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Paul Ehrlich’s Epic Fail: Why The ‘Population Bomb’ Never Exploded

Paul Ehrlich’s Epic Fail: Why The ‘Population Bomb’ Never Exploded thumbnail
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“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…”– Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb

Published in 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb sold more than 3 million copies. The book turned this Stanford professor into his generation’s academic rock star.

Ehrlich became the only author Johnny Carson interviewed for an entire hour on The Tonight Show. In 1990, he won The Crafoord Prize – ecologists’  version of the Nobel Prize.

I have an unusual personal connection with Ehrlich’s book.

Back in the 1970s, each classroom of my Pittsburgh public grade school had dozens of copies of The Population Bomb lining its bookshelves.

I don’t recall ever actually studying The Population Bomb. But it’s clear that Pittsburgh Public Schools thought they might need to prepare us for the ensuing global famine.

Of course, Ehrlich’s prediction could not have been more wrong.

The Population Bomb Fizzles

Fast-forward to 2018, and the obesity rate in the U.S. is among the highest in the world.

The biggest health problem isn’t that Americans are starving.

It’s that Americans are eating too much.

History is littered with experts – and not just leaders of fringe cults – who predicted the end of the world and got it wrong.

Ehrlich is just one in a long line of such doom-and-gloomers. His thinking traces directly back to the original Cassandra of famines, Thomas Malthus, the English economist best known for his theory of population.

In his 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus argued that as human populations grow exponentially, food production will not keep pace.

His conclusion?

Unless men refrain from “pursuing the dictate of nature in an early attachment to one woman,” the world will run out of food and famines will ensue.

No doubt inspired by Malthus, Ehrlich dutifully limited his own family to one child.

A Famously Bad Commodity Investment

University of Maryland economist Julian Simon was a vociferous critic of the Ehrlich-inspired famine mania of the 1970s.

He wanted to put Ehrlich’s predictions to the test.

So in 1980, Simon issued a challenge to all Malthusians.

He offered to let anyone pick any natural resource – grain, oil, coal, timber, metals – and any future date.

Any Malthusian would argue that as the world’s population increased and the commodity became scarcer, its price should rise.

Simon was willing to take the opposite side of the bet, saying that the price of the commodity would decline instead.

Ehrlich snidely accepted “Simon’s astonishing offer before other greedy people jump in.”

He bet $1,000 and covered the price of five metals over a period of 10 years.

By the time 1990 rolled around, the world’s population had grown by more than 800 million, or 17.8% – the highest rate of increase over the course of a decade in history.

Yet the price of each of the commodities in the Simon-Ehrlich bet tumbled. The price of copper had fallen by 3.5%. Tin had collapsed by 72%.

In short, Ehrlich lost the bet decisively.

Simon offered to raise the stakes of the next wager to $20,000. Ehrlich declined.

The Power of Human Ingenuity

On its face, the Simon-Ehrlich bet was about the future price of five metals between 1980 and 1990.

On a deeper level, it was about a conflict of visions concerning the future of humanity.

Was mankind’s future constrained by the Earth’s ever-depleting resources… or by the limits of human ingenuity?

The verdict from history is clear.

Charles Maurice and Charles W. Smithson at Texas A&M University studied the history of natural resources over 10,000 years.

They found that temporary scarcities in natural resources are the norm.

They also found that same temporary scarcity always led to an improved substitute.

The Greeks’ transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age 3,000 years ago was forced by a shortage of tin.

The rise of coal followed timber shortages in 16th-century Britain.

The shortage of whale oil in 1850 led directly to the first oil well in 1859.

The lesson?

Human ingenuity has always been successful in overcoming crises that once seemed inevitable.

Ehrlich was right about one thing: The world’s population has continued to expand.

Today, the global population stands at 7.6 billion.

That’s double the 3.8 billion when Ehrlich published The Population Bomb.

And yet, despite Ehrlich’s predictions, no devastating famine threatening humanity’s existence ever ensued.

The reason is straightforward.

Food production increased faster than the population – a pattern that has repeated since Malthus.

Today, the average person is healthier, wealthier and better fed than in 1968. Infant mortality has declined. Life expectancy has increased.

Ironically, both Japan and Europe do have a population problem. But the problem is not the threat of famine due to too many mouths to feed.

