The economist, Julian L. Simon of the University of Maryland, often speaks of himself as an outcast, which isn't quite true. His books carry jacket blurbs from Nobel laureate economists, and his views have helped shape policy in Washington for the past decade.
But Simon has certainly never enjoyed Ehrlich's academic success or popular appeal. On the first Earth Day in , while Ehrlich was in the national news helping to launch the environmental movement, Simon sat in a college auditorium listening as a zoologist, to great applause, denounced him as a reactionary whose work "lacks scholarship or substance.
When he unveiled his happy vision of beneficent technology and human progress in Science magazine in , it attracted one of the largest batches of angry letters in the journal's history. In some ways, Simon goes beyond Dr. Pangloss, the tutor in "Candide" who insists that "All is for the best in this best of possible worlds. Tomorrow's will be better still, because it will have more people producing more bright ideas. He argues that population growth constitutes not a crisis but, in the long run, a boon that will ultimately mean a cleaner environment, a healthier humanity and more abundant supplies of food and raw materials for everyone.
And this progress can go on indefinitely because -- "incredible as it may seem at first," he wrote in his article -- the planet's resources are actually not finite. Simon also found room in the article to criticize, among others, Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, Newsweek, the National Wildlife Federation and the secretary general of the United Nations. An irate Ehrlich wondered how the article had passed peer review at America's leading scientific journal.
They provided the simple arithmetic: the planet's resources had to be divided among a population that was then growing at the unprecedented rate of 75 million people a year. The Ehrlichs called Simon the leader of a "space-age cargo cult" of economists convinced that new resources would miraculously fall from the heavens. For years the Ehrlichs had been trying to explain the ecological concept of "carrying capacity" to these economists. They had been warning that population growth was outstripping the earth's supplies of food, fresh water and minerals.
But they couldn't get the economists to listen. Ehrlich decided to put his money where his mouth was by responding to an open challenge issued by Simon to all Malthusians. Simon offered to let anyone pick any natural resource -- grain, oil, coal, timber, metals -- and any future date.
If the resource really were to become scarcer as the world's population grew, then its price should rise. Simon wanted to bet that the price would instead decline by the appointed date. Ehrlich derisively announced that he would "accept Simon's astonishing offer before other greedy people jump in. Holdren, colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley specializing in energy and resource questions.
A futures contract was drawn up obligating Simon to sell Ehrlich, Harte and Holdren these same quantities of the metals 10 years later, but at prices. If prices fell, they would pay him. The contract was signed, and Ehrlich and Simon went on attacking each other throughout the 's.
During that decade the world's population grew by more than million, the greatest increase in history, and the store of metals buried in the earth's crust did not get any larger. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. It must have occurred to Homo habilis while searching for rocks to make the first tools 2.
Aristotle and Plato shared the same concerns as the "Family Ties" cast. The American Indians put it nicely in a proverb that has been adopted as a slogan by today's environmentalists: "We do not inherit the earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children. It affects our national policies when we send soldiers into the Persian Gulf to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting a "stranglehold" on the dwindling supplies of oil.
It is the fear Paul Ehrlich raised in "What will we do when the pumps run dry? The counterargument is not nearly as intuitively convincing. It has generally consisted of a simple question: Why haven't things run out yet? The ones asking this question now tend to be economists, which is a switch, since their predecessors were the ones who initiated the modern preoccupation with resource scarcity. Economics was first called "the dismal science" in the last century because of Malthus's predictions of mass starvation.
He had many successors, the most eloquent of whom perhaps was a British economist named William Stanley Jevons. There were graphs showing parabolic curves of population and coal consumption shooting upwards, and charts showing estimates of woefully inadequate coal reserves. Unlike the prophets a century later, though, Jevons was not sure that the answer was mandatory conservation. At first glance, he wrote, there seemed to be a clear case for the Government's limiting industry's profligate energy use.
Yet he noted that much of that civilization, such as "our rich literature and philosophy," might never have existed without "the lavish expenditure of our material energy" that "redeemed us from dullness and degradation a century ago. There were many other sightings of the end of the lode. An energy crisis arose in the middle of the 19th century, when the dwindling supply of whales drove up the cost of lighting homes with oil lamps and tallow candles.
