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Civilization Doomed, Says Stanford Biologist Paul Ehrlich Again

Civilization Doomed, Says Stanford Biologist Paul Ehrlich Again thumbnail

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” Paul Ehrlich declared in the prologue to his 1968 book The Population Bomb. “In the 1970’s 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. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” Still, he said, “We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail.”

Half a century later, Ehrlich is still at it, notwithstanding the spectacular failure of his prior prophecies. “Collapse of civilization is a near certainty within decades,” says the headline over a new Guardian article featuring Ehrlich’s latest predictions. Ehrlich tells the paper “population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people.”

According to The Guardian, Ehrlich concedes that “many details and timings of events” in The Population Bomb “were wrong,” but “he says the book was correct overall.” Hardly.

While far too many people did die of malnutrition in the decades following the 1970s, massive famines in which hundreds of millions starved to death did not occur. The world death rate fell from 12.5 per 1,000 people in 1968 to 7.6 people per 1,000 in 2015. The world’s total fertility rate declined from about 5 children in 1968 to less than 2.5 children per woman now, largely without coercive population control measures (with the notable exception of China).

According to The Guardian, Ehrlich thinks “the world’s optimum population is less than two billion people—5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today.” As it happens, human population, will likely peak later in this century and begin falling, perhaps to as low as 2 billion by 2150, according to projections by demographer Wolfgang Lutz and his colleauges at Oxford University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

In one scenario, Lutz et al. assumed human life expectancy would rise to 120 years, from around 70 now. They reported:

A global move to the fertility levels seen in a number of Chinese urban centres (around 0.75) over the coming 40 years would result in a peaking of global population before 2050 and a decline to only 3.6 billion in 2100 and 150 million people by 2200. But even the more realistic range of long term fertility levels of 1.5-1.75 (higher than it has been in much of Europe for the past decades) would lead to declines in global population size of 2.6-5.6 billion by 2200 and even 0.9-3.2 billion by 2300. Therefore, even under conditions of further substantial increases in life expectancy, world population size would decline significantly if the world, in the longer run, followed the examples of Europe and East Asia.

LutzWorldPopulation120yearsWolfgang Lutz

Unlike his dire predictions in The Population Bomb, Ehrlich cannily does not specify in which upcoming decade civilization will finally collapse. Unless effective rejuvenation treatments kick in soon, the 85-year-old Ehrlich won’t be around for me (and younger folks) to mock when his prophecies of doom fail yet again.


22 Comments on "Civilization Doomed, Says Stanford Biologist Paul Ehrlich Again"

  1. MASTERMIND on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 9:06 pm 

    The Koch brothers “Reason” strikes again! This is the same site that has fake news articles saying hubbert was wrong. And the limits to growth models were wrong. And they have a video on youtube called “Is it okay to punch a Nazi”? They go around Berkley asking students that! Trying to discredit how Richard Spencer got blasted in his jaw by the Antifa! LOL

  2. Sissyfuss on Fri, 23rd Mar 2018 10:38 pm 

    This article is a half full glass perspective from a half assed group of greed mongers. It talks of population levels, fertility rates, and the like with no mention of resource depletion, pollution, or a healthy environment. Erlich may be a little mistimed but he sees the entire picture. Pays not to be payed by the coorate scuzzbags if you’re interested in objective findings.

  3. dave thompson on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 2:20 am 

    The problem was putting a date stamp on when the shit hits the fan in the book “The Population Bomb”.

    Watch the arctic sea ice, that will most likely be a good gauge of when food will become a problem. No sea ice leads to screwed up growing seasons. One bad grain harvest and most will be dead in 6 months to a year.

  4. deadly on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 2:39 am 

    With people like Ehrlich bashing civilization on a constant basis, we are doomed.

    Another stupid shithead speaks from his toothless wonder. The Cramer of Biology.

    Civilization in Europe did collapse when the Plague plagued Europe.