It’s that women are having too few children to maintain current population levels.

Here is a final irony…

Ehrlich has spent his entire academic career ensconced at Stanford University – the intellectual Godfather of Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley, in turn, embodies the optimism and progress that has always overcome the relentless logic of Malthusian doom and gloom.

I can’t help but wonder how an academic who spent his life surrounded by symbols of human progress can be so pessimistic.

Yet at 85, Ehrlich remains unapologetic for his (so far) misguided predictions.

Ehrlich has said that if he wrote The Population Bomb today, he’d be even more apocalyptic than he was in 1968.

Like all doom-and-gloomers, Ehrlich won’t concede he’s wrong.

He’s just “early…”

Good investing,



81 Comments on "Paul Ehrlich’s Epic Fail: Why The ‘Population Bomb’ Never Exploded"

  1. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:38 am 

    No translation needed Nazi. It is as plain as day. Nazi is Nazi does.

    Good, Davy implicitly admitted defeat and will say nothing to defend his country (or its power brokers rather)… because he can’t, because there isn’t any defense, so he resorts to childish name-calling, his daily permutation of US empire battle-cries like “Natzi” and “racist”, straight from the ADL.

    That’s OK. In 2018, with everybody having 20+ years of absorbing non-PC messages thanks to the unfiltered internet, nobody falls for this nonsense anymore. Let’s grant the loser from the Ozarks this face-saving retreat. Come on let’s have it Davy, one more time: “natzi, natzi, natzi”.

    Dance for me, boy.

  2. Davy on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:58 am 

    Give it a rest neder. Let’s allow others to have some words in edgewise. We need some conversation on topic and without the usual BS from all sides.

  3. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 6:15 am 

    Give it a rest neder. Let’s allow others to have some words in edgewise. We need some conversation on topic and without the usual BS from all sides.

    I’m in no position to “not allow” others to speak their mind. But you are waiting for Godot here if you think that somebody here will come to your rescue.

    The only ones who ever tried were Ghung and Apneaman (60/40 he is Millimind) and they will never do it

  4. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:19 am 

    We need to rename this site PO and the WWII revisions.

    Davy is right of course that many of the discussions we have are pretty “off-topic”.

    But hey, what did you expect when “peak-oil” as a subject is dead in the water, although some here are slow to recognize that. In the mean time:

    1. The oildrum closed shop years ago (as did
    2. ASPO-USA just collapsed
    3. Richard the party is over Heinberg is now into 100% renewable energy

    The leading figure behind was Rembrandt Koppelaar. At the time he was an old-school ASPO/Heinberg peakoil adept. Today he no longer will talk about “collapse”, only about the transition:

    Koppelaar as a fulltime oil-barrel bean counter understood the new reality of the third carbon age earlier than I did and closed down around 2012, forcing me to cross the Atlantic and join this board, until 12 months later even I understood it as well, after carefully reading the posts by the Rockman. By 2013 I had abandoned the catastrophic peakoil vision peddled by Heinberg c.s. en it has been “downhill” ever since. Now in 2018 I’m upbeat about the prospects for a “Solar Age” forgive me the New Age terminology. The energy problem cluster has morphed into a Cockaigne for engineers, where the possibilities for responding to the outgoing fossil age are virtually endless. If I had to bet my money I would bet on a smooth energy transition, certainly for Europe and probably for America and China as well.

    Peak oil, a fata morgana from a time gone by.

  5. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:41 am 


    Immigration boosts a countries economy (GDP) substantially and creates jobs.

    Source: Wharton School of Business

    What Mass Immigration Wave?

    Behold the Master Race!

    This is how you treat a White Nationalist!

  6. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:44 am 

    Hey clogg what do all white nationalist have in common?

  7. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:50 am 


    Richard Heinberg is not into renewable energy His last book about it specially said it would never be able to replace fossil fuels. Peak oil is a liquid fuels problem not an electricity problem that can be solved by renewable s. You dumbshit.

    As M. King Hubbert (1956) shows, peak oil is about discovering less oil, and eventually producing less oil due to lack of discovery.