In President Theodore Roosevelt warned of an American "timber famine," a concern that prompted a proposal to ban Christmas trees. In the Federal Oil Conservation Board announced that the United States had a seven-year supply of petroleum left. Naturalists gradually replaced economists as the chief doomsayers. They dominated the conservation movement early this century, and in two of them -- Fairfield Osborn, the president of the New York Zoological Society, and an ornithologist named William Vogt -- started a national debate by publishing popular books: "Our Plundered Planet" and "Road to Survival" respectively.
Both men warned of overpopulation, dwindling resources and future famines. Vogt's book lamented the loss of "such irreplaceable capital goods as soils and minerals. Both books made an impression on the teen-age Paul Ehrlich. He was already a naturalist himself, thanks to a mentor at the American Museum of Natural History in New York who encouraged him to study butterflies and publish papers while he was still a high-school student in New Jersey. Ehrlich went on to study zoology at the University of Pennsylvania.
He married Anne in while in graduate school at the University of Kansas, and they put their Malthusian principles into practice by limiting themselves to one child. Ehrlich had a vasectomy in , shortly after getting tenure at Stanford. In the mid's, Ehrlich started giving public lectures about the population problem. One caught the attention of David Brower, then executive director of the Sierra Club, who led him to Ballantine Books.
Rushing to publish his message in time for the Presidential election, Ehrlich produced what may be the all-time ecological best seller, "The Population Bomb. It was "The Tonight Show" that made him and his book famous. As Ehrlich remembers it, Joan Rivers went on first, telling jokes about her honeymoon night "I said, 'Turn off the lights.
Then there was a starlet whose one-word answers made things so awkward that Ehrlich was rushed on early to rescue Johnny Carson. Ehrlich has been deluged ever since with requests for lectures, interviews and opinions.
He is a rare hybrid: the academic who keeps his professional reputation intact while pleasing the masses. Scientists praise his papers on butterflies and textbooks on ecology; talk-show hosts tout his popular books and love his affably blunt style. He has never been one to mince words or hedge predictions.
In the 's the world will undergo famines -- hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death. Six years later, in a book he wrote with his wife, "The End of Affluence," he raised the death toll. The book told of a "nutritional disaster that seems likely to overtake humanity in the 's or, at the latest, the 's. Due to a combination of ignorance, greed and callousness, a situation has been created that could lead to a billion or more people starving to death.
There may be minor fluctuations in food prices, but the overall trend will be up. Ehrlich was right about one thing: the world's population did grow. It is now 5. The predicted rise in the world death rate has yet to materialize -- infant mortality has declined and life expectancy has increased, most dramatically in the third world.
There have been famines in countries afflicted by war, drought and disastrous agricultural policies, but the number of people affected by famines has been declining steadily during the past three decades. In fact, the number is much lower than it was during the same decades of the last century, even though the world's population is much larger. Experts argue about how much hunger remains in the world, but they generally agree that the average person in the third world is better nourished today than in Food production has increased faster than population since the publication of "The Population Bomb," just as it has since the books of Vogt, Osborn and Malthus.
Perhaps the best way to see what has happened to food prices -- and to get a glimpse of the Malthusian mind-set -- is to consider a graph from Lester R. Brown, another widely quoted doomster. Brown has long been the chief source for Ehrlich and other ecologists on trends in agriculture -- "the best person in the country on the subject" in Ehrlich's words. Brown is the president of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, which makes news each year with what it calls the world's most widely used public-policy document, its "State of the World" report.
This year's report includes a graph, below, of grain prices that is interesting for a couple of reasons: [ GRAPH: "World Wheat and Rice Prices, ] Consider, first of all, how it compares with Brown's predictions of a decade ago. He was pessimistic then for the same reasons that Ehrlich, Vogt and Osborn had been: rising population, vanishing topsoil, the growing dependence on "non-sustainable" uses of irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides.
The question no longer seems to be whether they will rise but how much. Now consider how Brown analyzes this data. In a chapter titled "The Illusion of Progress" in this year's report, he focuses not on the long-term trend but on the blips in the graph in and -- when prices rose because of factors like drought and a United States Government program that took farmland out of production. Looking ahead to the 's, Brown writes, "The first concrete economic indication of broad-based environmental deterioration now seems likely to be rising grain prices.