    However, they were scarcely equipped for the horrible reality of the Black Death. “In men and women alike,” the Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote, “at the beginning of the malady, certain swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits…waxed to the bigness of a common apple, others to the size of an egg, some more and some less, and these the vulgar named plague-boils.” Blood and pus seeped out of these strange swellings, which were followed by a host of other unpleasant symptoms–fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, terrible aches and pains–and then, in short order, death. The Black Death was terrifyingly, indiscriminately contagious: “the mere touching of the clothes,” wrote Boccaccio, “appeared to itself to communicate the malady to the toucher.” The disease was also terrifyingly efficient. People who were perfectly healthy when they went to bed at night could be dead by morning.

    Civilization collapsed worldwide due to some flea-bitten varmint in India.

    Places in India and China experienced a 90 percent loss of life.

    Ships shipped the Black Death all the way to Italy.

    When houses and villages are abandoned because everybody is dying and you don’t dare touch them at all, you have to save your worthless no good filthy hide, you will do what you have to do. You will head for the hills. The filthy place where you live is now a shithole that will kill you.

    You will brave the elements, you will seek a new way of living, the old way is dead.

    All of it will collapse. Nothing there to maintain and save, it’s gone.

    If history tells a story, it is the story will be repeated time and time again.

    Interesting, the Alps were at one time forested above the present existing glaciers. New glaciers wiped out the then existing treeline and advanced.

    The reality is straightforward. The Alps, and regions elsewhere, were much warmer than now around 5000 years ago, and, indeed, for most of the time before that going back to the end of the Ice Age. There is absolutely no evidence at all that suggests current temperatures are, in any way, unusual.

    Kind of knocks holes in the Anthropogenic global warming theory.

    Always somebody making hay debunking stupid science.

    More about water:

  5. DerHundistlos on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 4:37 am 

    Interesting how this and other Republican rags, in concert with each other, publish similar story lines. Each publication is nicely staggered so as one fades from the headlines, another pops-up. Coincidence or collusion?

  6. Kat C on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 6:48 am 

    The historical record is clear. Empires fail, civilizations collapse, species go extinct. Gonna happen one way or another. Climate change, peak oil, peak water, peak phosphate, insect die off (loss of pollination), nuclear accident, nuclear war, acidification of the oceans, take your pick. Several times we almost had nuclear war due to some mistake – saved not by the system but by individuals that didn’t push the button. Here is one – a Soviet Lt Colonel –
    We teeter on the edge and since it didn’t happen earlier, more will have to die.

  7. pointer on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 7:05 am 

    Given all the catastrophes headed our way, our “civilization” is indeed toast in not too long. But if you take history as a guide, there will be some survivors, and a new civilization will emerge after some time. But then again, past performance does not guarantee future returns.

  8. twocats on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 8:00 am 

    the global system that has developed has far exceeded Ehrlich’s expectations. He was absolutely wrong. and his focus on pure population numbers misses the fact that food and land distribution are the keys problems over the past decades famines.

    what were his estimates for using water aquifers and their drain rates? those are way more important factors than just pure numbers. if you have oil and water you can grow any amount of food for any amount of people.

  9. Dredd on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 9:05 am 

    “The Koch brothers “Reason” strikes again! This is the same site that has fake news articles saying hubbert was wrong.” – MASTERMIND

    They get embarrassed when they must explain in a court room (Oilfluenza, Affluenza, and Disgorgement – 3).

    Focus on what scientists get right.

  10. MASTERMIND on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 9:47 am 

    See Reason goes and finds one expert who says that over population isn’t a major issue and everything will be fine..Why dont they see what the consensus of several scientists think about over population? No lets not do that because its much more easy to just cherry pick one expert than to find out what many others think.

    World Scientists “Warning to Humanity” Signed by 15,000 Scientists from 184 Countries Including the Majority of all Nobel Prize Winners

  11. Kat C on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 3:47 pm 

    Pointer, the average lifespan of mammal species is 1 million years. So if you look at that history you have to conclude that humans will go extinct at some point. Extinctions are in fact the norm in the planet’s history. Selective extinction drove evolution or it would still be cyanobacteria and blue green algae.

