The Population Bomb, Revisited

 

834px-Paul_R._Ehrlich_2008Paul Ehrlich, the author of The Population Bomb, is completely unrepentant:

After the passage of 47 years, Dr. Ehrlich offers little in the way of a mea culpa. Quite the contrary. Timetables for disaster like those he once offered have no significance, he told Retro Report, because to someone in his field they mean something “very, very different” from what they do to the average person. The end is still nigh, he asserted, and he stood unflinchingly by his 1960s insistence that population control was required, preferably through voluntary methods. But if need be, he said, he would endorse “various forms of coercion” like eliminating “tax benefits for having additional children.” Allowing women to have as many babies as they wanted, he said, is akin to letting everyone “throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.”

After nearly half a century, the arrogance and contempt for human life is palpable. The tone haughty to the point of absurd: No I wasn’t wrong, it’s you common folk who are too stupid to grasp how brilliant I am! Then there is the casual equating of children with garbage. Even in old age, Paul Ehrlich has the capacity to make people shudder in horror.

If you have a moment, I urge you to go over to the New York Times – never thought I’d write those words – and watch the video. For those seeking confirmation of the old saying that the past is another country, here it is in spades. The video notes that, at one point, Professor Ehrlich was advocating putting sterilizing drugs in the water supply. The speech by President Nixon is especially dramatic. For Nixon’s legendary political antennae to have picked up on this issue, and seized it with such vigour, gives you a pretty good indication of how mainstream the issue had become in the late 1960s.

Yet the call for zero population growth (ZPG) is close to coming true. Most developed nations are now well below replacement, the United States is only marginally above it at the moment. Large families are now a rarity. While Professor Ehrlich’s predictions are ridiculed, even by the Times, his anti-child message still resonates in the culture.

If you speak to parents of large families, anything more than three children these days, they’ll often comment about the suspicious looks and hostile reactions they get. Once considered normal, the large family is today greeted with derision. This is particularly true in large urban centers and among the college educated. Perhaps this is the real legacy of the overpopulation scare: a lingering contempt for what was once considered ordinary family life.

At 83, Paul Ehrlich won’t live to see consequences of his ideas. Unfortunately most of us will.

Image Credit: “Paul R. Ehrlich 2008” by Jay Crosshttps://www.flickr.com/photos/jaycross/2621592915. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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There are 39 comments.

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  1. Saint Augustine Member

    Jonathan Last: What To Expect When No One’s Expecting.

    • #1
    • June 2, 2015, at 5:16 AM PDT
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  2. Saint Augustine Member

    Would it be fair to call Ehrlich a Malthusian?

    • #2
    • June 2, 2015, at 5:16 AM PDT
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  3. David Knights Member

    Augustine:Would it be fair to call Ehrlich a Malthusian?

    Yes

    • #3
    • June 2, 2015, at 5:19 AM PDT
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  4. Saint Augustine Member

    Even in societies with a big Catholic or Islamic heritage plenty of people volunteer to reproduce less, or not at all.

    What non-eunuch cannot understand the desire to have sexual relations with complete confidence that there will be no ensuing diapers ten months later?

    There was no need to force any sterilization. Self-interest and contraceptive technology were enough to slow down population grown, and, in the likeliest near future, reverse it.

    (Whether that self-interest is sinful selfishness, and whether there was ever any need to slow down or reverse population growth, are separate questions.)

    • #4
    • June 2, 2015, at 5:22 AM PDT
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  5. Mike H Coolidge

    Augustine:Jonathan Last: What To Expect When No One’s Expecting.

    My theory is that Last is going to be something of an anti-Ehrlich. His book is coinciding with the bottom of the trough in fertility just as Ehrlich managed to release his book at the peak.

    • #5
    • June 2, 2015, at 5:31 AM PDT
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  6. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    First, it’s almost wonderful to see someone like Erlich persevere in being so demonstrably, fantastically wrong for half a century. Almost.

    As important as demographics and birth rates are, I think a little perspective is in order. World population increased from approximately 1 billion in 1800 — an all-time high — to approximately 2 billion in 1920, to today’s 7 billion souls. There is no other terrestrial creature on this earth of similar size with similar numbers and there never has been.