We are barely into the 's, but so far Brown's poor track record is intact. Grain prices have plummeted since he published his prediction at the start of the year. The blips in the late 's caused farmers to do what they always do when prices rise: plant more crops. The price of wheat has fallen by more than 40 percent in the past year, and if you plotted it on that graph, it would be at yet another all-time low.
Once again Malthus's day of reckoning will have to be rescheduled. It was during the Earth Day furor two decades ago. Simon was sitting at home in Urbana, Ill. But what could I do? Go talk to five people? Here was a guy reaching a vast audience, leading this juggernaut of environmentalist hysteria, and I felt utterly helpless.
At this point, Simon was still in the early stages of Cornucopianism. He had started out as a Malthusian. After studying psychology at Harvard University and receiving a doctorate in business economics from the University of Chicago, he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in But the long term trend for metals at least is downwards.
Simon declined Ehrlich and Schneider's offer to bet, and used the following analogy to explain why he did so: . Let me characterize their offer as follows. I predict, and this is for real, that the average performances in the next Olympics will be better than those in the last Olympics.
On average, the performances have gotten better, Olympics to Olympics, for a variety of reasons. What Ehrlich and others says [ sic ] is that they don't want to bet on athletic performances, they want to bet on the conditions of the track, or the weather, or the officials, or any other such indirect measure.
In his book The Ultimate Resource , Simon noted that not all decreases in resources or increases in unwanted effects correspond to overall decreases in human wellbeing. Some of the trends listed above are actually predicted by Simon's theory of resource development, and do not in themselves even count as costs as pollution does.
The same might potentially be true of decreased reliance on firewood in developing countries, and per capita use of specific food sources like rice, wheat, and fish, if economic development makes a diverse range of alternative foods available. Some have also proven false, e. Simon paid out early on the bet in before his death in based on his expectation that prices would remain above levels which they did. No economist took him up on the offer.
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We have an economy and markets. So, according to Simon, if the world demands more oil, the price of oil will go up, and there will be an incentive to find more, or find an alternative. Both Ehrlich and Simon enjoyed being provocative. Ehrlich started a movement called "Zero Population Growth. And he proposed a tax on diapers to keep population in check.
Paul Sabin, a historian at Yale, told the story of this famous bet in his new book The Bet. And Sabin says Simon's side never really got as much notice as Ehrlich's — and that, it seems, is why he proposed the bet. Simon proposed that they bet on what would happen to the price of five metals — copper, chromium, nickel, tin and tungsten — over a decade. And the logic was that these metals were essential for all kinds of stuff — electronics, cars, buildings.
So, if Ehrlich was right, more people on the planet would mean we would start running out of stuff, and the price of these things should go up. But, if Simon was right, the markets and human ingenuity would sort things out, and the prices would stay the same or even go down. The s felt like a time of shortages. TV news showed famines in Africa.
And here at home in , there were long lines at gas stations because of conflict in the Middle East. President Richard Nixon went on television. He asked people to drive more slowly to conserve fuel. And to kill outdoor Christmas lights. Those next 10 years, from to , crept by. The world population grew by million people. Then it was And they tallied it up.
Simon, the economist, decisively won. Prices for the five metals went down by an average of 50 percent. One of the reasons the prices dropped was just what Simon said. The catastrophe Ehrlich was predicting just did not happen. The international tin cartel collapsed under pressure from new Brazilian mines. Aluminum, plastic, fiber-optic cables and satellites began to replace copper, even as copper production soared in response to s highs; by , the copper industry struggled to create demand. This dynamic relationship between scarcity and abundance matters for public policy.
Exaggerated fears of resource scarcity can lead to stifling price controls, panicked efforts to limit production or consumption, and public investment strategies predicated on high prices that turn out to be ephemeral. The same thing is true in business. Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar-panel company, failed in part because its model depended on the price of polysilicon , used by its competitors, remaining high. When prices instead collapsed, so did its competitive strategy and the company.
YET if environmentalists need to better account for human creativity and adaptability, conservatives, in turn, should better understand the limited nature of Mr. Setting aside the vagaries of market forces, can we continue to increase resource production and adapt to unprecedented environmental changes like global warming? Our past experience should give us some hope, but that hope should be greatly tempered by the realization that climate change is an unprecedented threat, and we really might not keep pace.
