Fifty Years on from Paul Ehrlich’s ‘The Population Bomb’: So How Come We’re Not All Dead, Yet?

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Paul Ehrlich’s eco-doom bestseller The Population Bomb. Maybe we should all stage a mass die-in to spare the distinguished Stanford biology professor his embarrassment.

Well if Ehrlich is not embarrassed, he should be. His book sold over three million copies – presumably making him a very decent amount of money. It turned him into an academic rock star, helped win him numerous prizes (often with large sums of money attached) and may well have been responsible for winning him the post he still occupies aged 85 as Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University…

…And all for writing a book which is essentially junk. Not just junk but dangerous junk. It’s bad enough that it got its predictions – about a disastrous population collapse due to resource depletion – wrong. But far worse was the damage it did to public and political consciousness, doing much to generate the environmental hysteria we see gripping the world today.

In fact, The Population Bomb did the one thing which science books aren’t supposed to do: it actually made the people who read it more stupid.

You see its malign influence today everywhere from the whispery prognostications of gorilla-hugging Malthusian David Attenborough to all those people who say they agree with me on climate change but then go on to tell me with a knowing, conspiratorial tap of the side of their noses that “Of course, the real elephant in the room is overpopulation.”

No, overpopulation is not the elephant in the room. If it were the elephant in the room it would mean that Paul Ehrlich’s book was right and he thoroughly deserved all that money and that tenure at Stanford – and I wouldn’t be writing this piece, would I?

Read the rest at Breitbart.

Earth Does Not Have a Cancer; the Cancer Is Not Man

Some deeply unpleasant remark

Chris Packham, 'wildlife expert' (Photo: Paul Grover)

Chris Packham, ‘wildlife expert’ (Photo: Paul Grover)

Any minute now I’m going to lay off blogging for a while, for health reasons. But I can’t pretend I’m going to find going cold turkey easy, especially not when there are stories like this around.

It concerns “wildlife expert” Chris Packham – presenter of some of the BBC’s most popular nature programmes including Springwatch and a new series called The Animal’s Guide To British Wildlife – and some deeply unpleasant remarks he made in the course of an interview with the Radio Times.

“There’s no point bleating about the future of pandas, polar bears and tigers when we’re not addressing the one single factor that’s putting more pressure on the ecosystem than any other – namely the ever-increasing size of the world’s population. I read the other day that, by 2020, there are going to be 70 million people in Britain. Let’s face it, that’s too many.”

So what does he suggest we do about it? Get people to stop having children?

“Yes. Absolutely. I wouldn’t actually penalise people for having too many children, as I think the carrot always works better than the stick. But what I would offer them tax breaks for having small families: say, 10 per cent off your tax bill if you decide to stick with just one child. And an even bigger financial incentive if you choose not to have a family at all.”

What frightens me almost more than these remarks – whose loathsomeness I shall gloss in a moment – is the response of the Daily Mail’s readership. All right, perhaps the Mail’s online audience is not representative of the entire country, but I do think they’re probably close to embodying what the reasonable other person from Middle England thinks, and in this case what they seem to think is frankly bloody terrifying.

All right, so I don’t imagine many of us here would quibble with the most popular comment so far, with 1300 plus positive votes:

How about offering people nothing for not having children as well as not giving them anything when they have ten children? Let them pay for their offspring with their own money for a change. That might make a few people consider the population even if it’s the one in their own home.

This is in line with the very sensible remarks that once got Howard Flight into such trouble. And of course the Tory peer was quite right: it’s absurd to have a situation where the most feckless, unproductive sector of the economy is subsidised by the state to have children they would otherwise be unable to afford.

But here are the second and third most popular comments, with well over 1000 positive votes each:

He is quite right you know, the most eco friendly thing you can do is not breed.

Well done Chris I couldn’t have said it better myself. That is the main problem with this planet — too many people. We require a massive birth control programme, never mind growing more food and building more houses — cut back on breeding is the only answer.

There are so many things wrong with this attitude I don’t know where to begin. But why not let’s start with the plight of only children? Almost everyone I know who was brought up without a brother or sister wishes it could have been otherwise. I myself grew up in a family of seven, and while it’s true that I have never quite forgiven one of them for voting for Caroline Lucas in the last election I count the friendship and kinship of my wonderful brothers and sisters one of the greatest joys of my existence. I know there are many in China who feel much the same way: the tyrannical one-child policy, it is now being recognised, has not only led to much unnecessary unhappiness but is also leading to potentially disastrous economic consequences (especially in its battle for economic supremacy with India, where no such restrictions have applied).