    Looking at current history, is there any time in that history before 1945 that humans or any other species had nuclear weapons. Is there any point before that time that humans had an all out war using nuclear weapons. Is there any point in human history when so many other species started going extinct at such an accelerated rate. Is they any point in time when humans so acidified the ocean that they caused dramatic die off of life in the ocean (including plankton which provide 1/2 of the earth’s oxygen). ETC. We have no history of human life that have the conditions that we have created today. So we have no history to go by. But we do have the planet’s history of life and in the planet’s history of life species go extinct over and over and over. So it goes…..

  12. Harquebus on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 6:37 pm 

    It’s just arithmetic and not difficult arithmetic at that. Bartlett explains:

    Dr Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy

    I have posted Bartlett’s video before. I apologize. This is for the newbies and for those who haven’t seen it yet. I recommend it.

  13. Kat C on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 7:27 pm 

    harquebus, everyone should watch that video multiple times 🙂

  14. fmr-paultard on Sat, 24th Mar 2018 7:43 pm 

    you guys relax and go to church
    supertards will work it out no problema

  15. TheNationalist on Sun, 25th Mar 2018 7:01 am 

    You nailed it Mastermind, I totally agree. But how do you explain the widespread denial? or the widespread belief that more technology will fix the problems caused by the last bunch of technology?
    Since the Copenhagen summit in 2009 where many countries pledged to tackle the ’emergency’ of global warming I have witnessed the most amazing show I have ever seen.
    The delays and obfuscation of world governments to delay ‘judgement day’ or a ‘day of reckoning’ is nothing short of amazing.
    There seems to be more energy expelled by people wishing to hide the truth than is spent dealing with it.
    Unlike many here I appreciate people like Cloggies techno optimism even if I don’t believe it can happen as at least it gives hope to the masses, which is all many have at the end of the day.

  16. Davy on Sun, 25th Mar 2018 7:07 am 

    “Unlike many here I appreciate people like Cloggies techno optimism”

    Why not appreciate techno-realism that acknowledges technology is part of the solution and the problem. The nedernazi is so techno-optimistic because that is all he has to “Make Europe Great Again”. If it was the US that was employing renewables and not his sacred Europa he would be cutting renewables down. You have to look deeper for the nedernazi’s simpleton binary motives.

  17. pointer on Sun, 25th Mar 2018 10:59 am 

    Kat, Several points:

    (1) Great video by Dr. Bartlett. Here’s the link again for readers’ convenience:

    (2) Vis a vis, “exponentials”: technically, many of the things folks here often express concern about (e.g., population, peak this or that, debt) are, in fact, growing exponentially, i.e., governed by the equation dx/dt = cx. But c is rather small in many notable cases — for instance, population. WRT population, c itself is a function of time, i.e., c = c(t), where dc/dt is negative, i.e., c is getting smaller all the time for a variety of reasons. The world fertility rate in the early 1950’s was almost 5, and now it is under 2.5, and is still decreasing. As Dr. Bartlett of the video might say, you might not bat an eyelash at this difference. However, a fertility rate of slightly more than 2.0 is needed to just keep population constant, so things are not as grim as when one assumes that the world population is growing inexorably exponentially “through the ceiling” on course with some horrible outcome. Data says something completely different, i.e., that world population will top out at about 11 billion in the mid-21st century (one may note that Dr. Bartlett’s video mentions this, and in 1994!) and will go no further unless there is some mechanism to cause fertility rates to rise again (perhaps Kuntler is right — we’ll once again need lots of kids to work the farm, and because a certain fraction of them are kidnapped into slavery by roving gangs). It was amusing to see that one of the main mechanisms for reducing the fertility rate — that of educating women — was not on Dr. Bartlett’s list of ways to control population, but given the overall quality of his presentation, he’s entitled to a pass.

    There are other areas of concern where the concept of exponential is abused and misused. Lots of books and conferences are sold by flogging this fear of exponential growth. But humans are not so stupid as to not hit the brakes when they see the brick wall ahead — to borrow from the video, humans don’t see the light until they feel the heat, but it seems the heat is mercifully showing up. Time will tell if the heat gives us enough lead time to allow us to avoid the flames.

