Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich Asks, “Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?” Yes, Paul. Yes It Can

The third co-author was not identified
Paul Ehrlich in 1968 predicted that a devastating human Population Bomb would immanently wreak untold havoc upon the world. He was later derided, ridiculed, blasted, razzed, heckled, savaged, tweaked, tormented, and teased after the “mass starvation of humans” and “major societal upheavals” which he forecast failed to materialize.

The level of abuse the man suffered over his wildly wrong predictions would have discouraged a weaker man. But not Ehrlich. He’s back and more terrified than ever that the End is Nigh, and he’s letting us in on it. He and his wife have a new peer-reviewed paper out in Proceedings of the Royal Society B warning that a “global collapse appears likely”. A “calamity” is a comin’!

In support of their new prognostication, the Erlichs quote that eminent philosopher and perpetual king-in-waiting Prince Charles, who said we’re engaged in “an act of suicide on a grand scale.” The preferred word is euthanasia, Chuck. The Erlichs punctuate His Almost-Majesty’s words using terms like “escalating severity”, “accelerating extinction”, “immune-weakened societies”, “growthmanic cultures”, and “run for your lives!” Just kidding about that last one.

Why is all this happening? “Overpopulation,” naturally. Which is causing “climate disruption” which “may” (note the word) “pose insurmountable biophysical barriers to increasing crop yields.” Then “dangerous anthropogenic climate change could ravage agriculture” [my emphasis].

Did you see it? Lots of maybes, could bes, and ifs. Not quite feeling his oats as strongly as he did four decades ago when he was certain sure most of us would crap out before the year 2000. Now he leaves the door open for salvation: we won’t perish if. If what? Let’s see.

First, “dramatically transforming much of the existing energy mobilization infrastructure”. Second—and this really goes without saying—“changing human behaviour”. This won’t be easy because many nefarious “businesses” with poor “ethics” are “knowingly continuing lethal but profitable activities”, all masked by “successful disinformation campaign[s]” “to confuse people about climate disruption”.

Let’s remind ourselves that this was written in a peer-reviewed paper published in a (what used to be prestigious) science journal.

Nuclear war. I said it abruptly because I couldn’t think of a logical, sensible segue. Neither could the Ehrlichs, who squeeze in the opinion that nuclear war would be the “quickest and surest route to a collapse.” So at least they give us a recipe.

Back in the 60s Ehrlich wanted to lace the water supply with saltpeter (“temporary sterilants”). He now wants to construct pens—camps, really—“institutions” he calls them, for concentrating, rather “for imposing quarantines” which he anticipates will be necessary. He also wants to move “as rapidly as possible to humanely reduce the human population size.” How will all this happen? Through a “more comprehensive system of international governance”.

No scientific paper would be complete without some religion bashing. Our authors imagine there is a growing “endarkenment” which they define as “a rapidly growing movement towards religious orthodoxies that reject enlightenment values such as freedom of thought, democracy, separation of church and state, and basing beliefs and actions on empirical evidence.”

There’s some of this, it’s true. But the pair have forgotten that restrictive speech codes in the West almost exclusively arise from the Left. It’s also progressive governments which take “executive” actions without consulting citizens, and those same governments which impose restrictions on religious practices. And it is a canard to suggest religious folks reject “empirical evidence”—especially when it is the empirical evidence which is in dispute.

The paper isn’t entirely bad. It has the distinction of being the only peer-reviewed publication where you can see the terms “loss of biodiversity” and “opposition to condoms” in the same sentence. No sense of irony in the Ehrlichs.

Nor comedy. They invent the term—don’t snicker!—“foresight intelligence” which they claim is lacking in the citizenry. Yes, the man responsible for the worst prediction in all of recorded history has the guts to tell us we don’t understand forecasting.

The Ehrlichs have also forgotten bombs are of two types. Those that explode outward and those which collapse inward, imploding. Mankind did not explode outward, spewing bodies everywhere as they predicted (hoped?). Instead people, particularly in the West, seem intent on having as few babies as possible. There is a population implosion. A headcount deficit is coming. That’s what the empirical evidence says. The Ehrlichs in their environmentalist religious “endarkenment” reject it and believe what they want and not what is.


HT Lifesite News.


