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The Vindication of a Public Scholar (Paul Ehrlich)
Tom Turner, Earth Island Journal
Forty Years After The Population Bomb Ignited Controversy, Paul Ehrlich Continues to Stir Debate
… The speaker is Paul Ehrlich, a professor of population biology at Stanford, and a resident, with his wife, Anne, at the facility. During the last four decades, Ehrlich has been attacked – sometimes from within the scientific community, but mostly from outside it – for speaking out about the big environmental issues that face humanity, most notably the ever-increasing number of humans. Though buffeted by controversy, Ehrlich has lost none of the zeal that has made him a lightning rod for the sort of anti-science ideologues who held sway in the federal government for the past eight years. He isn’t shy about speaking his mind. “Mellow” is the last word you’d use to describe Paul Ehrlich.
… Early in his Stanford career, Ehrlich taught a class in human evolution. The last week of lectures involved the professor’s thoughts on the direction humankind was headed. He told his students that he saw an ever more crowded planet, a dwindling food supply, and an impoverished natural world. The class was popular, and he began receiving invitations to speak at conferences and other gatherings. In April 1967, he was invited to address the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. When Ehrlich accepted, he did not know that the talk would be broadcast on the radio. The speech and its re-broadcast were a hit, and soon thereafter he received invitations to be interviewed on radio and television.
Not long after the Commonwealth Club speech, the late David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club and later the founder of Earth Island Institute, switched on the television at home one day, and saw a Stanford professor on a daytime chat show talking about the population explosion, about the scourge of pesticides, about threats to the atmosphere, about how agriculture was falling behind in its quest to provide sufficient food for all. Brower picked up the phone and made some calls to track down Ehrlich. When he finally found him, Brower said, “Dr. Ehrlich, you have to put your story into a book.”
“Too busy,” Ehrlich said. “I’m flattered by the suggestion, but I really don’t have time.”
Brower then phoned Ian Ballantine, frequently credited with inventing the paperback book, and suggested that he try to persuade Ehrlich to write something. Ballantine had been publishing mass-market books with the Sierra Club for a few years, and had also published the Club’s calendars, which Ballantine said had made him rich. Ballantine got in touch with Ehrlich and eventually convinced him that writing a book would be worth his time.
Paul and his wife Anne immediately set to work, and in “a month of evenings” had a manuscript that had been carefully reviewed by a team of peers, mostly at Stanford. The Ehrlichs suggested it be called Population, Resources, and Environment, and shipped it to New York. Ballantine loved the manuscript, but hated the title. He also insisted on a single author even though Anne had been a full partner in the writing – a little merchandising sexism. Ballantine said The Population Bomb would be a far zippier title, and the book was published in mid-1968.
The Population Bomb was an immediate sensation, eventually selling some three million copies.
… Ehrlich is ever the iconoclast. He is by no means sure that climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity – a position that is now bedrock in the mainstream environmental movement. Toxics could be worse, he says. There are some 100,000 toxic chemicals loose in the environment, many doing serious damage to natural systems, habitats, and species, and they are scarcely studied, let alone regulated. One problem that is not new but is essentially impossible to confront is that when two or more of these chemicals interact, they can produce totally unexpected results, and the potential number of combinations of these chemicals is virtually infinite.
… Reflecting on the warnings he made 40 years ago, Ehrlich acknowledges that he and Anne underestimated the success people would have developing higher-yielding grains, and how that spurred further population growth. But he also points out that there have been perhaps 300 million deaths since Bomb was published that were caused in large part by malnourishment and undernourishment. He claims that the success of the “green revolution” of the 1970s is already running into the difficulties he and others predicted, while global hunger is now increasing. And he likes to remind people that Bomb included a carefully worded caveat about the scenarios it sketched out: “Remember, these are just possibilities, not predictions. We can be sure that none of them will come true exactly as stated, but they describe the kinds of events that might occur in the next few decades.”
… In retrospect, Ehrlich feels that The Population Bomb was “way too optimistic.”
How Did 100,000,000 Women Disappear?
Nicole Baute , Toronto Star
Two researchers crunching population statistics have confirmed an unsettling reality. Siwan Anderson and Debraj Ray noticed the ratio of women to men in developing regions and in some cultures is suspiciously below the norm
In India, China and sub-Saharan Africa, millions upon millions of women are missing. They are not lost, but dead: victims of violence, discrimination and neglect.
A University of British Columbia economist is amongst those trying to find them – not the women themselves, who are long gone, but their numbers and ages, which paint a sad and startling picture of gender discrimination in the developing world.
The term “missing women” was coined in 1990, when Indian economist Amartya Sen calculated a shocking figure. In parts of Asia and Africa, he wrote in The New York Review of Books, 100 million women who should be alive are not, because of unequal access to medical care, food and social services. These are excess deaths: women “missing” above and beyond natural mortality rates, compared to their male counterparts.
Women who are dead because their lives were undervalued.
Around the world boys outnumber girls at birth, but in countries where women and men receive equal care, women have proved hardier and more resistant to disease, and thus live longer. In most of Asia and North Africa, however, Sen found that women die with startlingly higher frequency.
His research began a flutter of activity in academic circles and by 2005, the United Nations produced a much higher estimate for how many women could be “missing”: 200 million.
(6 June 2009)
Also at ZNet.
Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation
John Harlow, Los Angeles
SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and speed up improvements in health and education.
The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change. ..
… Another guest said there was “nothing as crude as a vote” but a consensus emerged that they would back a strategy in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat.
(24 May 2009)
This meeting will be sure to fuel populist fear that population control being a rich man’s plot. -BA