    (2) Vis a vis, extinction: Yes, sadly, the human race will one day become extinct. If we don’t get off the planet (and I’m not counting on that), the sun will burn the earth to a crisp in about 5 billion years in sort of a giant global cremation. But 5 billion years is a long time. What’s more, we’ve been “civilized” only for 12,000 years or so. Who knows what another 12,000 years will bring?

    However, neither you nor I have an iron-clad argument that the human race is done it this time around or not. If you read history widely, humans have amazing ability to survive (sort of like that fungus that infects kitchen sponges). Out of collapses that should have killed everyone in sight (my favorite is the end of the Bronze Age, pinpointed at 1177 BC, where drought, famine, earthquakes, and who knows what else, including the mysterious “sea people” all impinged on and in a short time destroyed a bunch of Mediterranean civilizations), somehow some small bands of humans managed to hang on, and out of these little colonies, new civilizations emerged. Even if we go so far as having the fireworks show to end all fireworks shows using nuclear weapons, my bet is that some small bands of humans will survive, setting the stage for a new civilization, not immediately, but in some time, with all the constraints that our trashing of the planet would entail. I have no proof, but my instincts tell me we’re not done yet.

    (3) Fixing all the problems: Imagine somehow all the problems are fixed — environmental, economic, energy, probably some other things that start with ‘e’ (‘endless growth’? haha). Humans are living in love and harmony, with absolutely no hardship or strife. People even understand the exponential function. Then what?

  18. Davy on Sun, 25th Mar 2018 4:24 pm 

    “Extraordinary electricity on a remote Scottish island”

    “In 2008, Eigg became the world’s first community to launch an off-grid electric system entirely powered by wind, water and solar – and the island’s residents largely taught themselves how to do it.”

  19. Harquebus on Sun, 25th Mar 2018 5:53 pm 

    Thank you for that response. It is only the rate of population growth that is slowing. Our population has roughly doubled as the rate of growth has roughly halved. Population growth continues unabated.

    We need to implement national and encourage international population reduction strategies otherwise, one way or another, nature will drag us back to sustainable levels and it won’t be pretty.

  20. onlooker on Sun, 25th Mar 2018 7:17 pm 

    Meantime the vital signs for habitability on this planet are getting worse, resources are being depleted, human population continues growing etc. But deniers take comfort in premature timeline predictions. Makes sense little other reasons for comfort

  21. pointer on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 7:16 am 


    Your words:

    “the rate of population growth … is slowing”

    “Population growth continues unabated.”


    Do you mean population is growing? Of course it is — right now.

    However, programs to control population growth are unnecessary. While we are locked into going to 11 billion by 2050, that’s it. That will be the top. Population growth will end there, short of some unexpected phenomenon that substantially changes the fertility trend. The world is already approaching a replacement fertility rate. Hard to believe, but that’s reality.

    Why 11 billion? Simple math shows that families of 2 kids each for the current people who just came of child-bearing age, plus two kids per family for their kids’ families, plus two kids per family for their kids’ families gives us 11 billion.

    Nothing short of some draconian measure like China tried will cause population to top out at less than 11 billion, and look at what happened in China when they tried that. In short, population growth is solving itself. Focusing on controlling population is barking up the wrong tree.

    It seems clear what we need to focus on is ending the worship of consumption. Let me ask you: if the current 7.3 billion people were reasonable consumers — and by that I mean consuming such that each person does not exceed a 2KW/person energy draw limit and is responsible for a maximum of 7,000 lbs of CO2 per year (current US consumption is 12KW/person and 42,000lbs of CO2 / person / year; Europeans are half that — good job, Cloggie!) — would that not be a much more effective approach to achieving sustainability?

    And once we got there, what then?

  22. pointer on Mon, 26th Mar 2018 7:59 am 


    Great reference. It says more or less what I said, but with greater authority. 🙂

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