  1. DAV

    He and his wife have a new peer-reviewed paper out in Proceedings of the Royal Society B warning that a “global collapse appears likely”. A “calamity” is a comin’!

    Thought that happened at the end of last month. He must have missed it.

  2. Yawrate

    Why is this guy still taken seriously, still revered? Your essay only tells part of his story. Since the publication of “Population Bomb”, he has gone on to author many papers and books detailing the coming catastrophes. None of which, of course, has come to pass. And one of his co-conspirators from days gone by is POTUS science advisor John Holdren!

  3. Science is now soothsaying. These individuals can foresee the disasters the rest of us missed–or rather they missed the disasters the remainder of us saw coming as science was turned into a parlor game and Ouija board.

  4. George Boggs

    Not a Ouija board. The current craze is dendromancy (predicting the future by gazing at tree rings), as practiced by Michael Mann, PhD.

    There is no shortage of panty-wetting eek!otards because the government subsidizes them.

  5. Ray

    You would think that somebody who is so concerned abaout overpopulation would lead by example and kill themselves. Why does that never happen? If global collapse is likely why does he want to be here for it?

  6. Chinahand

    I have to say I find this a rather biased statement:

    “A headcount deficit is coming. That’s what the empirical evidence says.”

    Prof Briggs, what is your prediction for the world’s population in one or two generations time? Do you really see a deficit?

    Sure Japan and Europe will likely see population decreases, but that is only a tiny portion of the world – the rest of the world will likely see much larger increases.

    With an increase in population there needs to be a concomitant increase in agricultural production to feed these people – and as many millions live with insufficient calories, or aspire to eat more meat, agricultural production must increase even more – or prices will rise with the food insecurity that will bring.

    I think creating a dichotomy between Alarmism and Dr Pangloss isn’t particularly useful.

    Overall the world needs to slow population growth, and deal with the issues of demographic transition this will cause.

    To blithely say that food insecurity and rapid ecological change won’t be a reality if the world’s population heads towards 9 billion would be odd.

    Prof Briggs – if you don’t expect the world’s population to head to 9 billion how do you expect it to be curtailed? Or are you really sanguine about the effects of such a large population?

    Technological optimism is always something to be aspired to – but it’ll require a second Green Revolution and major changes in land use.

    Energy demands for 9 billion at today’s per capita energy use would be pretty eye watering – but with hoped for economic growth average per capita global energy use will also increase. Even if CO2 is not an issue (an area you seem very optimistic about) the huge increase in demand is a huge challenge for suppliers to meet without price rises and the economic consequences they will cause.

    I doubt I’ll make 2100, but I hope my children will. I feel a huge amount of human ingenuity is needed to ensure it is a sustainable place. I’ve a lot of faith in human ingenuity, but I’m not panglossian and think the idea there will be population deficits, and that we can just ignore the risks of the ecological damage population growth will cause, is really short sighted.

  7. So long as there is money to be made, fame to be garnered, or power to be acquired by it, there will always be people advocating for their own predictions of humanity-ending catastrophe. It won’t matter if those predictions come true in whole because no one will be around to remember; true in part because they’ll be able to claim they were right; false entirely because with such earth-shattering claims, you can never be too careful (precaution?).

  8. rank sophist

    Considering that all signs point toward a massive population crunch in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and elsewhere thanks to catastrophically low birth rates, I don’t know what this guy is smoking. The best thing you can do right now is to have as many kids as possible, because things are going to be rough over the next fifty to one hundred years.

  9. Chinahand

    Rank Sophist – methinks you are cherry picking – what data do you have. Massive declines? Care to quantify that and compare them with projections for the rest of the world?

  10. Ken

    Talk about mis-focused attention!

    Sooner or later the sun will go supernova and that WILL be The Late Great Planet Earth. That much is guaranteed.

    Thus, ole’ Paul E., if he wants to address something in tangible reality that is also absolutely certain to wipe out Earth (no if’s and’s or but’s), would be more effective if he’d devote his efforts on getting someone to do something about refueling our Sun, which is burning up its resources–and our species [and all others!] future–at an alarming rate!

  11. MattS

    In the long term, the collapse of modern global civilization probably can’t be avoided. However, I would be willing to bet we have few thousand years go go yet.

  12. MattS

    Arrg, That should read to go yet.

  13. Doug M

    When the popluation bomb was published the world population was a little bit over 2 billion and now we have 7 odd billion mouths to feed.

