A Free-Market Energy Blog

Halloween: Neo-Malthusian Day

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 31, 2012

“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]

Are free-market optimists the dumb ones who jump off tall buildings and report that everything is fine, even breezy, on the way down? Or are those who fear, rant, and make this analogy bungee-jumping with reality?

The optimists have been jumping off buildings ever since Robert Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on Population was published in 1798–and not hitting the ground. More specifically, many in the Julian Simon camp have been jumping in regard to a variety of minerals ever since the 1960s and 1970s when Paul Ehrlich, The Club of Rome, etc. proclaimed the end was in sight.

Just maybe the doomslayers are well grounded with their trust in private property rights and the market process, including “creative destruction” where the better can replace the good. And maybe the neo-Malthusians are lost in a Haunted House with their (feel-good?) fears are joined by dreams of righting under-regulated, under-regimented humankind.

Three ‘Fearmongers’

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 father-figure and 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.


Note: This is a revised version of a blog I wrote last October 3st at MasterResource.


  1. Jon Boone  

    These are a ghoulish cast of characters, each with a lot of tricks and few, if any, treats for good society. But their hollow rhetoric and failed predictions should set them in the firmament of other cartoon characters that help to define our notion of Halloween.

    Like the Reformation and Counterreformations of yore, spawned at a time of great social uncertainty and economic transition, Climate Alarmists and their foils, each so certain about their cause, continue to haunt the body politic, their spectral ideas a witches brew of contemporary fire and brimstone.


  2. Ray  

    I cannot understand why people like Ehrlich aren’t ridiculed instead of being listened to respectfully. Every one of his predictions was wrong. In the 1970s we were all going to die from global cooling then in the 1990s we were all going to die from global warming and now we are going to die from climate change. Erhlich is the chicken little of doomsayers.


  3. MarkB  

    Was any 20th century scientist wrong about more to a greater degree than than Erhlich? The cold fusion boys were wrong about one thing, once. Erhlich was wrong to the tune of hundreds of millions of deaths, and that was only a decade out. How can such a person show his face in public, much less be listened too. The sad thing is that tens of thousands red his book in college, and absorbed its message, even if they don’t now remember where the ideas came from.It’s the general impression that stays with one, not the facts.


  4. rbradley  

    One argument used by alarmist apologists is that they performed a service by getting us to prepare for, and thus ‘prevent,’ the alleged ‘crisis’. Julian Simon would respond: No! Scarce resources are being sisallocated, chasing after false problems given real day-to-day problems.

    The ‘opportunity cost’ of climate alarmism is supportive foundations (Pew, Rockefeller, etc.) not spending money on here-and-now human needs–or fighting for free markets to enable individuals to prepare for whatever the future holds.


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