Simon liked to argue that new problems prompt solutions that ultimately leave people better off than before. But we cannot surmount our challenges if we simply deny that they exist. Instead of using science as a resource for human betterment, conservatives who reject the evidence of human-caused global warming prevent the very creative problem-solving that Mr. Simon advocated. And if environmentalists like Mr. We face choices about our future direction. As Mr. Ehrlich and many other environmental scientists have documented, by pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we put things we value and love in danger, from the coral reefs to the Jersey Shore, from homes threatened by wildfire to farms endangered by drought.
And even if Mr. Simon is right that humans can adapt and prosper on this rapidly changing planet, we have to ask ourselves whether the risks and inequalities of this change are desirable. Ehrlich and Mr. Neither biology nor economics can substitute for the deeper ethical question: what kind of world do we want to live in?
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Jointly, they fell a remarkable 57 percent. Simon had no way of knowing that commodity prices would fall so sharply during the s. Over many recent ten-year periods, the prices of natural resources have risen; in many other periods, they have fallen. He and his friends John Holdren and John Harte failed to do their homework, choosing to bet on copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten based on little more than gut instincts. For example, as Paul Sabin points out, the price of copper was abnormally high at the start of the bet due to temporary factors, including strikes in Chile and political disruptions in Zaire and Zimbabwe.
Simple economic theory suggests that the price would drop after these temporary supply reductions ended. Audiences ate this up. Population could rise only temporarily and must crash back down; rising standards of living were fleeting and probably driven by depletion of the resource base. Instead, supply must inexorably shift inward as resources were used up. Virtually anything that could slow, stop, or reverse human-population growth received his blessing.
In other words, much of humanity needed to be eliminated. More babies were a threat to peace, so the right to breed was intolerable. More gently, he urged changes in the tax code to reward childless couples and promoted placing taxes on children and diapers. One of his favored panaceas was sterilization. Despite a professed aim for balance, Sabin gives much less attention to Julian Simon. Ironically, Simon initially held many of the same zeropopulation- growth views as Ehrlich.
His epiphany came in , when he visited the Iwo Jima memorial and contemplated the eulogy given by Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, who bemoaned the loss of potential human talent and promise. People are valuable in and of themselves. At heart, he discovered, these environmentalists were misanthropes. Paul Ehrlich went to India, saw crowded slums, and was horrified. I just learned about Ehrlich and Simon's best recently, as I was not yet born when it happened and child when it was over.
I decided to read about the book more because I had read the bet was a mistake to begin with, rather than for any particular stake in this type of bet. The fact that the bet couldn't actually p This is an interesting book ostensibly about a bet between a biologist and an economist over the earth's future, but really about the problems of extremism and the folly of prediction. The fact that the bet couldn't actually prove either person right is one of the fascinating things about this story, which is mostly just a story of two smart people being overconfident and arrogant and how those behaviours in experts cause sociopolitical problems.
The book makes an interesting, somewhat compelling case that the positions and attitudes of Ehrlich and Simon and others like them were both wrong and right but that what is most important is how their views became more extreme as they grew older despite the evidence, especially in Ehrlich's case , and that these extreme positions have helped shape environmental discourse in the Unite States, to the detriment of US government policy.
For example, I had not realized how many prominent conservatives think that "Global Warming" is just the same thing as the Malthus thing, i. That is an illuminating insight, even if Sabin never establishes a really strong connection between the Malthusian fear-mongering and, say, all climate change skepticism.
I cannot be the only one who thinks that most climate change skeptics in the 21st century are completely unaware of the "population bomb" alarmists, though they may indeed read too much stuff from skeptics who are, in part, basing that skepticism on the earlier behaviour of the "population bomb" alarmists.
My biggest issue with the book is Sabin's style, which is extremely dry and a little academic. The book is extremely well-sourced but often reads as a litany of facts, rather than a narrative. Another issue with the readability of it is that most of the analysis is left for the final chapter, meaning that most of the book reads like a light biography of the protagonists mixed in with a history of US environmental policy between Nixon and Bush Jr.
So it's a big of a slog, even if the material is interesting. We should not use extreme positions as are guide. We should ignore them, if we can. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Mar 05, Adam rated it liked it Shelves: economics , audiobook , non-fiction , the-problem-of-civilization , environmental-history. A solid political and intellectual environmental history about Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and the context of the bet they made.
It focuses extensively on things like their biographies and presidential rhetoric around energy and conservation, with comparatively little interest in the substantive questions underlying their ideas. It's sometimes a bit boring and I'm not sure it would be of much general interest, but I found it quite useful.