    Frankly, I think that’s great and it’s an amazing testament to humanity’s ability to expand and look out for itself. And — again — as serious and disruptive as slackening of the birth rates may be, let’s not pretend that we’re on a trajectory toward extinction: we’ve never been better that way.

    • #6
    • June 2, 2015, at 5:50 AM PDT
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  7. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    FTA:

    Timetables for disaster like those he once offered have no significance, he told Retro Report, because to someone in his field they mean something “very, very different” from what they do to the average person.

    We understand exactly what his disaster timetables mean. The fascist academics and corrupt scientists of the Progressive movement (many of whom feel they are squeaky clean) speak in code which always means the same thing: The goal, state control, is desperately needed as the solution to a problem, preferably one which can be modeled, and urgently enough to both jettison headlines and the pre-empt the usual requirements for confirmation, skepticism, thought.

    So long as those boxes get filled in, they all let each other go on the small stuff, such as the nature of the problem, the validity of the models, and so forth.

    His field is not science — it is totalitarian control.

    • #7
    • June 2, 2015, at 6:26 AM PDT
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  8. Done Contributor

    I just want to point out that our currently falling birth rates likely have little to do with the ideas Elrich spread. All prosperous societies end up with Dwindling birth rates. The Greeks, the Romans, and many others.

    • #8
    • June 2, 2015, at 6:31 AM PDT
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  9. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Nobody’s talking about extinction. Where did that come from? Fred Cole’s pipe resin, maybe. The point is that our society may well be utterly displaced. But if you see one culture pretty much as good as another, especially if you see no legitimacy in borders, then I can see how extinction is the only thing to worry about. Or to not worry about, more properly.

    At this rate, we’ll all be replaced by straw men.

    • #9
    • June 2, 2015, at 7:05 AM PDT
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  10. Marion Evans Inactive

    The Population Bomb is a leftist theory. Now they have climate change. Leftists are always mad at you for doing what comes naturally, whether having children or engaging in a capitalist activity.

    • #10
    • June 2, 2015, at 7:27 AM PDT
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  11. The Question Inactive

    There was a population boom, but the population boom occurred because of dropping death rates due to better sanitation and health, not rising birth rates. There’s a limit to how many years a better environment adds to life expectancy, so now the global population is leveling off.

    When I was an environmentalist and a Catholic, I could never figure out how to reconcile my Catholicism with my environmentalism, and eventually stopped trying. I’m a conservationist.

    • #11
    • June 2, 2015, at 8:00 AM PDT
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  12. Mike H Coolidge

    Ball Diamond Ball:Nobody’s talking about extinction. Where did that come from? Fred Cole’s pipe resin, maybe.

    This is a good joke, but did you know that Fred doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks?

    • #12
    • June 2, 2015, at 8:24 AM PDT
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  13. Son of Spengler Contributor

    Mike H:

    Ball Diamond Ball:Nobody’s talking about extinction. Where did that come from? Fred Cole’s pipe resin, maybe.

    This is a good joke, but did you know that Fred doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks?

    Yes, just like Hitler. (I’M KIDDING!)

    • #13
    • June 2, 2015, at 8:27 AM PDT
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  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Timetables for disaster like those he once offered have no significance, he told Retro Report, because to someone in his field they mean something “very, very different” from what they do to the average person.

    Paul Erlich has been misunderstood by dummies using the Gregorian calendar. When he was talking about terrible things happening in 1990, 2000, etc, he meant on the Islamic calendar which is currently at year 1436.

    • #14
    • June 2, 2015, at 8:27 AM PDT
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  15. Mike H Coolidge

    Michael Sanregret:There was a population boom, but the population boom occurred because of dropping death rates due to better sanitation and health, not rising birth rates. There’s a limit to how many years a better environment adds to life expectancy, so now the global population is leveling off.

    While this is certainly true as a major contribution to the population boom I think you’ve misdiagnosed the cause of leveling off. Life expectancy is still rising, even in the first world. The cause of the population leveling off is a steep drop in fertility thanks to effective birth control and accumulated wealth.