    IEA Chief warns of world oil shortages by 2020 as discoveries fall to record lows

    Saudi Aramco CEO sees oil shortage coming as investments, oil discoveries drop

    Peak Oil Vindicated by the IEA and Saudi Arabia

  8. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:52 am 


    Existing oil reserves are scheduled to begin a catastrophic crash within 1 to 3 years. When it hits the economic and social damage will be catastrophic. The end of Western Civilization, from China to Europe, to the US, will not occur when oil runs out. The economic and social chaos will occur when supplies are merely reduced sufficiently….

  9. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:52 am 

    The End of the Oil Age is Imminent!

    Recently, the HSBC oil report stated that 80% of conventional oil fields were declining at a rate of 5-7% per year. This means that there will be an oil shortage of ~30 million barrels per day by 2030 and ~40 million barrels per day by 2040.

    What is mentioned far less often is that annual oil discoveries have lagged annual production since the 1980s.

    Now, this problem has nothing to do with the recent decline in the oil price, which started in 2014. This has been an on-going problem for the past 30 years. Now, the IEA is predicting oil shortages by ~2020 due to declining exploration.

    Here, the IEA blames this problem on the low oil price. But, this problem started in the 1980s. The problem is geological: we are running out of conventional cheap oil. Shale and tar sands are not the answer, either. Those resources are far too expensive, compared to conventional oil, because the global economy is based on cheap conventional oil. Expensive oil is not a replacement for cheap oil.

    Based upon the HSBC report and the IEA, the End of Oil Age will start around ~2020: there will be a dramatic economic depression due to exhaustion of cheap oil. This will cause a global economic collapse.

  10. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:53 am 


    UC Davis Peer Reviewed Study: It Will Take 131 Years to Replace Oil with Alternatives (Malyshkina, 2010)

    University of Chicago Peer Reviewed Study: predicts world economy unlikely to stop relying on fossil fuels (Covert, 2016)

    Solar and Wind produced less than one percent of total world energy in 2016 – IEA WEO 2017

    Fossil Fuel Share of Global Energy since 1990 – BP 2017

    Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google PhD engineers

    Top scientists show why powering US using 100 percent renewable energy is a total fantasy

    IEA Sees No Peak Oil Demand ‘Any Time Soon’

  11. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:56 am 

    Immigration boosts a countries economy (GDP) substantially and creates jobs.

    Source: Wharton School of Business

    What Mass Immigration Wave?

    Behold the Master Race!

    This is how you treat a White Nationalist!

  12. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 9:40 am 

    How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy

  13. Boat on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 11:47 am 


    You must not have access to the war movies of the US taking out the Germans and Japanese in WWII. Just like the movies in the West where Indians met their demise. Today it’s the Sharai law infidel. When will they all learn civil behavior to prevent the need for military actions. You can’t fight the future. Join it and watch TV.

  14. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 12:08 pm 

    How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy

    Finally some realism descending into millimind’s minute brain. DNA trumps leftism/Marxism, nothing you can do about it.

    America can’t be saved, but half of it can. Give the rest to Mexico (SW + West-coast), millimind’s tribe can have Upstate NY to be Brazilianized and we in Europe take the faschist bouncer types of the Heartland:

    Exit ZOG.

    Game, set and match continental Europe.

    Greetings from Dolfie to George S.

    Sorry about that millimind. You can destroy naive America (and your own powerbase.rofl) but you can’t destroy the upbeat European Race, no matter how hard you try and boy have you tried:

  15. GregT on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 12:09 pm 


    With all due respect, that is without a doubt the dumbest comment you’ve made here yet, and I’m willing to bet that you don’t have the slightest clue as to why.

  16. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 12:25 pm 

    You must not have access to the war movies of the US taking out the Germans and Japanese in WWII.

    Sure boat:

    American suckers merely piggy-backed onto the clash between the two real giants of the white race, the Germans and the Russians.

    War effort contribution to get the German core of the white race (temporarily) destroyed:

    USSR 80%
    USA 15%
    UK 5%

    Americans get their asses kicked by the likes of North-Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Good ‘ol Pat Buchanan: “Americans are lousy imperialists”. Amen.

    And now you are facing the entire world (Eurasia) in a situation where the US is divided to the core between left and right.

    Your (((owners))) have been terrorizing the planet, using European-Americans as their useful idiots to get the job done…

    …for a century and now the bills are coming in, big time.

    Just at a time that your owners plan to dispose stupid whitey by using the imported third world proletariat as a weapon against them and organize the US equivalent of 1917-Petersburg, where this time the revolutionaries will be partially “of color” and led by the millimind’s of this world.