It provides a lot of context for things that I'd only hea A solid political and intellectual environmental history about Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and the context of the bet they made. It provides a lot of context for things that I'd only heard of in fairly shallow ways otherwise. The take overall is fairly agnostic, but in that "objective" tone Ehrlich universally comes off worse than Simon.
He repeatedly makes the same oversimplistic arguments from broad, poorly parameterized ecological first principles, drawn from sources with dubious values Malthus, eugenicists , and never updates his ideas to account for new evidence or explain why the ideas his critics offer supported by that new evidence don't in fact apply.
It's embarassing. Simon, on the other hand, changes his views, develops a startling new perspective that is both evidence-based and humanistic, and it just feels like he's got some insight here that Ehrlich ought to have incorporated. Instead, they just yelled at each other for decades until Simon died, and now we keep yelling their arguments at each other. No progress. The interesting part throughout for me was that Simon's arguments were slotted into the Republican side, while Ehrlich is allied with some though far from all Democrats.
It was new for me to see any kind of intellectual validity to Republican positions even in the past, and while this certainly doesn't make me feel any more positively toward them on the whole, after hearing what Ehrlich and Carter were actually saying, and knowing how wrong they were, how poorly they represented the values at the heart of environmentalism, it's easy to sympathize with Reagan's exasperation toward them.
On the other hand, the things Republicans argued for didn't really line up with Simon's positions all that well either--rabid anti-immigration, opposed to market-based environmental solutions that would unleash exactly the kind of innovation Simon made such a big deal of, clearly more interested in preserving the interests of their lobbyists than making any principled adherence to free-market environmentalism.
The conclusion, though, is interesting because Sabin finally weighs in. And he comes down against them both! He says they were both too hard-headed and extreme, Simon as utopian as Ehrlich was dystopian which is fair I suppose , and that they actively impeded progress on pragmatic mixed solutions by drawing people to the poles of this discussion.
What stuck out most to me, given the pursuit that drew me to read this book in the first place, is that Sabin never calls for a uniting theoretical framework or mentions any work anyone has done to create one. He just kind of shrugs and says these generic bromides about "figuring out how we want to live on the world, not how many ppl we can support" or looking at real data instead of big narratives.
The real problem is never directly stated: how can the axioms of economics and ecology both be true and result in the world we live in? That's a problem that can only be solved by Simon and Ehrlich's successors workign together, not at odds. Jan 08, Akseli Koskela rated it liked it.
A good overview yet I was waiting for more science and less drama. May 20, Robert Gerlach rated it really liked it. Some say "history is the subject that teaches us that we do not learn from history". Sabin describes quite entertainingly the lives of to academics on the opposite side of the spectrum, and how their well-meaning but ultimately uncompromising and flawed approaches to advocacy have hurt Some say "history is the subject that teaches us that we do not learn from history".
Sabin describes quite entertainingly the lives of to academics on the opposite side of the spectrum, and how their well-meaning but ultimately uncompromising and flawed approaches to advocacy have hurt the environmental movement substantially. It shows why scaremongering and doomsday-scenario painting may result in short-term gains, but ultimately may prove counterproductive for the cause of environmentalism.
Out of scope of this book, but certainly of great interest, would have been a description of more positive approaches to environmentalism, and how they contrast with the approaches takes so far "sustainability-fatigue".
All in all a great and entertaining book, which should be required reading for every sustainability professional. Jan 02, Carol rated it really liked it. More later. Jul 10, Matt rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction , biography-memoir , political , science.
I found it irritating that Ehrlich an environmentalist misanthrope and Simon a free-market capitalist were presented as the only two options available. Frankly, there is no space in the future for capitalism because capitalism is what's causing all of our environmental problems, and we will at some point have to choose between it and the biosphere.
Simon just isn't interesting -- the idea that human ingenuity and free markets are one and the same is silly, creativity existed long before capi I found it irritating that Ehrlich an environmentalist misanthrope and Simon a free-market capitalist were presented as the only two options available.
Simon just isn't interesting -- the idea that human ingenuity and free markets are one and the same is silly, creativity existed long before capitalism did, and will exist long after. He was only elevated to any status because he provided a quasi-intellectual excuse for the Reaganites to plunder natural resources at the expense of future generations. Ehrlich is more interesting, but would probably today fall under the category of "ecofascist" because he seems to think that it's only coercion from the elites that can whip the world into fixing its population problem, even though the elites are the cause of our current problems.