    • #15
    • June 2, 2015, at 8:29 AM PDT
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  16. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    The list of living people I’d personally put a gun to the head of and pull the trigger is a very short one. Paul Ehrlich is at the top of it. It is incoherent to speak of combating evil otherwise.

    • #16
    • June 2, 2015, at 8:32 AM PDT
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  17. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    Arguably, Rachel Carson has done far more damage than that buffoon Ehrlich.

    • #17
    • June 2, 2015, at 8:58 AM PDT
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  18. The Question Inactive

    Mike H:

    Michael Sanregret:There was a population boom, but the population boom occurred because of dropping death rates due to better sanitation and health, not rising birth rates. There’s a limit to how many years a better environment adds to life expectancy, so now the global population is leveling off.

    While this is certainly true as a major contribution to the population boom I think you’ve misdiagnosed the cause of leveling off. Life expectancy is still rising, even in the first world. The cause of the population leveling off is a steep drop in fertility thanks to effective birth control and accumulated wealth.

    Mike H:

    Michael Sanregret:There was a population boom, but the population boom occurred because of dropping death rates due to better sanitation and health, not rising birth rates. There’s a limit to how many years a better environment adds to life expectancy, so now the global population is leveling off.

    While this is certainly true as a major contribution to the population boom I think you’ve misdiagnosed the cause of leveling off. Life expectancy is still rising, even in the first world. The cause of the population leveling off is a steep drop in fertility thanks to effective birth control and accumulated wealth.

    Yes, but you could argue that we’ve overcompensated (I haven’t read Last’s book. I should).

    • #18
    • June 2, 2015, at 9:28 AM PDT
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  19. Larry Koler Inactive

    Son of Spengler:

    Mike H:

    Ball Diamond Ball:Nobody’s talking about extinction. Where did that come from? Fred Cole’s pipe resin, maybe.

    This is a good joke, but did you know that Fred doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks?

    Yes, just like Hitler. (I’M KIDDING!)

    I wonder if Fred is a vegetarian, too.

    • #19
    • June 2, 2015, at 9:33 AM PDT
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  20. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Augustine:Even in societies with a big Catholic or Islamic heritage plenty of people volunteer to reproduce less, or not at all.

    What non-eunuch cannot understand the desire to have sexual relations with complete confidence that there will be no ensuing diapers ten months later?

    I continue to be convinced that the flip side of this story is that most people are bad parents, and bad parents reap what they sow: children who are much more trouble than they are worth.

    I would be delighted to have more kids. But that is only based on my very limited sample size of seven.

    • #20
    • June 2, 2015, at 10:22 AM PDT
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  21. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Marion Evans:The Population Bomb is a leftist theory. Now they have climate change. Leftists are always mad at you for doing what comes naturally, whether having children or engaging in a capitalist activity.  acting like responsible and free adults.

    There. I fixed it for you.

    Liberals will argue that their sexual libertinism is entirely natural. And they have a point.

    • #21
    • June 2, 2015, at 10:26 AM PDT
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  22. Saint Augustine Member

    iWe:

    I would be delighted to have more kids. But that is only based on my very limited sample size of seven.

    Well done!

    • #22
    • June 2, 2015, at 10:40 AM PDT
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  23. Mike H Coolidge

    iWe:

    Augustine:Even in societies with a big Catholic or Islamic heritage plenty of people volunteer to reproduce less, or not at all.

    What non-eunuch cannot understand the desire to have sexual relations with complete confidence that there will be no ensuing diapers ten months later?

    I continue to be convinced that the flip side of this story is that most people are bad parents, and bad parents reap what they sow: children who are much more trouble than they are worth.

    I would be delighted to have more kids. But that is only based on my very limited sample size of seven.

    I’ve been convinced that our genes do most of our parenting, at least long term. If your kids are screwed up as adults, it’s more likely because these issues run in the family (and “bad parenting” is an indicator of undesirable inheritable traits) than it is the parents actually did something to screw their kids up. Parents do have a large ability to keep their kids “in line” as they grow up, though.

