Paul Ehrlich, who predicted that mass starvation would wipe out humanity decades ago, was invited to appear on an episode of 60 Minutes that aired Sunday night to revive his argument that current levels of human consumption will lead to the mass extinction of plants, animals, and mankind itself — echoing the case he first made in his since discredited 1968 book The Population Bomb.
Ehrlich is a Stanford University biology professor best known for predicting that a global famine driven by overpopulation would all but wipe out human civilization in the 1970’s. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970’s the world will undergo famines – hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death…nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate,” Ehrlich and his co-author and wife warned readers in the book’s introduction.
Despite the infamous blunder, which resulted from Ehrlich’s failure to account for the revolution in agricultural technology that occurred in the decades after he published his wildly popular book, he maintains that his arguments were broadly correct.
“I do not think my language was too apocalyptic in The Population Bomb. My language would be even more apocalyptic today,” Ehrlich told Retro Report in 2015.
In the segment that aired Sunday night, interviewer Scott Pelley asked Ehrlich to weigh in on the topic of the “Sixth Extinction,” or the prediction made by some scientists that 75 percent of all living species will go extinct in the coming decades for the sixth time in recorded history.
“The alarm Ehrlich sounded in ’68 warned that overpopulation would trigger widespread famine. He was wrong about that. The green revolution fed the world. But he also wrote in ’68 that heat from greenhouse gases would melt polar ice and humanity would overwhelm the wild,” Pelley told viewers Sunday night.
Asked by Pelley whether the current global demands on resources and energy is tolerable, Ehrlich was unequivocal: “Oh, humanity is not sustainable. To maintain our lifestyle (yours and mine, basically) for the entire planet, you’d need five more Earths. Not clear where they’re gonna come from.”
The interview overlooked a famous wager Ehrlich lost to American economist Julian Simon, who predicted the average price of various natural resources would go down with technological advancements, while Ehrlich envisioned skyrocketing prices driven by mass depopulation and scarcity. In 1980, Ehrlich selected five metals that he believed would be considerably more valuable a decade later.
Ehrlich resoundingly lost the bet.
During the decades since The Population Bomb was first released, infant mortality declined, life expectancy increased, and famines dramatically reduced, defying Ehrlich’s grim predictions.
“This is an incredible gain. Human history has never shown any achievement to hold a candle to that. You’d expect lovers of human life to be jumping with joy at this incredible success. Instead, across the street we’ve got them lamenting that there are so many people alive,” Simon said at the time of the bet.