Forgotten prophet: Predictions of environmental doom nothing new
A long time ago in a land far away a man proposed that there were way too many of us.
If we didn’t cut back on breeding we would use all the Earth’s resources and within a few years those of us left living would be in a perpetual state of poverty and starvation.
The man’s name was Paul Ehrlich, Dr Paul Ehrlich to be precise, and he was a well respected university professor working at one of the United States’ most highly regarded institutions of higher learning.
He published a book explaining his thoughts in a book called The Population Bomb and it sold like hot cakes.
It was written more than 50 years ago now, but I can still remember the tidal wave of publicity and media attention that it generated.
It resulted in a social movement called Zero Population Growth (ZPG).
The cause attracted many people and was the subject of debate for several years.
Ehrlich travelled the world promoting his doomsday predictions.
He was the feted guest on the most popular television and radio shows of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
But over time the spectre that he predicted, that we would all come to a horrible end, didn’t eventuate.
The population certainly increased, massively in fact, but Ehrlich’s work was described as being a side product of the so-called revolutionary 1960s.
Interestingly, Ehrlich was not the first to suggest the human race is headed for oblivion.
Nearly 200 years earlier British pastor and economist Robert Malthus predicted the then growing population could not be supported by increases in agricultural production.
He thought this would lead to famine and war.
Ehrlich would echo these thoughts but by the end of the 1970s he was no longer popular or the flavour of the month.
The Zero Population Growth movement slipped off the radar, replaced by other social causes the media and politicians deemed more relevant.
And despite Ehrlich’s warnings what really changed?
Many would argue nothing, because at the moment we are being treated to a new round of catastrophic predictions suggesting the end of our overheated planet.
I’m sure Ehrlich who is now 87, would be loving it.
He claims he got a lot right, although he says his timing was out. Malthus might have said the same.
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