This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Paul Ehrlich is at it Again!

Paul Ehrlich has spent his life creating demographic controversy--somewhat accidentally since he is really an entomologist, not a demographer. But, of course, Malthus too was self-taught as a demographer. Anyway, Ehrlich recently published a book with Michael Tobias called "Hope on Earth." It is an interesting book, in the sense that it is really a transcript of a conversation between the two of them. The book is not the problem, though. The problem is an interview that Ehrlich did with Josh Zepps on Huffington Post, in which he suggests that in coming centuries, humans may face the ethical question of whether or not we should eat our own species. This is not a theme in the book, but he makes the off-hand comment in the interview, and it reminded me immediately of the movie Soylent Green (look it up), which starred Charlton Heston and was almost certainly inspired by Ehrlich's Population Bomb. This was a stupid comment (and thanks to Peyton Dobbins for the heads-up on this) and the media picked up on it and then ignored all the rest of what Ehrlich said, which was spot-on in terms of the dangers facing us in trying to feed 2.5 billion more people when we don't do a very good job with the 7 billion already alive.

Why did he make such a comment? Well, in truth, because he's not vegetarian. In fact, the whole point of the question he was asked was: Wouldn't the planet be more sustainable (not to mention the issue of animal rights) if we all stopped eating meat? Since he's not vegetarian, his mind just wouldn't go there, and so took him to this ridiculous comment about cannibalism--a place where no vegetarian would ever venture, right?

So, I'm very disappointed in Ehrlich for this comment, just as I was when he made (and lost) the stupid bet with Julian Simon. Sometimes you need to know when to sit down and shut up.

1 comment:

  1. you raise the critical question of WHAT are we going to be eating. I'm afraid the solution may be some form of technology-produced food. I doubt it will be made from humans (!!), but I also doubt it will taste very good either. we could in principle sustain a larger population on Earth with special food production, but many of the people who will need it have the lowest incomes. So it boils down to producing the cheapest possible artificial food that can still keep humans alive. It's not the most heartwarming thought ... but its not far away because we will reach 10 billion people somewhere around the year 2060.

    Peter Pollock, Los Angeles