    Still think that the US will end “on top”, victoriously?

  17. Anonymouse1 on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 12:31 pm 

    Pssst. He is a R-e-t-a-r-d. We’re talking downs syndrome here, or thereabout.

    > is a generalized neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by significantly impaired intellectual and adaptive functioning. It is defined by an IQ score under 70….

    IoW, boatwetard

  18. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 12:53 pm 

    You wanna talk about retards look at the far right! Whitey’s days of genius are over!

  19. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 1:32 pm 

    “You wanna talk about retards look at the far right! Whitey’s days of genius are over!”

    Do us in Europe a favor, millimind and drive whitey into despair with their former country. Makes it easier to initiate “The Break”.

    P.S. you do not come acros as the next Trotsky either, millimind.

  20. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 1:48 pm 


    White people were so last century! immigrants work harder and are more efficient! Adapt or die crackers!

  21. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 2:07 pm 

    “White people were so last century!“

    There is only one century over and that is your century:

    Say hello to Yahweh from me! Toodeledokie!

  22. James Eberle on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 2:15 pm 

    Paul Ehrlich’s predictions haven’t as yet materialized because the availability of natural gas to fuel the Haber-Boesh process of nitrogen fixation is still abundantly available. It still takes 10 fossil fuel calories to make one calorie of food. When this is no longer possible problems will arise. I suspect that since feeding people is such an imperative, that as natural gas becomes constrained, supplies will be diverted from other uses to insure that people are fed. Therefore, standards of living will be adversely effected long before food shortages arise.

  23. DerHundistlos on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:04 pm 

    @ Clogged

    Excellent Wash. Post article. I guess I’ll renew my subscription……

  24. Cloggie on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 5:26 pm 

    “Excellent Wash. Post article. I guess I’ll renew my subscription……”

    Are you sure you want to make (((Jeff Bezos))) richer?

  25. DMyers on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 7:02 pm 


    “UC Davis Peer Reviewed Study: It Will Take 131 Years to Replace Oil with Alternatives (Malyshkina, 2010)”

    I wouldn’t be taking that 131 years to the bank. I’m not taking any position on the dispute, but this study does not satisfy a critical mind, in spite of its peer reviewed status. Don’t know what all the peers said.

    The methodology is clever. The the problem is it relies on current differential investment figures between FFs and alternatives. The type of measures used do not provide information suited to such a long-term prediction. Although it could be accurate, I don’t see how that would appear to be any more likely than its opposite, given what it is based on.

    Let’s say it’s based on new theories and hypotheses, to be accurate.

    The article itself is another in a long line, celebrating human ingenuity’s beating back the ogres of pessimism, with the obligatory reiteration of Simon’s bet with Erlich.

    The element omitted from the hyperbole about all the food we’ve produced, in response to population explosion, is an analysis of that food for quality. The number of calories stuffed in the gut of Joe Sixpack is of less significance than the life-sustaining nourishment contained therein. There, I think, we have a problem, one which betrays unintended consequences of scientific miracles.

  26. Kevin Cobley on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 8:58 pm 

    Anybody that believes that population can continue to double every 30 years, economic growth of 2%-3% per year can continue indefinitely when resource consumption has to double every 23 years consuming, in that 23 years more resources than has ever been consumed in human history. We are already consuming annually 3-4 “sustainable Earths”.
    It’s very clear that there is a huge problem. It’s also clear that basic mathematics is under-taught in schools if rubbish like this can be written.

  27. GregT on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 9:31 pm 

    “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

    – Albert Allen Bartlett, (RIP)

  28. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 9:44 pm 

    The Euro is now getting hammered after that far right winger just won the election! Investors don’t like insane right wingers!

  29. GregT on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 10:42 pm 

    “The euro dipped then bounced in Asia early on Monday after an exit poll from the Italian election showed the result was likely to be a hung parliament but that the eurosceptic 5-Star Movement had not won enough seats to form government on its own.”

    “The outcome was something of a relief and the single currency was trading up 0.27 percent at $1.2350 EUR= against a broadly soft dollar”

  30. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Mar 2018 10:54 pm 


    Of course you had to chime in to your alt right neck beard brothers! LOL

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