Yet such is the misery that Chris Packham wishes to import to Britain. And to be fair, he is far from the only high profile figure who thinks this way. Very much of the same view is that famously nice, caring natural history TV presenter David Attenborough, concerned environmentalist the Hon Sir Jonathon Porritt, actress Susan Hampshire, Gaia theory inventor James Lovelock, ex UN apparatchik Sir Crispin Tickell (the man who – briefly – persuaded Margaret Thatcher of the imminent perils of Man Made Global Warming) and chimp expert Jane Goodall. All of these luminaries are – with Packham – patrons of the Optimum Population Trust, an organisation which believes that the world’s growing population is “unsustainable” and which is dedicated to finding ways of reducing it.

The problem with the Optimum Population Trust – one of them anyway – is that its very existence is predicated on a vilely misanthropic view of the human species: that there are too many of us, that we do more harm than good.

And yes, superficially, this view of the world makes a kind of sense. It’s what I call an “I reckon” argument: the sort of argument you’d make in a pub, after a few beers, based on information you’ve established from a gut feeling so strong it doesn’t need any awkward details like facts getting in the way of your opinion. I mean obviously more people means less space, and more demand on “scarce resources”, so the more people there are the more trouble we’re in. Stands to reason dunnit?

This is exactly the kind of wrong thinking I address in my new book Watermelons. You’ll forgive me if I don’t come up with all the counterarguments here. (Read the bloody book!). But in a nutshell, it’s that this Neo-Malthusian pessimism – as warped and wrongheaded today as it was in the era of doom-monger Thomas Malthus (1766 to 1834) – is based on fundamental misconceptions about the ingenuity of the human species and about the nature of economic growth.

Sure if all populations did as they grew and grew was use up more finite “stuff”, then we would indeed have cause to worry. But they don’t: as populations increase in size, so they learn to specialise and adapt and find ever more ingenious ways of making more with less. That’s why, for example, the mass starvation predicted by Paul Ehrlich in his Sixties bestseller The Population Bomb never happened: because thanks to Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution, crop yields dramatically increased while the area of land under cultivation remained unchanged. If you want to read more about this, I recommend not just my book, but also Matt Ridley’s superb The Rational Optimist or anything by Julian Simon (known as the Doomslayer because of the way he constantly confounded Neo Malthusian pessimism and  junk science).

The reason I have become so obsessed with “global warming” in the last few years is not because I’m particularly interested in the “how many drowning polar bears can dance on the head of a pin” non-argument which hysterical sites like RealClimate and bloggers like Joe Romm are striving so desperately to keep on a life support machine. It’s because unlike some I’ve read widely enough to see the bigger picture.

One thing I’ve learned in this wide reading is how obsessed so many of the key thinkers in the green movement are with the notion of “overpopulation.” As one of their favourite think tanks, the Club of Rome, puts it: “Earth has a cancer and the cancer is man.” This belief explains, inter alia, why the “science” behind AGW is so dodgy: because the science didn’t come first. What came first was the notion that mankind was a problem and was doing harm to the planet. The “science” was then simply tortured until it fitted in with this notion.

I do not share this view. Indeed, though I believe that while people like Chris Packham (and Prince Charles; George Monbiot; Al Gore; David Attenborough; Robert Redford; Mikhail Gorbachev; Ted Turner; et al) may believe what they do for the noblest of reasons, their ecological philosophy is fundamentally evil. And I do mean evil. Any philosophy which has, as its core tenet, the belief that mankind is the problem not the solution cannot possibly be one that pertains to good, can it?

This is why I have been fighting this Climate War so hard for so long. And why I have no compunction whatsoever in calling the people who promote that repellant philosophy by the names they deserve. The ideological struggle that is being fought now over the issue of “Climate Change” (and related, quasi-Marxist weasel concepts such as Sustainability) may not yet involve the bloodshed caused in the wars against Nazism and Stalinism, but the threat it poses to individual freedom and economic security is every bit as great. But there aren’t enough of us fighting this war on the right side – and I’m knackered.

