
  • Technology cannot properly be expressed in a unit. Varying the unit will prove to be inaccurate, as the result of the calculation depends on one’s view of the situation

The last word should go to Julian Simon who said in The Ultimate Resource 2 (p. 11): “The world’s problem is not too many people, but a lack of political and economic freedom.” S as in Statism, not population, affluence, and technology, is the independent variable that humankind should worry about.


“Friends say Holdren deploys the tools of science in his life as a whole. His fishing database, where he keeps track of key variables such as time, location, tide and water temperature, along with records of which fish are biting on what, is legendary. Holdren has also developed an algorithm for comparing wine ratings to price lists, and he sends a list of the best-buys to friends each Christmas. “But you have to act on it quickly, because sometimes it moves local markets,” Allison says.”


“I also love the environment. I love to fish. There’s great freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing,” he said. And Holdren added that he loves that he can take his boat out for 20 minutes, just on the other side of Naushon Island “and you can’t tell what century you’re in.”


“He also finds a little time for a hobby— fishing. Maybe it’s the lure of solving smaller, simpler tasks rather than big problems for awhile—or, maybe it’s just the lure itself.”


Also known for his passion for fishing, particularly in the choppy waters off Woods Hole, Mass.”


Also see John Holdren: adviser on science, fish and wine (Tollefson J., Nature. 2009 Feb 19 (7232): 942-3.


  1. John Garrett  

    God, what a phony.


  2. EVs: It's Hard Being Green - Master Resource  

    […] Same for Leonard DiCaprio’s yacht. John Holdren, Obama’s alarmist-in-chief, also violates the I = PAT equation while having fun […]


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