    But instead of having a problem with malnutrition we have an “obesity epidemic.”

    We grow several times more food on less land. Farmland is being converted to non-agricultural uses because we don’t need the acerage.

    No free country has had a famine — where there have been famines, there has been combination of war a tyranny.

    Professer Ehrlich completely missed the possibility that agricultural productivity could outpace population growth. In fact, Ehrlic was opposed to Borlaug and the ‘green revolution’ fearing that if we fed the poor it would just encourage them to have more babies.

  14. Chinahand

    Wayne, Thanks for that. I’m was aware of the analysis the article is based on – the raw data is here:

    To get this result the models have to assume a massive reduction in fertility across the entire world. The “low fertility” estimate has fertility rates across the world converging on 1.5 per person – ie approx the level of Italy today. The world population still goes to 8.2 billion in 2045 before decreasing by 2100 at levels not dissimilar to those today.

    To call that a population implosion or a head count deficit is disingenuous – especially as the energy footprint of these people will inevitably grow as economic output increases.

    Prof Briggs is taking the lowest of the low estimates – he doesn’t “philosophically/theologically” accept the behaviour that would result in such a fertility crash – but because it fits his argument against Ehrlich he’s happy to use it.

    Maybe fertility rates will crash – I believe a lower population could be a good thing – but it is unlikely that they will reach such extremes as a world average of so far below replacement.

    This result still sees the world population being higher than today for most of the next century with over a billion more people in mid century. This is not a population implosion.

    Less extreme drops in fertility obviously have ever larger populations for longer periods of time.

    I’m no fan of Elrich – he is cherry picking to fit his ideological slant. But that seems to be what Prof Briggs is doing too.

    As far as I’m concerned the risks from larger populations out weigh the risks from lower ones – and the lowest UN estimates have a larger population for nearly a century to come. I’d rather a smooth transition to a stable, lower population than a crash due to unsustainability.

    I doubt Prof Briggs would predict a population implosion if he were to do an analysis he was proud of – but that doesn’t fit his bias against “alarmists”.

    Oh well.

  15. annebange

    Food supply will probably outpace population.
    At the rate CO2 is being spewed in the atmosphere, food production will increase accordingly as it has over the last decades. CO2 is a plantfood.

  16. john robertson

    What is civilization?
    I suggest it is a shared illusion, based on rule of law and equality before it.
    Elrich might be right, for the wrong reasons.
    If I believe in civilization, I can devote my energy to productive cooperation, creating new wealth.
    If I do not, I must guard my life and will produce no more than my tribe can protect or carry.
    Right now the cost of civil authority is greater than all the new wealth created by our trusting each other enough to cooperate.
    So Elrich may be right, the political bureaucrats are collapsing civilization, as they now cost more and do more harm to productive people, than the energy lost to shooting your own wolves and bandits.

  17. Linked to this on Farcebork with the comment:
    roceedings of the Royal Society B competes with BBC for science fiction!

    I’m really disappointed that his foresight intelligence didn’t pick up on the future cross-breeding of humans with cockroaches, instigated by the IPCC (Institute of Catastrophe Clowns) and the demise of civilization as the queen gets wiped out by an out-of-date bug-bomb.

  18. One note on population (I can’t find my reference at the moment):

    Population increase is not only affected by birth rate but by infant and child mortality rates. Even if we reduce birth rates, if we continue to increase the number of children who survive to adulthood, there comes a point at which to stop the population increase, you may have to forbid people to have children.

    It may also be that war and disease (science can’t cure them all) will decrease populations in the future.

  19. Will

    Chinahand; You’re assuming that less developed nations will pick up the energy guzzeling slack left by the dearly departed in western nations.

    I think the take away from Briggs is that Dr. Doomsday et al. havent actually provided any solid predictions, are attempting to redefine the term “forecast”, and have a history of making failed dooms day predictions.

    Two years ago I predicted $3/liter gasoline by the end of 2013 where I am now living. See how easy that was? If you believe doomsday is around the corner why not make a similar prediction?

  20. I’m not surprised by the same old same old of this one trick pony. I’m surprised that he’s still around using up oxygen without having someone attending him and wiping the drool off his chin.


    Oh, sorry. They’ll publish anything from the homes these days.

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