I want to leave the last words here to one of my favourite commenters, Tayles, who brilliantly explained the other day why there is moral equivalence between the green/liberal fascist side of the argument, and the one libertarian, empirical one for which I’m so frequently vilified by some of the posters below this blog. It really should be a separate post but that might confuse commenters as to where to go.

UPDATE

Just one more thing before I pass you over to Tayles. While of course I value the rich panoply of varied opinions I’m seeing appear below this blogged, I’m disturbed by the number which seem to determined to conflate “immigration” with “overpopulation”. These are entirely separate issues. It’s quite possible to believe, as I do, that unchecked immigration (encouraged as a deliberate policy under Blair) has been a disaster for Britain, especially when allied with the pernicious philosophy of multiculturalism which encourages division and separatism, while yet disagreeing violently with the loathsome Neo-Malthusianism of Chris Packham and his ilk. Do not confuse the two issues. Many – indeed the majority – of Britons are rightly concerned about how the character of their country has been changed and the infrastructure swamped by deliberately poor border controls. But this is a separate topic for discussion.

So, here he is: Tayles on why James Delingpole is right:

Such an approach is the one Delingpole adopts. Why do you never have a go at him for “cherry picking internet sources”? – Endeavour

That’s a fair question. There is a straightforward answer, which is that the Left’s evidence is normally one-eyed, misleading or downright dishonest. That extends to the AGW sham, which is propped up by a bunch of cobblers, peddled by scientists and politicians with much to gain from the spread of their dogma.

There’s a more philosophical answer too, which I’ll indulge you with if you’ve got a minute. The fundamental condition of mankind is one of liberty – which is to say, freedom from the constraints imposed by higher authorities. The only real ‘rights’ are those that exist in the absence of other people’s intervention, such as freedom of speech and property rights. Taxes, laws and so-called positive rights are man-made constructs that require the enforcement of a higher power, such as a government. Clearly they are no more naturally-occurring than iPods or Ford Fiestas.

When some new constraint is scrawled onto the blank page of freedom, it must be justified. The onus is on the person who wants to enforce that constraint to justify the need for it, rather than on those who must suffer its effects to explain why they should be spared. Just as a person is innocent until proved guilty, and the burden of proof is always on the True Believer, so the defenders of freedom should not really have to defend their position.

For this reason, the benefit of the doubt must be always be given to those looking to protect our freedoms, while those who wish to take them away should be required to be especially thorough and honest, and deserve to be treated with suspicion. The consequences and trade-offs of what they intend to impose should be weighed and analysed. We should be especially concerned if they try to brush aside the concerns of their opponents or ignore contrary evidence.

I think that the arguments put forward by AGW zealots should be a lot more convincing than they are. And I think that the defence of our freedoms advanced by James Delingpole are perfectly good enough. There is more at stake here than our climate.

Related posts:

  1. Pandas: do we need ’em?
  2. Pope Catholic; night follows day; IPCC found telling pack of lies about sea level rises
  3. What on earth is Bob Ward?
  4. ‘We must live more sustainably’ says Jeremy ‘Seven Homes’ Irons

5 thoughts on “Earth does not have a cancer; the cancer is not man”

  1. Max Eastern says:6th April 2011 at 9:16 pmWatermelons: is it really a book or is it just a joke? You inisit in your last blog that we read the bloody book, but where? At first I thought there really was a book, then, when I couldn’t find any evidence of it even on your own website, I thought it was a joke, then you mentioned the book again in a blog and I wasn’t sure. I might even be tempted to read the bloody thing if I thought it existed.
  2. Nige Cook says:8th April 2011 at 5:06 pmJames, can I just say well done for today’s Daily Express article, “What Exactly has the World ever Done for Britain?”, http://www.express.co.uk/ourcomments/view/239388/What-exactly-has-the-world-ever-done-for-Britain-

    “The fact is that we in Britain have done far, far more for the world than ever it did for us.

    “And it’s about ruddy time that pitifully ungrateful world gave us something back.”

    It’s spot on. We’d at least expect some respect, but the rest of the world is too full of bigotry against Britain’s history of colonialism to remember that, for example, slavery continued in America for 32 years longer than in Britain. If we had no immense deficit, we could afford to play God and sort out the world’s problems, if others were genuinely deserving and genuinely grateful for the help. But borrowing money to throw down the drain “helping others” while we cut jobs and social spending here is not generosity, but stupidity.