The Limits to Growth did not just talk about population, it talked about economic growth. Economic growth is a core driver of population growth, and is a result of the current economic system. Ehrlich and his ilk came up with neutering the poor before they even considered overthrowing the current economic system -- that, they seemed to think, could be slowly reformed.
This is ass-backwards thinking, and putting the burden for environmental change on the poor is not only putting an ahistoric fix on a historic problem, it's also morally repugnant. It's also strange lumping Ehrlich in with someone like Schumacher, the anarchist economist who wrote Small is Beautiful.
The two have conflicting ideologies. Ehrlich is right about a lot of things, but like a lot of STEM guys turned politicos, is clueless about history and politics, and this is what's so dangerous about his misanthropic, elitist wing of the environmental movement.
Sabin tells an interesting story around these two characters, but of the two, it's only Ehrlich that interesting, and it's his disputes with people to his left that would be far more worth recounting. The author makes several good, and to me almost obvious, points that are not heard enough in public debates about environmental policy.
Liberal elements falsely invoke the popular cache of science to support their positions even though their conclusions are based on value systems utterly independent of science. Conservatives too often refuse to admit in public that nature has intrinsic value for human appreciation and enjoyment. Both abuse the complexity of natural systems with liberals making u The author makes several good, and to me almost obvious, points that are not heard enough in public debates about environmental policy.
Both abuse the complexity of natural systems with liberals making unjustifiably confident and specific predictions and conservatives ignoring the potential of unintended consequences. However, this book had too few insights and too much rote reporting of the two men's biographies. It just went on too long for the material he had. I care about how their ideas shaped public policy. I don't care how they felt or where they lived or who they were when not appearing in public.
Jan 24, YHC rated it liked it. Easy to read through as a book that how Ehrlich and Simon shaped the concept of the environmental future in US. Today, obviously we admit that the overpopulation has played the biggest role of the shortage of nature resource.
Simon's thought we need to count the natural resource of the whole universe as a whole, the problem is we can barely get out of our planet, let alone survive beyond. No doubt that we need to leave something to our next generations before it's too late. I don't think the majori Easy to read through as a book that how Ehrlich and Simon shaped the concept of the environmental future in US. I don't think the majority of mediocre population could really push the technology like what Simon said.
Oct 28, CL Chu rated it liked it. Focusing largely on personalities. And probably some social studies of science approaches would be beneficial too. For anyone looking to understand the public influences on US environmental policy over the last 50 years, this book offers a succinct recap. It also helped me better understand the rationale behind opponents of modern day climate change reforms. I used to just write them off as idiots. Jun 22, Jon Wlasiuk rated it liked it.
The political debate about the future of the planet rests upon assumptions inherited from the last quarter of the twentieth century championed by Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. This is a tidy history of that debate and the damage it has wrought on conforming the economy to ecology. Dec 17, Andrei Barbu rated it really liked it. Explains why both extreme environmentalists and free-market extremists sound crazy, how we got here, and why it's so hard to make any meaningful progress.
Nov 13, Jordan Conerty rated it really liked it. A fine read if you're interested in Environmental History, particularly the conversation around population growth and responses to it that gained national attention in the 60's and 70's. Feb 24, Ron Shaw rated it it was amazing. Even-handed treatment of the famous bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon.
Sabin bemoans the political divide that The Bet represents but, in the end, concedes that Simon was right. Once you see it, you can't stop seeing it everywhere you look. In one corner, we have Paul Ehrlich of "The Population Bomb" notoriety as our resident neo-malthusian.
A Stanford population ecologist, he very passionately and very publicly proclaimed that hundreds of millions of people were going to starve to death in the 80's and 90's. As Sabin says, "Ehrlich embraced environmentalism as a secular religion. A conservative economist of the Chicago school, he serves as our cornucopian by arguing that markets will allocate scarce resources and stimulate innovation to solve any population pressures.
After sniping at each other in academic papers for years, Simon challenged Ehrlich to put his money where his mouth was. Ehrlich thought resources were getting scarcer? Great - he should choose any 5 resources he chose copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten and in a decade, they'd see if the prices had gone up reflecting scarcity or down reflecting plenty.