    • #23
    • June 2, 2015, at 11:31 AM PDT
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  24. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Mike H:

    iWe:

    I continue to be convinced that the flip side of this story is that most people are bad parents, and bad parents reap what they sow: children who are much more trouble than they are worth.

    I’ve been convinced that our genes do most of our parenting, at least long term. If your kids are screwed up as adults, it’s more likely because these issues run in the family (and “bad parenting” is an indicator of undesirable inheritable traits) than it is the parents actually did something to screw their kids up. Parents do have a large ability to keep their kids “in line” as they grow up, though.

    Bad parents produce spoiled, high-maintenance, whiny and annoying children. Which makes people fear parenting in the first place.

    Come and visit. Good kids are a pleasure to be around. It comes from parenting and not genes – in a state of nature, my kids can be as unpleasant and annoying as anyone else’s.

    • #24
    • June 2, 2015, at 11:52 AM PDT
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  25. Marion Evans Inactive

    Son of Spengler:

    Mike H:

    Ball Diamond Ball:Nobody’s talking about extinction. Where did that come from? Fred Cole’s pipe resin, maybe.

    This is a good joke, but did you know that Fred doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks?

    Yes, just like Hitler. (I’M KIDDING!)

    Godwin’s Law alert!

    • #25
    • June 2, 2015, at 12:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Marion Evans Inactive

    iWe:

    Marion Evans:The Population Bomb is a leftist theory. Now they have climate change. Leftists are always mad at you for doing what comes naturally, whether having children or engaging in a capitalist activity. acting like responsible and free adults.

    There. I fixed it for you.

    Liberals will argue that their sexual libertinism is entirely natural. And they have a point.

    I don’t know if they have a point. Monogamy seems more natural, at least for a few years.

    • #26
    • June 2, 2015, at 12:07 PM PDT
    • Like
  27. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Marion Evans:

    iWe:

    Marion Evans:The Population Bomb is a leftist theory. Now they have climate change. Leftists are always mad at you for doing what comes naturally, whether having children or engaging in a capitalist activity. acting like responsible and free adults.

    There. I fixed it for you.

    Liberals will argue that their sexual libertinism is entirely natural. And they have a point.

    I don’t know if they have a point. Monogamy seems more natural, at least for a few years.

    They have a much simpler approach:

    I am an animal. Therefore…

    My desires are natural. And we know that…

    Natural is good.

    Ergo: Anything I desire is natural and thus good.

    Men who want to sleep around are therefore doing what comes naturally.

    • #27
    • June 2, 2015, at 12:14 PM PDT
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  28. Mike H Coolidge

    iWe:

    Mike H:

    iWe:

    I continue to be convinced that the flip side of this story is that most people are bad parents, and bad parents reap what they sow: children who are much more trouble than they are worth.

    I’ve been convinced that our genes do most of our parenting, at least long term. If your kids are screwed up as adults, it’s more likely because these issues run in the family (and “bad parenting” is an indicator of undesirable inheritable traits) than it is the parents actually did something to screw their kids up. Parents do have a large ability to keep their kids “in line” as they grow up, though.

    Bad parents produce spoiled, high-maintenance, whiny and annoying children. Which makes people fear parenting in the first place.

    Come and visit. Good kids are a pleasure to be around. It comes from parenting and not genes – in a state of nature, my kids can be as unpleasant and annoying as anyone else’s.

    I’m sure that’s true. It’s consistent with what I was saying. We parents have incredible power over how our kids act while they are actively being parented.

    • #28
    • June 2, 2015, at 12:23 PM PDT
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  29. Solon Inactive

    Ball Diamond Ball:Nobody’s talking about extinction. Where did that come from? Fred Cole’s pipe resin, maybe.

    You demean the tone of the conversation and this entire website when you make snide remarks like that, especially calling out members by name.

    • #29
    • June 2, 2015, at 1:52 PM PDT
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  30. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Mike H:

    Ball Diamond Ball:Nobody’s talking about extinction. Where did that come from? Fred Cole’s pipe resin, maybe.

    This is a good joke, but did you know that Fred doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks?

    See? I like him already.

    • #30
    • June 2, 2015, at 2:25 PM PDT
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