    Because we’re virtually throwing money at the recipients in a stupid manner, it comes across in the wrong way; we even don’t get respect in return. It’s perceived that we’re stupid and frivolous with our money, that we have “more money than sense”, that the giving of money is some kind of reparation for our colonial past, or that the leaders who agreed to give the money are corrupt and must be doing it to get a secret private brown envelope of cash back from the recipient, etc. Nobody is grateful to Britain under these circumstances. The fastest way to make false “friends” is to start giving money for nothing. You don’t get genuine respect, instead you’re looked on as a loaded fool. If Cameron wants to help the world, let him write his cheques on his own private bank account, not increase Britain’s debt burden by giving unwanted help to selfish anti-British regimes, while making cut backs here.

  3. Velocity says:9th April 2011 at 9:16 pmConsider Prince Phillip said if he was re-born (God help us!) he’d like to come back as a virus as there’s too many of us. He’s on the WWF and ‘surprise surprise’ has born 3 children himself!!!

    The problem i see with eugenicists is that they’re still alive and having children adding to the population ‘problem’. A ‘problem’ that would disappear overnight if they were all eradicated

  4. Deadpeoplestuff says:21st April 2011 at 12:40 pmWell JD, down targets, patch-out. That’s to say, don’t stay away too long, recharge the batteries or should that read ‘stoke the coal fired boilers’ and come back fighting! (although I entirely understand the need to take a break….the trolls wear everyone down eventually)

    Please try to remember, you are one of the few writers prepared to represent the ‘other side’ of the great global warming racket. These ‘deep greens’ can not be given free run or those who respect and care for all life would lose an important voice.

    Anyone concerned about the ozone layer may wish to consider the nuclear tests and the continued deployment of so called ‘low yield’ depleted uranium (er..nukes) around the globes war zones (there are a few to choose from..) and may care to look deeper into the whole CFC story

  5. Nige Cook says:21st April 2011 at 10:00 pm“Anyone concerned about the ozone layer may wish to consider the nuclear tests and the continued deployment of so called ‘low yield’ depleted uranium (er..nukes) around the globes war zones (there are a few to choose from..) and may care to look deeper into the whole CFC story” – Deadpeoplestuff

    But 438 megatons of atmospheric nuclear tests, including high altitude tests in the ozone layer, had no measurable effect on ozone: see Nature (vol. 244, pp. 545-551), http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/79bias/Goldsmith.pdf

    Nuclear explosions in sea level air produce a strong blast wave which heats and compresses air to produce nitrogen dioxides. Simplistically, a tiny amount of nitrogen dioxide can set off a chain reaction that destroys the entire ozone layer – ignoring reactions with water vapour to form nitric acid, which is of course what happens to most nitric acids formed in shock wave “thunder” around lightning bolts (it was proved that this happens in nuclear detonations too, when America flew sampling aircraft through a Chinese megaton yield mushroom cloud in 1976). Water vapour is entrained by afterwinds and is sucked into the cloud, where it mixed with nitric oxides, forming nitric acid.

    High altitude nuclear explosions which don’t produce a significant blast wave, don’t produce significant amounts of nitric oxides, but the gamma rays released from such bursts do produce a massive amount of ozone, which gives a good boost for the ozone layer. This is still deliberately covered up by the American military, who are still classifying as secret early-time thermal radiation emission which shows the absorption of ultraviolet by the ozone created by the action of gamma radiation on the air around the fireball.

    People think this kind of data either (1) doesn’t exist, (2) isn’t precisely measured, or (3) is “controversial” (ignorable), when it’s merely still being classified as restricted data under the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954!

    This shows the danger of believing early scare-mongering “scientific” claims from armchair theorists. There’s also a media “selection principle” where only nuclear disaster claims are deemed newsworthy at all. Facts debunking widely-held dogmas don’t sell the Guardian and aren’t objectively reported. Scientists always pick up on this and ensure their reports are scary stuff that attracts more funding and research, like the self-perpetuating AGW scam. Lefties rely on lies (using dogmatic “science”) to camouflage their ecofascist eugenics policies: they censor out science criticisms as if they’re the same as religious heresies.

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