They formalized the bet in , and by , every single one of the metals had gone down in inflation-adjusted price! Sabin fleshes out the story with lots of historical details and sketches of the personalities involved. His treatment is even-handed and he points out issues with both Ehrlich's and Simon's approach.
Sabin humanizes both of the opponents so that we can understand where they are coming from. Indeed, one of the key realizations is that a big part of the difference in perspectives was driven by values rather than by evidence. While Simon "placed human welfare at the center of his moral universe", Ehrlich thought that "humanity could not serve as the measure of all things. Sabin explores the roots of Republican anti-environmental sentiment - after all, this was the party of Theodore Roosevelt and the national parks!
He does an excellent job of tracing the policy debate and identifying key players. Many of those players are still on the scene today. Carl Sagan ironically, author of "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" gets dragged a bit for his collaboration with Ehrlich on the ill-advised "nuclear winter" schtick. After "Higher Superstition", I was primed to recognize Ehrlich's attempt to turn environmentalism into a "secular religion" and his constant push for revolutionary change as archetypal of postmodern academic pseudo-science.
Ehrlich gets explicitly called out in "Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes" for venturing outside his area of expertise which, remember, was butterflies. Typical of neo-malthusians, he relied on oversimplified models and didn't account for human flexibility or the adaptability of markets. Now the trillion dollar question is Dec 29, Pete rated it really liked it. The Bet by Paul Sabin is a really fine book that looks at the different beliefs of the ecologist and author of The Population Bomb Paul Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon and their famous bet on the price of natural resources.
Sabin is an academic at Yale who teaches environmental history. He introduces the book by describing his own environmentalism which is a very honest and clear way of clarifying his own biases. Interestingly both Simon and Ehrlich grew up in suburban New Jersey to upwardly mobile Jewish parents. Simon initially worked on using marketing to reduce population growth but then investigated the assumption that increased population was a problem and came to the opposite conclusion.
Next the rise of environmentalism in the s is described. The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency by Richard Nixon and the passage of various other laws and the rise of Jimmy Carter and his own environmental beliefs along with the oil crisis are discussed. The book then gets to the famous bet between Simon and Ehrlich where Simon challenged Ehrlich to pick 5 metals that he thought would rise over the next decade. Ehrlich comprehensively lost the bet after declaring that taking up the bet would be easily getting free money.
Sabin also points out that while the general thrust of the Carter was toward environmentalism and Reagan toward the market that Carter deregulated the energy industry substantially and Reagan signed on to the Montreal Protocol to reduce CFCs. Then the increasing polarization of environmental debates between pro-market optimists and environmental catastrophists is nicely described.
Despite being substantially wrong Ehrlich was far more successful in winning prizes and notoriety than Simon. Sabin concludes the book by praising the contributions of both Ehrlich and Simon while pointing out that Ehrlich was categorically wrong. He credits Ehrlich with allowing increasing environmental regulations to be passed while crediting Simon with pointing out that the price mechanism and human ingenuity have shown Malthusians to be wrong for the past years.
Sabin would like to see more of a fusion between the two positions. Sabin has done an excellent job in writing a very readable, interesting book. Jul 12, Evan rated it it was ok Shelves: history , politics , philosophy. I think Sabin did a good job of maintaining neutrality toward Simon and Ehrlich throughout the novel. Additionally, he didn't really present his personal views on the topic until the final chapter. As a historian, I think he did a fairly good job of telling Simon, Erhlich and the bet's history.
However, I had to force myself to keep reading. For some reason, I just found his style and writing to be like the worst of boring textbooks. I do agree with some of his final points, especially that Ehrl I think Sabin did a good job of maintaining neutrality toward Simon and Ehrlich throughout the novel.
I do agree with some of his final points, especially that Ehrlich, "by repeatedly crying wolf, he has played into the hands of those who consider environmentalism a lunatic movement. When I think of climate change, I can't help but recall one of Charlie Munger's berkshire hathaway quotes, "Never, ever, think about something else when you should be thinking about the power of incentives.
If environmentalists allowed for some discussion on the topic, instead of insisting everyone believe everything they say, more people might quit being "climate deniers. Apr 15, E rated it really liked it. Relatively evenhanded look at the environmental debates in this country over the past 50 years.
