‘Often Wrong’ Ehrlich

This evening, at 7:30 p.m., 77-year-old butterfly expert Paul R. Ehrlich, a professor of “Population Studies” at Stanford University, will deliver a free lecture at UNLV’s Barrick Museum Auditorium, arguing that we are heading for an overall collapse of human civilization.

It’s nice that the university provides a forum for a wide variety of views, including those of Professor Ehrlich, a man who has been proven wrong so many times his audience may be forgiven if they occasionally wonder whether they’re actually in the presence of “Professor” Irwin Corey.

Dr. Ehrlich first rose to prominence based on his 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” in which he argued mankind was facing a demographic catastrophe, as population growth quickly outstripped supplies of food and resources.

Julian L. Simon, a libertarian economist, entered into a famous wager with Professor Ehrlich in 1980, betting the prices of five commodities chosen by Mr. Ehrlich would actually fall over the next decade. Mr. Ehrlich lost.

Independent journalist Michael Fumento summarized Mr. Ehrlich’s Malthusian record in a 1997 article for Investor’s Business Daily. Among Mr. Ehrlich’s predictions:

“The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines. … (and) hundreds of millions of people [including Americans] are going to starve to death.” (1968)

“Smog disasters” in 1973 might kill 200,000 people in New York and Los Angeles. (1969) … “Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity … in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.” (1976)

“The reason Ehrlich keeps blowing it boils down to a single word: technology,” Mr. Fumento explains. “It is Ehrlich’s bete noire. So he just ignores its many benefits. …”

Technology has either increased crop yields and proven reserves — of oil, for instance — or replaced materials previously thought of as vital, the way “dirt-cheap fiber optics” replaced copper phone wiring.

“But have Ehrlich’s preposterous predictions hurt his reputation?” Mr. Fumento asks. “Far from it – they’ve made him both celebrated and rich.

“In one year – 1990 – he … received the MacArthur Foundation’s famous ‘genius award’ with a $345,000 check, and split a Swedish Royal Academy of Science prize worth $120,000.”

Again, no one should seek to silence Dr. Ehrlich. The more relevant question is — will UNLV provide a similarly receptive forum to speakers who are more often correct … just not as “politically” correct?

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