The author is Yale professor Paul Sabin, wife of abortion zombie Emily Bazelon, and his bias comes out from time to time. Nevertheless, he is willing time and again to demonstrate how free-market capitalists have been right far more over the past 50 years than Chicken Little environmentalists. Ehrlich thought the price of the basket would go up in 10 years; Simon, the sane one, thought it would decrease. I won't bore you with the rest of the details, or other "bets" won by the good guys concerning environmentalist fascism presidential election, anyone?
In the s, the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. Neo-Malthusian Ehrlich thought like a biologist. He believed that there was an inverse relationship between population growth and the availability of resources, i.
In the animal world at least a sudden increase in the availability of resources leads to a population explosion. The population explosion then leads to the exhaustion of resources. The final act is the exhaustion of resources which leads to population collapse. Petroleum is a textbook example of such a resource. University of Maryland economist, Julian Simon thought differently. He suggested people would find substitutes for scarce resources, employing technological improvements to adapt to their environment and that everything would turn out fine.
The wager was based on the inflation-adjusted prices of five metals: chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten, and lasted from October to October Ehrlich predicted that because of population growth these metals would become more expensive. Simon argued that because of population growth, the incentive to find more or use an alternative would increase, and so metal prices would become cheaper. If the sale price of the commodities, adjusted for inflation were higher, then Ehrlich and his two partners would win and reap the profit.
Simon won. Ehrlich lost. There was no note congratulating his rival or recognition of his insights. Simon argued that the purpose of the wager was the principle, not the amount. You choose any mineral or other raw material including grain and fossil fuels that is not government controlled, and the date of settlement. Simon was lucky with his bet. The spike in oil prices in the late s was one factor that contributed to the slowing in industrial growth in the s, which in turn resulted in lower prices for the five metals.
Although the principle of the bet was correct, we all know now that commodity prices go through cycles. Simon was either lucky or he knew where we were in the commodity cycle, and bet accordingly. He explained that we are not like any other species. We have an economy and markets. So, according to Simon, if the world demands more oil, the price of oil will go up, and there will be an incentive to find more, or find an alternative.
Both Ehrlich and Simon enjoyed being provocative. Ehrlich started a movement called "Zero Population Growth. And he proposed a tax on diapers to keep population in check. Paul Sabin, a historian at Yale, told the story of this famous bet in his new book The Bet. And Sabin says Simon's side never really got as much notice as Ehrlich's — and that, it seems, is why he proposed the bet.
Simon proposed that they bet on what would happen to the price of five metals — copper, chromium, nickel, tin and tungsten — over a decade. And the logic was that these metals were essential for all kinds of stuff — electronics, cars, buildings. So, if Ehrlich was right, more people on the planet would mean we would start running out of stuff, and the price of these things should go up. But, if Simon was right, the markets and human ingenuity would sort things out, and the prices would stay the same or even go down.
The s felt like a time of shortages. TV news showed famines in Africa. And here at home in , there were long lines at gas stations because of conflict in the Middle East. President Richard Nixon went on television. He asked people to drive more slowly to conserve fuel. And to kill outdoor Christmas lights. Those next 10 years, from to , crept by. The world population grew by million people. Then it was And they tallied it up. Simon, the economist, decisively won. Prices for the five metals went down by an average of 50 percent.
One of the reasons the prices dropped was just what Simon said.
Jan 24, Don Angels rated it it was amazing. The author never actually offers antifragility of punditry under conditions zombie Emily Bazelon, and his statistical sense towards extreme inaccuracy. However, I had to force myself to keep reading. Ehrlich countered with a challenge of tracing the policy debate. Sabin has done an excellent in the s is described. Despite a professed aim fornickeltin. The author is Yale professor Paul Sabin, wife of abortion Stop Catastrophes" for venturing outside. This book is also an while the general thrust of debates often become polarized and Ehrlich and the lesser known rival Simon and their bet over the price of 5 metals in the decade of to reduce CFCs. They designated September 29,the bet had been for. It's also fairly concise and does a good job of sticking to the su If paint anti-hysterical folks in such influences on the two main.It's a famous bet in the ongoing battle to try and get environmentalists to understand economics. The bet between Julian Simon, the economist. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future On one side you had the "limit of growth" doomsayers and on the other side the. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future The Senate hearing revealed how muchThe Limits to Growthand fears of scarcity.